Skinny Pelembe

‘Drawing on a heritage that stretches from Birmingham to Mozambique, his new music is his most confident yet’ The Guardian

“I never considered myself a singer before now,” says Skinny Pelembe. Viewing his 2019 debut Dreaming Is Dead Now from a comfortable distance, the Iggy Pop and Grace Jones’ approved one-man band recognises its enigmatically murky production as a sort of auditory “squid ink”, aiming to disguise a lack of vocal confidence and to obscure the man behind the music. On the sure-footed follow-up, he makes no such concessions.

Visceral yet inherently soulful, Hardly The Same Snake is the sound of the Johannesburg born, Doncaster-raised artist finally finding his voice – both literally and figuratively. In practical terms, that involved finding the courage to foreground his gravelly baritone in these
gloriously genre-agnostic productions. But it also meant branching out beyond the safety net of his former label – Gilles’ Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings – to figure out the artist he truly wanted to be. As Skinny puts it today, in his soft South Yorkshire drawl, “This album is what I would have created first time round had I rated my own voice.”

Gaining that confidence has been an incremental process, stretching back to childhood. Though from a long line of music lovers, there was never any precedent in his family for a career in songwriting – he forged that path alone. One of Skinny’s very earliest musical memories is hiding in his older brother’s laundry basket so as to eavesdrop on an after school listening session. “Him and his mates were playing GZA’s Liquid Swords and I remember falling in love with ‘4th Chamber’,” Skinny recalls fondly, adding self-deprecatingly, “I feel like everything I’ve ever done since is just try to match that sound.”

While Wu Tang Clan and Onyx formed one half of Skinny’s formative musical education, the other half was provided by his father, who passed on a love of country singers like Marty Robbins and Johnny Cash. By his mid-teens Skinny was dividing his time between playing in garage bands and experimenting with production at a local studio run by a friend of his guitar teacher.

It was while living in Essex and working as a photographer’s assistant and live-in carer that Skinny’s musical career took off. A self-professed “Gilles Peterson fanboy”, he responded to an open call for demos as part of the DJ’s talented development scheme Future Bubblers. Skinny was subsequently selected to join the 2017 cohort, winning the opportunity to cut a record, stage a gig and receive hands-on mentoring. Part-way through the programme, Skinny self-released his debut EP – Seven Year Curse – before signing with Brownswood and sharing the dreamy boom-bap of breakout single ‘I’ll Be On Your Mind’.

It was Brownswood that released his debut LP. Proffering an utterly original mix of jazz, soul, dub and post-rock, Dreaming Is Dead Now won glowing reviews, praising Skinny’s imaginative, sample-led approach and his ability to own themes as far-ranging as xenophobia and grief. So, with a winning formula already in place, Skinny’s decision to flip the script entirely for album number two seemed reckless at best.

“I was bricking it but I felt like I needed to remove that safety net,” says Skinny, recalling the period immediately after amicably parting ways with Brownswood, and prior to his signing with Partisan Records. There were moments too when he questioned his choice, particularly when a dissatisfaction with early experiments led him to re-recording Hardly The Same Snake twice. Determined that the collection shouldn’t sound like a band record, but equally musn’t feel “too button push-y”, Skinny assembled songs by sampling instrumentation originally recorded live, including chopped and looped versions of the brilliantly complex beats played by Malcolm Catto of The Heliocentrics. It was a painstaking process that paid off, resulting in an album fathoms ahead of its promising predecessor, and one that honestly reflects Skinny’s creative evolution.

The idea of forging your own path – and shedding skin, so to speak – is integral to Hardly The Same Snake. Begun pre-pandemic and completed in the spring of 2021, it’s a defiantly outward-looking record contemplating family, religion and major life milestones, from parenthood to death. Where previously Skinny relied on dream diaries as his primary lyrical resource, this time he took notes at design exhibitions, using these unfiltered observations as a jumping off point for songs.

You can hear this collage-like approach in the ominous stream of consciousness powering ‘Same Eye Colour’. Propelled by a clattering, jungle-inspired rhythm, the song considers the respectable face of corruption – from Florsheim-clad hustlers operating in the name of organised religion to the politicians that betrayed the Windrush generation. ‘Deadman’ is weighed down by ideas of legacy, hinting at the fleeting nature of life via its laundry list of professions. Similarly, the central image in the title track was inspired by a triptych of paintings by Lucy Calder, and sees Skinny scrutinising the ageing process and pondering his own life course over a suitably serpentine groove.

During the low-slung indie-rock of ‘Don’t Be Another’ he grapples with ideas of familial responsibility, while ‘Like A Heart Won’t Beat’ sets contemplations on mortality to frenetic, saloon-style piano and furiously frazzled guitars. By contrast, ‘Oh, Silly George’ examines the feelings of isolation that can arise while living in a foreign land, with the song’s disorienting snapshots accentuated by an arresting, Afrobeat-meets-8-bit riff.

The album culminates in a choral dedication to Skinny’s childhood hiding place, performed by Doncaster choir Rainbow Connections. Listen closely enough and you’ll even find a secret code to crack. A rare moment of tranquillity, for its author the song provides a vital space to reflect on the lives he’s lived and the artist he’s evolving into. Because if this superb second album proves anything, it’s that it doesn’t matter how much Skinny errs on the side of self-deprecation – he remains one of the UK’s most fearlessly original voices.

