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Meet Joshua Ray Walker, The Rising Country Singer Rebelling Against Country Music Traditions
Joshua Ray Walker

Photo: David McClister

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Meet Joshua Ray Walker, The Rising Country Singer Rebelling Against Country Music Traditions

With character-driven songs and an anti-Nashville look, Joshua Ray Walker has been winning hearts and ears since his debut in 2019 by fearlessly breaking the country music mold.

GRAMMYs/May 23, 2022 - 06:51 pm

In April, country singer/songwriter Joshua Ray Walker made his Grand Ole Opry debut with "Sexy After Dark," a rollicking anthem celebrating the giddy freedom of anonymity, alcohol and proximity of a packed bar late at night. Switching tone, he followed his first song with “Voices,” a dulcet, brooding first-person reflection on a moment of acute mental pain.

While the playful energy of "Sexy After Dark" is instantly accessible, "Voices" asks the audience to slow down and listen. The Opry audience did just that, but couldn't help erupting into cheers when Walker held the long, haunting falsetto note that concludes the song's chorus.

Appearing on the Opry's stage remains a quintessential stop in any country musician's career, and the Nashville institution holds a singular power to anoint stardom. And although 31-year-old Walker received a standing ovation at the prestigious venue, he isn't your typical country musician.

A Dallas, Texas native, Walker's music picks up where some of his state's singer/songwriter greats like Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt and Billy Joe Shaver left off. He grew up in a musical tradition that celebrated Willie Nelson andWaylon Jennings for rejecting rigid Nashville country norms and carving out the outlaw country genre away from Music City's neon lights.

Walker's music often elicits comments of "I don't like country music, but I like this," from new fans. That's because it doesn't sound like the mainstream country music of the past few decades. You won't find big-truck worship or rote breakup tales in his music; Walker writes meticulously-worded songs about human foibles and working-class characters that thrive on the stories they tell, narrated by his sweet, husky tenor.

"Pop country and what Josh is doing are two different leagues," says Walker's producer and alternate guitar player, John Pedigo. "His brevity and lyrics…there's real weight in the words, and every word matters."

Walker enjoys songs that strike an emotional chord, and he tries to write songs that do the same for his audiences. He finds that happens best with sincere lyrics and a story: “Whether it be an emotional response that they want to party, or it makes them want to cry, or it makes them want to call their dad, or it makes them happy…If you can write a song that paints a vivid picture in someone’s mind, I think that’s the goal,” he tells GRAMMY.com.

Although Walker’s songs tell stories, the outlaw label doesn't quite fit, either. He toes a delicate line, incurring praise from the de facto country music tastemakers in Nashville while maintaining a musical and artistic freedom granted by the Texas country music scene.

As musician and producer Rodney Crowell (a friend and contemporary of Clark and Van Zandt) wrote, Clark was a regional artist with global appeal whose literary sensibilities drove that relatability. The same is true of Walker, garnering him respect and fandom within country music as well as from a broader, varied fan base.

Walker, who is 31, grew up sharing a duplex with his parents and maternal grandparents. His grandfather introduced him to a varied musical regimen including flamenco and merengue records, ballroom and salsa dance soundtracks, and bluegrass and Opry live albums. Walker's grandfather also taught him to play musical instruments, selecting a tenor banjo from his extensive collection to teach a 4-year-old Walker to strum. Soon after, Walker picked up the guitar; by the time he was a teenager, he practiced for hours on end.

When Walker was 19, his grandfather died two days before Christmas. Sitting in the hospital parking lot in the early hours of Christmas Eve, he wrote the first song lyrics in his head: an homage of sorts to his grandfather.

He carried the words and melody in his head for nearly 10 years, honing and retooling it until it became “Fondly” — a cut on his debut album, 2019's Wish You Were Here."The coat and the hat you wore all the time/ Are still on that rack where you left them that night,” he sings in the second verse. “Clothes on the line hung out to dry/ You did not return but you put up a fight."

