British Soul is the epitome of Durham cool
Zak Zilesnick (born 1 March 1995), better known as Zak Abel, is an English singer/songwriter and musician, most notable for his featured appearance on the UK top 20 hit “Unmissable” with Gorgon City. He has also released two extended plays, entitled Joker presents Zak Abel and One Hand on the Future. In 2016, he worked with producers such as Kaytranada and Wookie on his debut album, entitled Only When We’re Naked, which was released on 6 October 2017, and debuted at number 100 on the UK Albums Chart. Zak attended University College School from which he graduated in 2013.[3
Although writing music since the age of 14, 22-year-old Ray BLK (Building, Living, Knowing) didn’t make her music debut until early 2015 with Havisham. The seven-track EP showcased the south Londoner as not only a talented singer but also a very gifted songwriter, combining her silky vocals with clever wordplay. On “Ride And Die” she even manages to weave her lyrics between interpolations of Jay Z’s “Part II (On The Run)” and Chris Brown’s “Don’t Think They Know” to provide one of the EP’s best moments. Alongside R&B star Lauryn Hill, Ray notes hip-hop icon Biggie Smalls as a musical influence, and this fusion of R&B and hip-hop is a winning combination present throughout the EP, particularly on “Memories” where she sings over a ’90s-inspired hip-hop beat produced by SELVSSE, showcasing her versatility as an artist. Keen to build on the EP’s success, she recently released “Talk To Me” by providing lyrics to Tom Misch’s “Wonder” instrumental, and it’s her most popular track to date, boasting an instantly catchy melody and uncovering a more playful side of her songwriting. Having recently resigned from her graduate job to focus on music full-time and a new project already in the works, 2016 looks promising for Miss BLK.
Mabel is definitely a name you’re sure to be hearing more of this year following her recent BBC Sound Of 2016 nomination, as if the talented teenager didn’t already have weighty expectations to meet—she’s the daughter of singer Neneh Cherry and Massive Attack producer, Cameron McVey. However, the two tracks released so far suggest she’ll have no trouble justifying her early hype. Having been around music her whole life and raised between Malaga, Stockholm and London, Mabel has soaked up various influences and sounds over the years, ranging from R&B to pop to trip-hop—the latter two notable on her infectious debut track, “Know Me Better”. Current single “My Boy My Town”, written following a move back to London from Stockholm, showcases a more soulful R&B sound, which can be traced back to her early childhood when she began playing the piano at the age of five after being inspired by Destiny’s Child and Lauryn Hill. With both of those acts going down as modern R&B greats, it’s certainly not a bad starting place as far as childhood musical influences go. A must-hear: “My Boy My Town” “Every city has a character and, just like people, you have to get to know them. ‘My Boy My Town’ is about how a relationship and the complex relationship you have with a city can so easily become interlinked.”—Mabel
Nigerian-born, London-raised singer Azekel notes Radiohead and D’Angelo as some of his musical influences, and these can be heard in the indie-R&B fusion he has produced and received critical acclaim for. After releasing debut EP Circa in 2013, he had a breakthrough last year with the release of “New Romance”, which even caught the attention of pop music icon Prince, who shared the track on Twitter. Azekel solidified his newfound status with the release of sophomore EP Raw, Vol. 1, and is looking to repeat its success with Vol. 2 later this year. The project’s first single, “The War Inside”, sees the east Londoner depart from his usual tails of love and past relationships, as heard on Vol. 1 standout “Mad About The Boy”, in favour of social commentary on war and conflict. Having left his home-based recording setup to produce the track at the iconic Abbey Road Studios, he had a greater opportunity to experiment sonically, settling on guitars, funky synths and a hypnotic bassline to produce another winner, which succeeds in heightening anticipation for the rest of the EP. A must-hear: “Mad About The Boy” “‘Mad About The Boy’ was inspired by a relationship I was in, and it’s my reflection on the challenges of trying to get someone to reveal their true feelings for you.”—Azekel