Meet Four Of The 21 Finalists In I Saw It First’s Search For The Next Big Artist

Women-focused style brand I Saw It First has long held empowerment as a key tenet of its identity. As a means of pushing that even further, this year the brand held a nationwide contest with Capital XTRA to find the best new talent the country has to offer.

After a lengthy process, the entrants were narrowed down by the judges (Steel Banglez, Zed Bias, Yinka Bokinni, Shayna Marie) to a shortlist of 21 artists, each of whom have been given the chance to produce their own music video. Each video has now been uploaded to the I Saw It First website, and today we’re highlighting four of those artists—Vonné, Bby Blu, Esther Durin and Ria Hanley—and tipping them as four artists you should be watching.

This isn’t just about exposure, though: the winner will also take home £25,000 and become the official sound of the brand. The decision is now in your hands but the public vote closes soon, so head on over the I Saw It First website to pick your favourite.


If London-born singer-songwriter Vonné looks at all familiar to you, it could well be because she’s been touring extensively as part of Kano’s choir, soulfully telling audiences up and down the country to “suck your mum”. Or maybe you recognise her from live appearances with Emeli Sandé or Mabel. The point is Vonné is already an in-demand vocalist, but now it’s her turn for the limelight. Her entry, “Someone Like Me”, is a powerful piece of R&B that sets her fearless vocal delivery against pulsing, futuristic electronics to create a song that’s as emotionally stirring as it is dynamic.

York-based Bby Blu presents her smokey, piano-led track “Vanilla”—which is anything but. The combination of her sultry, echoing vocals and the deep grooves of the instrumental make for an interesting listen, and the influence of her heroes Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill are plain to hear. Although currently studying for a degree in Psychology at York University, if this affecting tale of colourism and alienation is anything to go by, then she may have to put her studies to one side because she’s very justifiably already being tipped for greatness.

Coming all the way from Abbey Wood, South London, Esther Durin is already two EPs and two singles deep into her career as she presents her “Active”. Her first official release was last year’s Mood Vol. 1, but her very first outing was a collaboration with Talib J called “B.U.T.M.U” back in 2016. Since then she’s worked tirelessly on her craft and dropping off some pretty high profile collabs along the way (last year saw her open up for Burna Boy and contribute a verse to Headie One’s “Shed No Light”), and through it all she’s made a point of exploring as many different avenues as possible—sometimes rapping, sometimes singing—as she dips into pop, rap, Afrobeats, R&B and more.

Southampton’s Ria Hanley sets herself apart from the crowd with a subtly uplifting soul number called “Pink Lightning”. The subtle electronics and minimal piano line give Hanley a restrained backing for her delicate, almost haunting vocals to lay out a rousing message of empowerment and feminine strength. With an obvious talent for incisive songwriting, Ria Hanley’s future in music looks very bright.

Head to I Saw It First to vote for your favourite.

Posted on December 12, 2019