4. Amenta Abioto (52 pts.)
SOUNDS LIKE: An eclectic black dream from the Jazz Renaissance era, reborn in modern times.
NOTABLE VOTES: Freelance music critic Robert Ham, S1 director Felisha Ledesma, Beacon Sound owner Andrew Neerman.
"I always talk about my dad as being influential because he's the music maker, but I'm tired of that," Abioto says. "My mom is an extraordinary human with phenomenal artistic abilities, and she has always inspired and supported my dreams and the dreams of my sisters."
Abioto says she was never really pushed to pursue music, but growing up in the kind of home she did, it was hard for her not to be drawn in that direction. With jazz, R&B and various forms of African music reverberating around her as a child, it makes sense that each of those styles are mixed and matched within her songwriting—but, true to the magical aura that surrounds her, it's not a simple genre mashup. Abioto's mostly improvisatory performances feature her alone onstage, filtering her voice through loop pedals, creating a kind of mystical brand of neo-soul that also incorporates interpretive dance and elements of theater. The fact that she performs by herself is crucial.
"I love making music with other people, but this is just the way that it's happened," Abioto says. "That's partly my doing but partly because of the universe wanting me to do it myself. I feel freedom in isolation."
That self-reliant nature is one of the major aspects that's stuck with her through her move from Memphis to Portland eight years ago. But Abioto says her greatest inspiration comes from being back around her family. She doesn't make it back to Memphis often, but the city's temperament, coupled with the presence of her relatives and more black people in general, is inspirational for her in ways she describes as being "night and day" to how she feels when she's in Portland.
But she doesn't let Portland's lack of Southern sensibility hinder her from finding ways to keep her music fresh.
"I've incorporated new stuff into my music that people gravitate to," she says. "It's this more hip-hop, poppish stuff, in addition to all the loop stuff."
She's also trying to write more rather than improvise. "I can do whatever I want since I don't have any bandmates," she says. "I've got that kind of freedom, but my music now is pretty structured."
Abioto says her ultimate dream is to do a track with Esperanza Spalding. Until that happens, she'll continue to do everything that makes her and her music an unapologetic reflection of herself. At the top of that list is continuing to travel whenever she can, to experience new things and reconnect with her magical past.
"I've left before and it was good for me, but coming back for me was good, too. I saw Portland in a different view," she says. "I love Portland. I think it's great, but it's not everything."
NEXT SHOW: March 17 at Mississippi Studios for WW's Best New Band Showcase.
Best New Band Intro | No. 1: Sávila | No 2: Black Belt Eagle Scout | No. 3: Frankie Simone | No. 4: Amenta Abioto | No. 5: Maarquii | No. 6: Brown Calculus | No 7: Sunbathe | No 8: Blackwater Holylight | No. 9: Autonomics | No. 10 (tie): Public Eye and Wynne | Who's Got Next? No. 11-20 | The Complete Ballots