The many talents of Santigold make her the pop star other pop stars seek out. The Red Hot Chili Peppers took her on tour, Mark Ronson brought her in as a guest vocalist, and Christina Aguilera asked the 39-year-old to co-write songs with her.
Santigold’s two solo albums, her eponymous 2008 debut and 2012’s Master of My Make-Believe, cemented her reputation as a forward-thinking musician exploring the territory between new wave, reggae and indie-pop. The US singer’s new release, 99¢, adds African elements to the mix, so we asked her for five songs from the continent that influenced the album.
Fela Kuti and Afrika 70 - Zombie
“I’ve been listening to Fela Kuti my entire life as my dad was a huge fan. Dad took me to see his live show when I was seven. He had his 12 wives [at one time, Kuti had 27] on stage, who were all topless – my mind was blown! Zombie is a political song about brain-dead people doing as they’re told, and in that sense it feels very current. Lyrically, it was a big influence on my new song, Walking In A Circle.”
Amadou & Mariam - Dougou Badia
“This Malian duo are married and both blind, but, more importantly, they’re incredibly talented. I’m drawn to singers who have an unusual sense of melody, and Mariam is queen of the beautiful yet unexpected. I recorded Dougou Badia with them in a hotel room in New York and it was an amazing experience. Mariam even taught me how to sing in their native language, Bambara.
William Onyeabor - Atomic Bomb
“My friend [and producer] John Hill introduced me to the songs of this Nigerian musician, who released a bunch of criminally overlooked albums [in the late ’70s/early ’80s]. I love how Onyeabor merged Western African elements with genres like funk. That’s what I tried to do on my new album, taking things out of their usual context in order to create something completely different.”
Alpha Blondy - Sebe Allah Y’e (from the album Apartheid Is Nazism)
“My older sister played me this tune when I was 12, and it’s so great that it has stuck with me my whole life. At its core, it’s a little reggae song, but it sounds different [it’s partly sung in Dioula], which is part of its appeal. What I find so impressive about this Ivorian singer is that he took inspiration from reggae and Jamaican Rastafarian culture and incorporated his own political issues at the time.”
Brenda Fassie - Vuli Ndlela (from the album Memeza)
“This South African singer had a big impact on my new record. Fassie was an Afropop star in the ’90s and counted Nelson Mandela among her fans. This song incorporates elements of Western dance music, but what makes it stand out is her unique voice. It’s traditional-sounding South African singing, very tonal and sharp, which I’ve always felt very attracted to and have tried to adopt in my vocals.”