One of the best things to happen in 2020 was my discovery of COLORS Studio: an aesthetic global music platform and YouTube channel that defies conventional genres. The studio, started by creatives Philipp Starcke and Felix Glasmeyer, releases two weekly videos of artists performing their songs live in an empty, monochromatic room. The Berlin-based studio highlights underground music talent from all over the world, allowing skill to shine and reimagining studio sessions.

COLORS Studio, created in 2016, allows listeners to appreciate original music without distraction in a simplified yet beautiful platform, crossing barriers of language, genre and ideology. The removal of genre at COLORS is particularly critical in the music industry, as genres like rap or hip-hop have historically perpetuated racism and stereotypes by boxing certain artists into them. COLORS, unlike other music platforms, labels and streaming services that reinforce power imbalances, empowers artists and amplifies diverse voices.

Here are my top five favorite releases by COLORS Studio this year: 

1. ‘Tropicana’ by Topaz Jones

This release by COLORS’ Berlin chapter features Topaz Jones stylishly performing his 2016 song “Tropicana” in a lush, sunny yellow-orange room. Jones’ performance, particularly in “Tropicana,” is the essence of that sunny and vibrant color. He comes from a long line of funk music artists and organizers, which is apparent in his music, as this history of funk imbues every sonorous note of Jones’ “Tropicana.” He allows each note and tone to take up space and reverberate. Jones’ celebration and modern reinterpretation of funk music defies genre and any previous conventions of funk music, while also respecting its origins. 

I came across this song at around 1 a.m. in my dorm as I mindlessly scrolled through COLORS Studio on YouTube. The simplistic boldness of the video caught my eye, and my ears were immediately captured as soon as the first verse of the song began. This track is perfect to jam to alone in your room. 

2. ‘Nada’ by Lido Pimienta featuring Li Saumet

“Nada” is a single from Pimienta’s highly-anticipated album “Miss Columbia,” released in April. The vocals are enchanting, both beautiful and haunting at the same time. Pimienta exhibits an extreme talent for melding Latin American music with synthpop, possibly a reflection of her Colombian origins and Canadian background. Immersed in the lofty woodwinds and deep percussion, this song transports listeners away from the real world; it’s perfect to listen on a long walk.

This track contemplates “the power and strains that a mother experiences,” writes COLORS Studio. The evocative tonal sounds embody the tension between empowerment and stress that mothers often feel. This short track seems to paint the picture of a lifetime.

3. ‘Nterini’ by Fatoumata Diawara

I discovered Diawara, a Malian singer, actor and songwriter, in my African studies freshman seminar. That discovery completely changed my music listening habits, especially considering the lack of African musical representation on streaming services and radio stations. While Diawara’s dynamic vocals and instrumental skill are apparent in all her songs, “Nterini” allows her powerful guitar solos and African drum lines to truly shine. Her instrumental mastery paints a beautiful backdrop for her potent lyrics and vocal fluctuations. COLORS describes her music as “soundscapes” that meld traditional and modern sounds. Every song feels as though one has entered a new world of sound, and “Nterini” is my favorite world.

4. ‘Kaät’ by Roseaux featuring Blick Bassy

Need the perfect song to roadtrip through the countryside? “Kaät” is it. The gentle flute tones and notes of the guitar allow your thoughts to wander along silky French lyrics. Roseaux’s music pushes back against my own American misconceptions of French lounge music — it’s not background music to talk over — it is the main focal point of the listening experience. Bassy’s performance infuses some of his gentle Cameroonian intonations, making the track stand out even more. Yet again, this COLORS Studio performance brilliantly crosses boundaries of culture and genre. 

“Kaät” embodies summertime, even if it’s played in the middle of January while in quarantine. A delicate and lofty sense of escapism permeates the atmosphere the minute this song begins.

5. ‘THROWYOASSOUT’ by DUCKWRTH, featuring Channel Tres

This is the perfect track for starting any party or getting hyped to do the dishes. Whatever activity you need energy for, play this song to get you ready. I discovered this when playing through the COLORS Studio tracks on Spotify while cooking dinner, and when this song came on, I found chopping onions suddenly became a lot more fun.

“THROWYOASSOUT” is bright and energetic — full of funk and head-banging beats. DUCKWRTH is known for making music that is the essence of being “unapologetically you” and “THROWYOASSOUT” may be one of the best examples of that maxim. Not holding back, DUCKWRTH jams out to this groovy track, dancing around the microphone in the studio, just as we all dance to it at home.