Why South African singer Tyla could be the next big global pop star

The artist has been making a name for herself with her fusion sounds

South African singer Tyla is a star on the rise. Getty Images
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From fashion shows to music festivals, Tyla is bringing the sounds of amapiano – a mix of deep house, gospel-inspired keyboards and traditional percussion – from Africa to the world.

The singer, often referred to as South Africa's answer to US pop stars Ariana Grande and Lady Gaga, is already staking her claim to be their heir.

And nowhere was that more apparent than at Tyla’s Milan Fashion Week after-party concert in February, where she appeared in the black leather dress worn by Lady Gaga in the Paparazzi music video.

After that event, where Tyla, 29, also rubbed shoulders with celebrities including Kim Kardashian and reggaeton star J Balvin, she went on to support singer Chris Brown on his European tour.

Her burgeoning profile garnered an enthusiastic reaction when she took to the Big Slap Festival stage in Malmo, Sweden, where she performed the hits Been Thinking and Getting Late.

Speaking to The National backstage, she says she is trying to keep level-headed about the rise of her career, all while learning from her peers.

“This is something I realised when performing with Chris Brown,” she says. “You know, I dreamt my whole life of being at this stage of my career and I am so blessed for that.

“But then going on that tour with Chris Brown was amazing because I studied his performance, which is amazing.

“This did give me a lot of confidence on how I wanted to carry myself on stage.”

Those study sessions have paid off.

Tyla is an assured performer on stage, which she showcased with silky vocals and slick choreography alongside her backing dancers.

Born in Johannesburg, Tyla gained local buzz by competing in song challenges on Musical.ly, the social media app that went on to form TikTok. The artist's growing online profile landed her a management deal and studio session with Johannesburg producer Kooldrink.

The result was her 2019 debut single Getting Late, a seductive and hypnotic amapiano track that helped to push the genre to listeners outside South Africa.

“I recorded that song while I was still in high school,” she says.

“Every day was the same, I went to school and then every weekend I would be in the studio recording music. It was very hectic but exciting at the same time.

Getting Late was one of those songs that we created in the studio and it just felt good and we knew that we had to release it. That song changed my life.”

Not only did Tyla sign to major US label Epic Records, but her talent also reached the ears of Tricky Stewart, the US producer who scored hits with Beyonce (Break My Soul), Rihanna (Umbrella) and Mariah Carey (Touch My Body).

“I was very nervous when I first met him because I love all the songs he produced,” Tyla says, recalling that studio session earlier this year.

“But what he does is that he creates a vibe that is really welcoming. We would work on songs and we would just build it and add different things to it until they felt right.”

One of those was Been Thinking, a club hit blending amapiano's subtle grooves with polished pop melodies.

It’s a sound Tyla believes could be the evolution of amapiano.

“We have seen something similar with Afrobeat, which became big as artists played with different genres such as RnB and pop,” she says.

“I think amapiano can also reach that level if we keep trying new things because the music is open enough to try that.”

Whatever happens, the people will be listening.

Tyla was one of several African artists performing at The Big Slap festival, including Nigeria’s Burna Boy and French-Cameroonian artist Tayc.

“We are definitely in a great moment as African artists,” Tyla says.

“All eyes are on us now and people are finally paying attention because we have great music to share.

Updated: August 07, 2023, 8:11 AM