Walker is part of a resurgence of storytelling country music, which he traces back to Chris Stapleton's 2015 cover of the classic outlaw country song "Tennessee Whiskey.” The track topped the Hot Country Song chart and went platinum, opening the door for alternative country artists like Sturgill Simpson and Tyler Childers to unfetter the genre. They arrived on the heels of acts like Iron & Wine and Fleet Foxes — which, in Walker’s opinion, re-tuned the public’s ear to acoustic songwriters and primed them to love his music.

Many of Walker's songs were inspired by characters he's known or seen during hours spent on the road, both with his long-haul trucker father and as a touring musician. As an only child, he learned early to entertain himself by studying the people around him to figure out their relationships.

While on the road, Walker honed his knack for observing strangers, crafting their caricatures into songs. Whether they’re real or imagined, he gravitates towards flawed, complicated characters whose lives and livelihoods make them easy to overlook: recurring dive bar characters, oil rig workers, truck drivers, drifters, and people working themselves too hard just to get by.

Highlighting these characters came naturally to Walker. He’s celebrating and mythologizing the working class heroes and down on their luck road characters he knows best, and values getting to know. “Everybody wants all these things they feel entitled to, but people rarely think about the people that actually make all of that possible,” he says.

One of Walker's best-known songs, "Lot Lizard," originated with a conversation between a trucker and a woman — who appeared to be a prostitute — who he watched planning their next meeting while he sat at a Kansas truck stop. The care with which they treated each other struck him as so romantic that he wrote the song’s first lines on a napkin there at the counter.

In “Boat Show Girl,” off his second album, Walker chronicles and embellishes the backstories of the bikini-clad women he saw at motorsports shows when he tagged along with his mom, who was a promoter for the events. The women’s job was to make men buy into the fantasy of a beautiful woman and the life implied by owning a boat. “Those five-inch heels ain’t nothing/ Compared to what you left back home/ Yeah, you ain’t even chilly/ Though you’re wearing skin and bone,” he croons in the first verses. “You stand there on your altar/ AstroTurf beneath your feet / Like a redneck Statue of Liberty/ This phrase rings out as you greet.”

Walker includes a piece of himself in every character he writes. Stuck at home early in the pandemic and missing the joy of connecting with new people on the road, he wrote “Sexy After Dark,” about someone who is at his best in those moments. In “Cowboy” — a track off his third album, in which he pokes fun at hipster cowboys — Walker acknowledges that he himself wears western-style clothes without doing the work they're designed for. When he sings about hard work and hardship, he's experienced those, too.

A handful of his songs are overtly autobiographical — like his first single, "Canyon," a raw introspection on his relationship with his father that he wrote shortly after his father's terminal cancer diagnosis. In the similarly meditative "Flash Paper" (from See You Next Time), Walker ponders the box of odd mementos his father passed on to him near the end of his life.

Walker’s music not only sounds different than what many of his country peers are producing, but his aesthetic pushes the boundaries of the genre’s longtime — and often polarizing — stereotypes, too. For years, nearly all male country musicians dressed in a svelte, Hollywood-cowboy-inspired aesthetic. Although Walker often wears boots and a hat on stage, he also dons flamboyant outfits (complete with brightly printed shirts and embellished jackets) and boasts 10 tattoos, as well as a long mullet that he sometimes dyes blond, green or blue.

Walker's body is also bigger than country music's traditional visual rules dictate. He was prepared to hear negative comments about it, but was surprised to find that the way he dresses caught attention too — and that some people assume he’s gay or trans (he's cisgender and straight). His outfits are an expression of increasing confidence in himself rather than sexual identity. But if his style can help change cultural perceptions, Walker is all for it.

“If other people think that I am an ally for them because I am dressed that way, because I have unicorns on my denim vest or whatever, then that’s awesome,” Walker says. “I want everybody to feel safe and included and totally welcome at my shows to feel supported by me as a person, as an artist.”

Two and a half years ago, Walker played the opening day of the Texas State Fair, on the eve of his first European tour. Three shows into a four-show day, sunburned and sweaty, he took a break on the Cotton Bowl Stadium steps overlooking the fair and the joyful crowds below. As the sun set, a gentle breeze calmed the heat of the day. Looking out at carnival lights in the twilight, Walker seemed poised on the edge of something.

