Album covers for Okay Kaya's "both" and SASAMI's "Squeeze."

Alt Women of Color You Need To Complete Your Playlist

Once, I wanted to try and “make it” as a musician (like a lot of young kids do, I’d guess). And maybe if I’d had the courage to keep at it, I could have gone farther than just a few house shows. But the truth of it is, many alternative music spaces are predominantly white, and occupied by people who don’t have the space or emotional aptitude to foster a diverse creative environment.

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As more and more people start to talk about this, I thought I’d share some alt WOC musicians who’ve gone ahead and created their own space. They are damn good musicians who deserve more recognition. I write about music a lot, and I tend to write about some recurring figures (predominantly Mitski and Japanese Breakfast). Now, I’m going to focus on artists I haven’t mentioned often, and who I think our readers would enjoy.

Shilpa Ray

The first time I heard this song, I got chills down my spine. Shilpa Ray is phenomenal at crafting cleverly crude lyricism with raw yet melodious sounds. This is my favorite song of hers because it’s just so gross and gnarly, but her range is so diverse that in the same album, she’s got slow-dance songs about that time she pissed herself on 168th street.

Indigo De Souza

Indigo De Souza has already made waves in more niche scenes, but I’m still waiting for her to blow up even more! Her sound is incredibly tight and fun, managing to convey heartfelt, earnest sentiments in a way that’s utterly captivating to listen to. It helps that her voice and mixing talents blend beautifully.

Thao Nguyen

I’m honestly a little embarrassed to admit this: I definitely grew up listening to Thao Nguyen on the radio. But I didn’t register that it was her I was listening to until I got older and discovered her independently of her old band, Thao & The Get Down Stay Down. I’ve enjoyed her music without really realizing just how talented she is, and how many inventive, creative projects she’s actually been a part of. Maybe I was just too young? Well, now I’m excited to discover her entire discography, as I encourage you all to do if you haven’t already.

Cibo Matto

It’s hard to describe Cibo Matto because I think they’re best experienced without any prior context. They’re just fun. Inventive. Zany. I adore them, and every few years when I rediscover them, it’s always an utter delight.

Okay Kaya

I’ve been a fan of Kaya Wilkins for years and years and years, yet some of her songs (like the one above) still manage to floor me. Her voice is so uniquely beautiful, and when paired with more of a stripped-down background, she’s able to create songs that sound almost ethereal.


Hannah Van Loon (AKA Tanukichan) is so talented with a variety of sounds and instruments, I’m honestly shocked more people don’t know about her. Her voice is soft and dreamy, yet her sound style is gruff and gritty in the best way possible. She’s got a specific sound of rock that’s hard for a lot of bands to nail, so really, I’m just counting down the days until people realize Tanukichan’s got that shit on lock.

Kimya Dawson

Of COURSE we had to put Kimya Dawson on this list, she practically raised us with her beautiful songs. Once part of the anti-folk movement (a movement made in response to the exclusionary nature of the NYC art and music scene), Kimya’s had a prolific career, dedicated towards elevating important social causes and also just helping people learn to like themselves more. Make sure to check out her band The Moldy Peaches, too!

Lianne La Havas

Honestly, Lianne La Havas’ discography is so gorgeous and multivaried, I struggled for a second to decide on a video to share with you all. But ultimately, I chose this one because it showcases a number of things: her skills as a vocalist and guitarist, her genre-bending talents, and her lyrical prowess. What else can I say? She’s just captivating.


I already wrote a whole article about Sasami Ashworth, so you should just go read that instead of whatever little blurb I could come up with here. But, for real. Listen to Sasami.

Rico Nasty

I’m gonna end on Rico Nasty because, if we want to go out with a bang, we’re gonna do it with the lady who gave hip-hop a decidedly punk edge. Does this count as alternative? Well, alt can be defined in all kinds of ways, and I’m tired of gatekeepers insisting on making its definition whatever they want it to be since it’s all fairly arbitrary anyways. So you know what? Yeah, this does count, because this is my article, and the most punk person I’ve ever met–an alt woman of color–is the one who introduced me to Rico in the first place.

Rico took punk rock and melded it seamlessly with hip-hop. That takes a lot of talent and panache, and she did so flawlessly. Plus, this whole band is just so rich with WOC talent, it brings me so much joy. Ugh! The talent!!

(featured image: Jagjaguwar/Domino Recording Company)

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Image of Madeline Carpou
Madeline Carpou
Madeline (she/her) is a staff writer with a focus on AANHPI and mixed-race representation. She enjoys covering a wide variety of topics, but her primary beats are music and gaming. Her journey into digital media began in college, primarily regarding audio: in 2018, she started producing her own music, which helped her secure a radio show and co-produce a local history podcast through 2019 and 2020. After graduating from UC Santa Cruz summa cum laude, her focus shifted to digital writing, where she's happy to say her History degree has certainly come in handy! When she's not working, she enjoys taking long walks, playing the guitar, and writing her own little stories (which may or may not ever see the light of day).