Elaine is South Africa’s new R&B It Girl
© Andrew Thompson
R&B in South Africa has historically struggled to gain traction but in the internet age where music is easily accessible, the door is wide open for a new generation
Atop of South Africa’s Apple Music Album Charts, a Joe Budden shoutout and over 2.5 million streams later Elaine Mukheli or simply Elaine has cemented herself in Mzansi’s music scene and has set a new standard for R&B music.
Elaine’s debut project, “Elements” was released in September 2019 and is a seven-track journey into the themes of love, heartbreak and self-reflection. The E.P has no features, no major producers and it is an independent release. Keeping it simple was all by design.
“I think it was just to represent who I am. I wanted it to get to the point and to get my message across. The EP was the right introduction for me into the music industry. It's not too much but at the same time it's not too little, it's just enough and that's exactly why I wanted to get the right amount of songs out there for people to relate to,” Elaine stated.
The positive response to the project, like her process, was organic and the music has travelled as far as the United States and it serves as a testament to taking charge as an independent artist.
Social media played a huge role in crafting and releasing the album. The 20-year-old singer met her manager and the two producers on the album, Clxrity and Elyzée through Instagram and she also used the platform to promote the album.
“I'm a very, very lowkey and private person [in everyday life] so I use social media and that's actually how I met all of the people I worked with on this project,” Elaine said. “I feel social media was important in creating this ecosystem of people that I possibly wouldn't have had access to. We all work together in our community to create despite coming from different cultures and from different backgrounds. And what connects is our passion for music, our work ethic, our drive and our morals.”
While she has developed a small professional circle where everything is self-contained, Elaine is not closed off to the idea of getting outside help or signing to a record label. But only if the right deal is on the table.
“A lot of record labels have approached me but I haven’t taken any offers. I'm not anti-record label; it's really about the fine print and the one thing that I value is my creative freedom,” the Pretoria born singer stated. “So as long as that isn't compromised then there definitely could be an opportunity to actually work with one. I'm not totally against the idea; I'm a very open-minded person. But for now, I'm still building my business, working on my craft, making music, shooting music videos and doing what I need to do.”
I'm not anti-record label; it's really about the fine print and the one thing that I value is my creative freedom.
This is where her studies in law will come in handy. Elaine is currently a third-year student at the University of Witwatersrand. As a creative, it was important to her to have an understanding of the law as it pertains to the arts so that she could navigate the administration and business end of being a musician. It is still very common practise that artists sign exploitative deals because they do not understand the linguistics of the machine. The most recent example is popular American rapper Meg Thee Stallion who recently had a public spat and court battle with her current record label 300 Entertainment because she signed her contract in her early 20’s and had no tools to understand what she was signing.
Elaine did not want to be a number and is pursuing a Master’s degree to empower herself. The “I/You” songstress does not struggle with the juggling act between music and school and if anything, she embraces the challenge.
“For me, it's not a hard thing to do at all. It's just about dedication and knowing what you want. And I know that law is a part of the business of music and that's where a lot of artists get tripped up because they don't understand what is in the fine print. And I'm just not trying to be another artist that got cheated,” Elaine explains.
The resurgence of R&B in South Africa has been spearheaded by local artists like Elaine as well as Ayanda Jiya, Naye Ayla and Valerie Omari. In previous years, the genre lost popularity with the prominence of kwaito, house and hip hop, partially because it was not considered uniquely South African sound. However, a new generation of artists who were raised on the music have embraced it without making the distinction.
“I think R&B is whatever you decide to make it. Whether you're going to sing about being happily in love or whether you are going to sing about heartbreak or whether you're going to sing about feelings. R&B is truly what you make it. R&B is real, it is relatable and it is soulful. And that's exactly who I am if you were to describe me as a person. I don't have to try, I don't have to flex and I don't have to pretend to be someone else. It's a really pure and honest genre and that’s what I love about it”
To experience the Red Bull Elaine House Party featuring an exclusive performance of Elaine's debut EP visit redbull.co.za/elaine at 7 PM on either Friday the 11th of September, Saturday the 12th or Sunday the 13th and complete the lyrics correctly to gain access to the exclusive screening of the house party. You have to answer the lyrics correctly to gain access. Be sure to be online as you will only be able to view the screening between 7 PM and 8 PM.