At the time, his career goals were to headline shows outside his hometown, to play Colorado's Red Rocks Amphitheater, to appear on late night TV, and, someday, to perform at the Opry. Less than three years later, only Red Rocks remains.

Walker's performance roster helps prove his growing appeal. The singer scored headlining gigs at storied venues like Texas’ Gruene Hall and New York’s Mercury Lounge, and a slot at Austin City Limits this year; he's been invited on tour with Paul Cauthen and Sarah Shook & The Disarmers; he’s made his late night TV debut on the "Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon"; and he’s sung the National Anthem at a Formula 1 race in his native Texas. Walker even performed at the legendary Ryman Auditorium and Grand Ole Opry back to back.

Riding the career momentum that picked up after his first European tour — and accelerated after the release of his third album, 2021’s See You Next Time, which stayed in the Americana Top 40 charts for 26 weeks — Walker has now reached most of the goals he envisioned for his entire career and then some. With another set of North American and European tour dates on the horizon, he has his eye on bigger tours, stadium shows, and maybe even a GRAMMY.

Walker recently posted a heartfelt story on Instagram, asserting that the scope of his success hits him in the more humble moments. “It’s not on the Opry stage, or when I see myself on late night TV…it’s when I’m on a 4am airport shuttle, all so I can go home for a three day turnaround and do it all again,” he wrote.

Walker’s talent and knack for character, both his own and others, clearly resonates with audiences. Will the momentum make him one of the genre’s biggest stars? In Pedigo’s eyes, it's certainly possible: "It's like lightning in a bottle, how do you capture that? But if there's anybody that can do it, I think Josh is the dude right now."

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Global Spin: Katerine Duska And Leon Of Athens Premiere "Babel," A Bilingual Tale Of A Love Lost In Translation
(L-R) Leon of Athens, Katerine Duska

Photo (L-R): Ria Mort, Thanos Poulimenos

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Global Spin: Katerine Duska And Leon Of Athens Premiere "Babel," A Bilingual Tale Of A Love Lost In Translation

Frequent songwriting partners Katerine Duska and Leon Of Athens grapple with a relationship full of miscommunication in this emotional duet, which they debut with a powerful Global Spin performance.

GRAMMYs/Nov 29, 2022 - 06:00 pm

"Can I love you a little more clearly?" Katerine Duska and Leon of Athens sing in the emotional chorus of their new song, "Babel." "Can we get it right? Can we talk another night away?"

In this episode of Global Spin, the two pop singers — and frequent songwriting partners — effortlessly trade off between Greek and English in a compelling performance. But as beautiful as the bilingual, harmony-driven duet may be, "Babel" chronicles a fraught relationship where, ultimately, the love gets lost in translation.

"Babel" brings the two lovers back to where they started: Frustrated and failing to see eye to eye, but still invested in one another. That narrative pairs with an equally passionate, string-filled sonic backdrop in this song, which Duska and Leon of Athens premiere on Global Spin.

The song's visual component further underscores its message. Duska and Leon of Athens perform the song from a bed, surrounded by candles and rippling water. As they wrestle through their disagreements — both lyrically and physically — the two artists make an attempt to find tenderness, but their best efforts dissolve into frustration and disconnection.

The bilingual duo have co-written several times in the past, and they're no strangers to performing together, either. Their first duet, "ANEMOS," came out in 2019; a year later, the pair released another collaboration, "Communication."

Press play on the video above to get a first look at the latest collaboration between Katerine Duska and Leon of Athens, and keep checking GRAMMY.com every Tuesday for more new episodes of Global Spin.

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Herbal Tea & White Sofas: Akon And Teemanay's Favorite Tour Meal Is So Iconic That It Has Its Own Festival
(L-R) Akon and Teemanay

Photo: Matteo Vincenzo (right)

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Herbal Tea & White Sofas: Akon And Teemanay's Favorite Tour Meal Is So Iconic That It Has Its Own Festival

Over plates of Nigerian jollof rice, global superstar Akon and Afrobeats mainstay Teemanay explain the finer points of this staple West African dish — which is also their staple meal on the road.