Melin Melyn

Melin Melyn are one of the most exciting acts to emerge from this next golden generation of Cymru artists. Pushing forward on a less traveled bridge between psychedelia, surf , folk and alternative rock. The love child of legends and fellow countrymen Gruff Rhys & Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci (to name a few), their music is also distinctly unique and through their specific and multi-coloured lens.

A highlight of last summer’s festival season with stints at EOTR & Green Man, Melin Melyn were praised by The Financial Times, NME, The i, The Line Of Best Fit and more as one of the live acts to watch, and I can safely say their sets are absolutely joyous and downright fun. Their debut EP ‘Blomonj’ was critically acclaimed, with support from the likes of NME, Dork, DIY and over 21 spot plays on 6Music (Huw Stephens, Cerys Matthews, Craig Charles, Marc Riley, Chris Hawkins), and selling 250 vinyl D2C. They were also recently touted by The Independent as Ones To Watch in 2022 as well as the NME 100. Their critically acclaimed debut EP ‘Blomonj’ released in August 2021 is less built on individual “songs” and more on weird tales of colourful characters and magical worlds that aren’t in fact that far removed from today’s off-kilter reality. It’s eccentricity at its finest & paradoxically most accessible. The six-piece are not so much round pegs in square holes as they are determined to throw the whole box out.

Aleighcia Scott

Blessed with a powerful yet tender voice, and the ability to inhabit a song that recalls Jamaica’s foundation singers, Aleighcia Scott is one of soulful reggae music’s brightest stars. Born to a Welsh mother and a Jamaican father, she has absorbed the passion and prowess of both nations, becoming an internationally acclaimed artist who lights up studio booths and stages around the world.

Raised in Cardiff, Aleighcia remembers her first words as a child were duetting on a song with her father. She grew up with reggae, soul and blues playing in her family home and has been singing on stage since she appeared at Cardiff’s Big Weekend, aged just seven years old.

Through raw talent and dedication, Aleighcia built her career online with her own YouTube channel and a live residency at her local reggae venue, the Irie Shack. Soon she was in hot demand as an opening act for visiting artists including Tarrus Riley, Julian Marley, Agent Sasco and Soul II Soul.

Now an established headline performer, Aleighcia has toured the UK, tearing down the place at Glastonbury, Latitude and Boomtown festivals. She has also gone back to her Jamaican roots and performed at Kingston’s atmospheric Dub Club, at Big Yard Studio (for BBC 1Xtra) and on the legendary King Jammy’s sound system. In 2022 she made history when she appeared on all female sound system Seduction City, at the return of London’s Notting Hill Carnival, Europe’s biggest street party. In 2023 Aleighcia returned to Nottinghill Carnival, performing on the legendary Gladdy Wax Sound System.

But none of these live appearances would have been possible without the strength of her recordings. Her debut EP for West London’s reggae dynasty Peckings, Forever In Love, found her fresh approach to time-honoured romantic themes fully at home on the vintage rhythms that are the label’s speciality.

In 2023, Aleighcia released her debut album, Windrush Baby, a collaboration with renowned sound system selector and producer Rory Stonelove. The album features top session musicians Dean Fraser, Kirk “Kirkledove” Bennett, Franklin “Bubbler” Waul and Donald “Danny Bassie” Dennis. Rory’s previous productions include debut albums that launched Jamaican superstars Jah9 and Samory I – so his investment in Aleighcia’s talent speaks volumes.

Throughout her career, Aleighcia has enjoyed strong support from reggae heavyweights David Rodigan and Seani B. She’s also been featured and played by DJ Target, Craig Charles and Tom Robinson – illustrating her music’s broad appeal.

And as if being a gifted singer wasn’t enough, Aleighcia has recently branched out into radio and TV presenting herself. She presents her own show on BBC Radio Wales and has appeared on ITV Cymru’s Backstage and Welsh language channel S4C. In yet another historic move, Aleighcia now deputises for the legendary David Rodigan’s BBC1Xtra show.

A voice that grabs you by the heart, a unique story, and a classic album, make Aleighcia Scott one of those rare artists whose every move feels fresh – yet is likely to be with us musically for a very long time.

Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog

We’re delighted to be welcoming the return of Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog to FOCUS Wales 2024!

Kahpun (Ghana)

KAHPUN is an award winning artiste and songwriter, who is at the heart of African Reggae-Dancehall, and splits his time between Ghana and South Wales.

Mauvey (BC, Canada)

MAUVEY was born out of obsessions with storytelling, songwriting, cinema, and fashion. Angry and frustrated and happy and grateful and in LOVE and desperate for the world to change. MAUVEY is all of this, all at once.

“I am pop, I am cinematic, I am rock, I am punk, I am alternative, I am electronic. Something like Michael Jackson, Future Islands, Prince, Coldplay, FKA TWIGS, or Labrinth – but nothing like any of them or anyone else.”

Lizzi£ Squad

Lizzi£ Squad are Korrupted & North H, two versatile upcoming artists living in North Wales but both originally from Portugal with African backgrounds. They proving themselves to be one of the most exciting groups out of Wrexham city, independent with no label and they’ve also opened stage for big names like Afro B, Dappy and many more. Representing their reality, pain and struggles and determined to stand out all through their unique sound.

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