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A sampling of smooth sirens and cool crooners

Staff Writer
Austin 360
Mavis Staples, who turns 80 this year, doesn’t mince words on her new album. [DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

As the overall presence of urban music at the South by Southwest Music Festival has increased over the past few years, we’ve been blessed with an abundance of singers who can really sing. Here’s a selection of soulful sirens and cool crooners who pack the vocal prowess to put you in your feelings.

Black Pumas. Ace Austin producer Adrian Quesada and singer Eric Burton have released exactly one song as Black Pumas. But the track “Black Moon Rising,” a searing love song woven with celestial mystery, was the resounding winner in the Song of the Year category in the 2018 Austin360 Awards. During their electrifying performances, Burton spins his emotion into the spiritual realm, creating a feeling that splits the difference between rock-and-soul throwdown and revival meeting. The band has a highly anticipated full platter of psychedelic soul set for release midyear, with a tour to follow. (10 p.m. March 13, Banger's; 4 p.m. March 15, Radio Day Stage at Austin Convention Center)

Mavis Staples. The gospel and soul legend was in her 20s when her family band, the Staples Singers, released the 1965 civil rights anthem “Freedom Highway.” More than 50 years later, with the country embroiled in new racial turmoil that’s really just an update of the old racial turmoil, she released “If All I Was Was Black,” a fierce protest album written in collaboration with singer-songwriter Jeff Tweedy. The singer, who turns 80 this year, doesn’t mince words on the album. "People are dying/Bullets are flying/We’ve got work to do," she sings on "No Time For Crying," a powerful call to action that reflects the urgency of our times. (9 p.m. March 12, Clive Bar)

Pink Sweat$. The Philadelphia singer-songwriter created thunderous buzz with the release of his 2018 debut EP, “Volume One,” a collection of achingly vulnerable love songs and chilled-out party jams. The tightly crafted six-song release features stripped down instrumentals that leave room for his astute lyricism to shine and his silky falsetto to soar. Lead single “Honesty” has racked up more than 28 million spins on Spotify, while the video, which features our hero rocking his signature pink loungewear as the ill-fated manager of a laundromat, is closing in on 8 million views. (11:10 p.m. March 14, Palm Door on Sixth)

Mabiland. You don’t need to speak Spanish to feel the power of the Colombian singer and rapper’s work. Her voice drips with lust, breaks with passion and reaches in to seize your heart. The 22-year-old artist dropped her debut release “1995” last year and went on to thrill sold out crowds in her hometown, Medellín as well as the Colombian capital, Bogotá. (4:30 p.m. March 14, Flatstock Stage at Austin Convention Center; 9 p.m. March 14 at Speakeasy; 11:05 p.m. March 15 at Half Step)

Mojo Juju. “I don’t speak my father’s native tongue/I was born under the Southern sun/I don’t know where I belong/I don’t know where I belong,” the Australian artist with Filipino roots sings on “Native Tongue,” the haunting title track from her superb 2018 release. The song, like the whole album, is centered around a personal narrative of her grandmother’s struggle to discover her father’s identity, but as her voice cracks with emotion, she weaves a story that cuts to the heart for anyone who’s ever felt misplaced. She uses a mixture of funky dance cuts and emotional wringers to explore ideas of otherness and resilient love throughout the thoroughly compelling release. (4 p.m. March 13, International Day Stage at Austin Convention Center; 12:45 a.m. March 14, Parker Jazz Club)

Cautious Clay. “Joshua Tree,” the second single off Cautious Clay’s excellent 2018 EP, “Blood Type,” is the catchiest anti-love song you’ll hear at the fest. It’s a glorious slice of soulful pop with an expansive arena sensibility and a sexy sax line. It was a solid follow to groovy smash “Cold War,” which won the Cleveland native legions of fans with its heady analysis of modern love laid over a burbling, minimalist dance groove. (Midnight March 12, Elysium; 11 p.m. March 14, Lustre Pearl; 5 p.m. March 15 Radio Day Stage at Austin Convention Center)

» MORE SXSW: Find some fun in our SXSW Side Party Guide

Omar Apollo. Born to Mexican immigrant parents and raised in a small town in Indiana, the 21-year-old crooner mixes psychedelic daydreams and hazy morning-after bedroom grooves with the occasional funky throwback jam. Earlier this year, he told Pitchfork his influences range widely, but he draws inspiration from emotive Mexican legends.“With Mexican soul, they sound like they’re crying,” he told the music website. (TBA)

Drama. Singer Via Rosa spent part of her childhood in Austin, where her hippie parents played in reggae bands. On this project, a collaboration with producer Na’el Shehade, she lays her soulful vocals over chilled out grooves to create moody soundscapes and lowkey dance jams. (8 p.m. March 12, Clive Bar; 12:30 a.m. March 14, Palm Door on Sixth)

Tameca Jones. You can’t really say you’ve experienced Austin music until you’ve watched the queen of Austin soul wind her body while releasing sizzling melodies so thick with raw sensuality that they will make you blush. (1 a.m. March 13, Cooper’s BBQ)