GRAMMYs/Nov 29, 2022 - 05:00 pm

When it comes to music, R&B giant Akon and rising Afrobeats star Teemanay (aka Young Icon) have a lot in common. Not only are they both from West Africa — Akon's family roots are in Senegal, while Teemanay hails from Nigeria – but the two teamed up on the four-song EP Konvict Kulture Presents Teemanay, which came out on Akon's label earlier this year.

The two acts have similar tastes when it comes to food, too — though they might disagree on the finer points. Jollof rice, a staple throughout West Africa, is a dish that both artists grew up loving, even though they hail from different countries within the region.

"For a meal, if they have jollof rice for me, I will give them an extra 15 minutes of free performance," Teemanay jokes in the newest episode of Herbal Tea & White Sofas.

"So the rice is actually smoked, almost like when you cook barbeque," Akon details, explaining what it is that makes this particular dish so special. "When you look at jollof, it ranks in the top five of those things you just can't forget. It's a part of the meal, every meal."

The dish is so essential that Akon hosts an annual Jollof, Music & Food Festival in Atlanta, which features a lineup of music and food trucks. But the pinnacle of the event is the jollof cook-off, in which recipes from different countries compete to see which region creates the best version of the dish.

"This year, Senegal won. But we kinda expect that, because Senegal is really the creators of jollof rice," Akon proudly explains, as Teemanay shakes his head in disagreement.

"I'm in a very aggressive, fighting mood right now," Teemanay shoots back with a smirk. "Nigerian jollof is the best jollof in the world."

Whichever regional version they prefer, Akon and Teemanay can agree on one thing: There's no better post-show meal or tour bus snack out there than jollof rice. 

Press play on the video above to watch the two stars duke it out over their favorite jollof, and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Herbal Tea & White Sofas.

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9 Organizations Helping Music Makers In Need: MusiCares, The GRAMMY Museum & Others

Photo: Suriyawut Suriya / EyeEm via Getty Images

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9 Organizations Helping Music Makers In Need: MusiCares, The GRAMMY Museum & Others

Are you in a position to donate to musicians in a state of financial or personal crisis on this GivingTuesday? Check out these nine charitable organizations — beneath the Recording Academy umbrella and otherwise.

GRAMMYs/Nov 29, 2022 - 03:17 pm

Imagine a world where care and concern is distributed in a holistic circuit, rather than being hoarded away or never employed at all. That's the paradigm that GivingTuesday is reaching toward.

Created in 2012 under the simple precept of being generous and celebrating generosity, GivingTuesday is a practical hub for getting involved in one's community and giving as freely to benefit and nourish others.

Since GivingTuesday has swelled not just from a single day in the calendar year, but a lens through which to view the other 364 days. You can find your local GivingTuesday network here, find ways to participate here, and find ways to join  GivingTuesday events here.

Where does the Recording Academy come in? Helping musicians in need isn't something they do on the side, an afterthought while they hand out awards.

No, aiding music people is at the core of the Academy's mission. MusiCares, the Academy's philanthropic arm, has changed innumerable lives for the better.

And through this society of music professionals and its other major components — including  Advocacy, the GRAMMY Museum and GRAMMY U — the Academy continues its fight in legislative and educational forms.

If you're willing and able to help musicians in need this GivingTuesday, here's a helpful hub of nine charitable organizations with whom you can do so.

MusiCares

Any list of orgs that aid musicians would be remiss to not include MusiCares.

Through the generosity of donors and volunteer professionals, this organization of committed service members has been able to aid struggling music people in three key areas: mental health and addiction recovery services, health services, and human services.

For more information on each of those, visit here. To apply for assistance, click here. And to donate to MusiCares, head here.

GRAMMY Museum

"Museum" might be right there in the name, but there's a lot more to this precious sector of the Recording Academy.

The GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles doesn't just put on immersive exhibits that honor the legacies of musical giants; it's a hub for music education.

At press time, more than 20,000 students have visited the Museum, more than 10,000 students have participated in the Museum's Clive Davis theater, and 20,000 students have participated in their GRAMMY Camp weekends.

To donate to the GRAMMY Museum, click here. To become a member, visit here.

