It’s early evening in South Africa and Elaine isn’t fully packed yet. The rising 22-year-old R&B/soul singer is preparing for her big move to Los Angeles — a literal step in solidifying her global crossover.
Growing up in Pretoria, South Africa, Elaine (born Ndivhuwo Elaine Mukheli) cites artists like Miriam Makeba, Caiphus Semenya, Brenda Fassie and Lebo Mathosa as examples of her predecessors who “did a lot for artists like myself to be able to even be considered international artists … A lot of them were staying in New York and in California, so looking back at the history of how far African artists have come and how long we’ve actually tried to bridge the gap, it really does prove to me that it’s a legacy that’s been started by so many other iconic artists.”
After launching her own music career in 2019 with her independently released EP Elements — which she finished while studying law at the University of Witwatersrand — Elaine signed a recording contract with Columbia in early 2020, with the label re-releasing Elements shortly after. Her deal signified something greater than her own success: a wave of African R&B artists and soul singers like Tems, Simi, Amaarae and sister duo VanJess were beginning to see stateside momentum as well. “It really made me understand the magnitude of the responsibility I have for young girls, young African Black girls, and the example and standard that I’ve set for R&B music coming out of my country,” says Elaine of her U.S. major label deal.