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Fantastic Four
A Sri-Lankan Mercury Prize nominee, a Caribbean teen queen, an Asian-American military brat and the First Lady of Crunk & B, that's the line-up of the top new ladies in music!

Who's That Girl: Politically charged lyrics, dirty beats and some crazy dancing in the jungle with tigers, elephants, monkeys and Tamil girls. Is it any surprise that M.I.A. - real name Maya Arulpragasam - has just been rightfully rewarded with a Mercury Prize nomination? It doesn't really matter if she wins the prestigious award or not. The mere inclusion of this 27-year-old in the hard-to-get-in shortlist is testament to her pure talent and unrelenting persistence in getting her voice heard. As far as backgrounds go, Maya's is fascinating to say the least. She grew up in Sri Lanka, in an environment that was highly politically charged, more so for her because her father was a revolutionary founder member of EROS (the Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students). While her music is being lauded by a large audience now, she kick-started things for herself by releasing a mix tape of her upcoming album on the Internet a strategy that was so successful, she had fans in hip-hop biggies Missy Elliott, Kanye West, Kelis and Timbaland even though she wasn't signed to a major label. New York designer Matthew Williamson opened and closed his fashion show with her current single Sunshowers and the young singer is now the opening act for Gwen Stefani. Don't miss out on the buzz with this one!
Sound: Her acclaimed album Arular (named after her father) is all beats and rhymes, a curious blend of reggaeton and hip hop beats, dancehall grooves, baile funk, handclaps, tribal drums, and even cowbells.

Who's That Girl: In 2002, Amerie Rogers released a debut album that went straight to gold with a hit single called Need You Tonight. She was pleased with the success but always looking for varied ways to express her creativity, she went off and dabbled in acting and anchoring before the itch to create music appeared again. The second time around, this 25-year-old took control of the reins. For her follow-up album Touch, Amerie had hands-on involvement in everything including the songwriting, production, album art and video treatments. Working with established hit makers like Li'l Jon, Eve and Nas, she crafted a sophomore release that was both to her satisfaction, and to that of a growing collection of fans. Her first single off that album was called 1 Thing and it featured on the soundtrack of the Will Smith hit Hitch. Indian fans can also catch a groovy tabla-based remix of her latest hit Touch. With her second album what she has everyone saying is that she looks like Beyonce, sounds like J.Lo and grooves as good as Britney. A powerful enough one-two-three punch? Two nominations at the next MTV Video Music Awards seem to suggest so. She's up for Best Female Video and Best Choreography. Just in case you think that's not enough, she's touring with Destiny's Child and rapping with Eve. Girl power to the max!
Sound: A luscious blend of R&B and hip-hop with carefully fashioned grooves and - the accessory of the moment a catchy, Eastern-influenced sample destined to stick firmly in your head.

Who's That Girl: When we last featured 19-year-old R&B hottie Ciara, she had the following accomplishments to her credit - a publishing deal by age 15, songwriting for singers Mya and Blu Cantrell by 16, a recording deal before her 17th birthday and a number one hit by the time she turned 18. Since then she has really hit the big time and can be heard most recently in super rapper Missy Elliott's smash hit Lose Control. It was the first time that she rapped on a song and though Ciara was nervous, she says Missy brought out the best in her. She doesn't do too shabbily on her own new single Oh, (featuring the ever-popular Ludacris) either. This former model has a host of musical heroes and says she wants to have the impact that Michael Jackson had on the music industry. Her female role model is none other Jacko's sister Janet who Ciara admires for what she has done for women in music. Vocally, she admires the talents of Whitney Houston and Patti LaBelle, divas that she calls her “vocal mentors”; and as for which artist's career she would like her own to emulate - it's none other than rap mogul P. Diddy. With five leading nominations at the upcoming Soul Train Awards, we'd say she's well on her way to making that dream come true.
Sound: The smooth melodies of R & B wrapped around electrifying crunk. The brand new combination, called Crunk & B, was made famous by artists like Usher and Li'l Jon. Ciara is the first girl to have joined the ranks.

Who's That Girl: They say a vacation in the Caribbean is good for everyone! 17-year-old Rihanna must agree, for it was on a Caribbean holiday that New York City music producer Evan Rogers (Christina Aguilera, Ruben Studdard, Kelly Clarkson) met this Barbados native and turned her world around. Born Robyn Rihanna Fenty, this teenager had never dreamed of making a career out of her talent until a mutual friend introduced Rihanna to Rogers. Even though the young singer was not a seasoned live act, she performed some of her songs for the executive. He was so impressed that he invited her to the US to record a few tracks. Making the most of the rich Caribbean music culture, the team put together a demo that featured the dancehall and reggae native to Rihanna's hometown along with the smooth R&B that suited her vocals. The demo did the rounds and she was personally signed to her record label by none other than Shawn Carter, more famously known as Jay-Z! Her first single has already notched up some milestones including Most Added At Radio, Most Downloaded Song on iTunes and Greatest Gainer On The Billboard Hot 100 Chart. Influenced by divas like Beyonce, Alicia Keys, and Mariah Carey, Rihanna took on co-writing responsibilities on her debut. When asked what her goal is, she says she wants to spread the vibe of sunny Barbados to the world. Like she says on her first single, hit replay!
Sound: Based in dancehall, Rihanna's music calls to mind the same irresistible quality of Sean Paul and Shaggy. This teenager though, is up for trying all sorts of combinations. Caribbean beats are laced with R&B but lest you think she's just a dance artist she wants to showcase her singing talent too, and does exactly that on some lush ballads off her debut disc.

You can read the rest of our feature on the Fantastic Four in the August 2005 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.

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