Give a Beat

By now, the evidence is ironclad: Giving incarcerated people access to music and art dramatically increases morale and decreases recidivism.

Give a Beat is keenly aware of this, both on direct-impact and mentorship levels.

The org hosts classes for incarcerated people, in order for them to "find healing, transformation, and empowerment" through its Prison Electronic Music Program, which helps incarcerated folks wade deep into the fields of music production and DJing.

Its On a New Track Reentry Mentoring Program initiative connects music industry professionals with formerly incarcerated individuals in order to transfer their skills into a professional setting.

To become a member of Give a Beat, click here. To donate, visit here.

Jazz Foundation of America

Despite being at the heart of American musical expression, jazz, blues and roots can sometimes feel roped off on the sidelines of the music industry — and its practitioners can slip between society's cracks.

That's where the Jazz Foundation of America comes in. They aid musicians struggling to hang onto their homes, connect physicians and specialists with uninsured artists and help musicians get back on their feet after life-upending natural disasters.

To donate to the Jazz Foundation, click here; for all other info, visit their website.

The Blues Foundation

Headquartered in Memphis, the Blues Foundation aims to preserve the history and heritage of the blues — which lies at the heart of all American forms. This goes not only for irreplaceable sites and artifacts, but the living, breathing people who continue to make it.

The Blues Foundation offers educational outreach, providing scholarships to youth performers to attend summer blues camps and workshops.

On top of that, in the early 2000s, they created the HART Fund to offer financial support to musicians in need of medical, dental, and vision care.

And for blues artists who have passed on, the HART Fund diverts money to their families  to ensure their loved ones would be guaranteed dignified funerals.

For more information on the Blues Foundation, visit here. To donate, click here.

Musicians Foundation

Founded all the way back when World War I broke out, the Musicians Foundation has spent more than a century cutting checks to musicians in times of need.

This includes financial grants to cover basic expenses, like medical and dental treatments, rents and mortgages and utilities. Submitted grant applications are reviewed by their staff and a screening committee. If approved, the money is dispatched rapidly and directly to the debtor to relieve financial pressure as soon as possible.

The Musicians Foundation's philanthropic legacy is enshrined in Century of Giving, a comprehensive analysis of financial aid granted to musicians and their families by the Foundation since 1914.

For more information, visit here; click here to donate.

Music Maker Foundation

Based in North Carolina, the Music Maker Foundation tends to the day-to-day needs of American roots artists — helping them negotiate crises so they can "keep roofs over their heads, food on their tables, [and] instruments in their hands."

This relief comes in the forms of basic sustenance, resources performance (like booking venues and providing CDs to sell) and spreading education about their contributions to the American roots canon.

Check out their website for more information; to donate, click here.

Sweet Relief: Musicians Fund

When music people are in danger, this charitable organization sees no barriers of genre, region or nature of crisis.

If you're a musician suffering from physical, mental or financial hardship — whether it be due to a disability, an affliction like cancer, or anything else — Sweet Relief has got your back.

There are numerous ways to support Sweet Relief; you can become a partner, intern or volunteer, or simply chip in a few bucks for one of their various funds to keep their selfless work moving.

For any and all further information, visit their website.

Music Workers Alliance

The Recording Academy's concern and consideration for music people hardly stops at musicians — they're here to support all music people.

They share this operating principle with Music Workers Alliance, which tirelessly labors to ensure music people are treated like they matter — and are fairly remunerated for their efforts.

This takes many forms, like fighting for music workers at the federal, state and city level for access to benefits and fair protections, and ensuring economic justice and fair working conditions.

Music Workers Alliance also fights for economic justice on the digital plane, and aims to provide equal access for people of color and other underrepresented groups in the industry.

For more info, visit their website; for ways to get involved, click here.

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A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
Franc Moody

Photo: Rachel Kupfer 

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A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea

James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:23 pm

It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.

Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.

Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.

In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.

Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.

There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.

Say She She

Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.

While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."

Moniquea

Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.

Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.

Shiro Schwarz

Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.

Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.

L'Impératrice

L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.

During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.

Franc Moody

Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.

Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.

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