Alongside the usual diverse array of pop, indie, rock, hip-hop, dub step, grime and more musical genres of live shows that happen nightly across the UK, in recent years, a very exciting new party player has entered the fray. He goes by the name Afrobeats and is clearly here to stay with venue bookings across the country for its main stars set in stone.
Numerous pieces have already been written about the afrobeats scene. Its play listed on Radio 1, the BET Awards this year recognized the acts on air, black music star’s Kanye and Akon have signed up African talent, and now the trend of collaborations between Afrobeats artists, and international acts from other genres seems to be exploding.
UK chart music star Wretch32 who collaborated with afrobeats act Sarkodi tells me it’s a good thing
“It’s so good to see Afro beat acts getting worldwide recognition. A genre as strong as that deserves to be global – its talent you can’t deny’’, whilst British (via Congo) comedian / host Eddie Kadi enthuses ‘’It is testament to how far the music has come and its ability to cross over. As a result we will now see a rise in new Afrobeats stars from the diaspora’’
The infectious beats pumping out of Africa are something that the world cannot ignore. A sound so popular and specifically African conjures up the term Afrobeats. The popular sound taking over the UK airwaves pay homage to the old skool highlife sounds of Afrobeat, conceived by Nigeria’s musical genius Fela Kuti. The evolved, modern genre is a young and funky twist, where you can find memorable hooks sang in Pidgin English over an Afro infused hip-hop beat.
It’s right here in London that we see the magnitude of its success. Clubs and radios stations are being forced to play Afrobeats to cater for its high demand. The demographic and economic presence of Africans in the Diaspora has been the wagon through which Afrobeats is breaking into our western consciousness.
Let’s start with Nigeria. It’s so huge it’s akin to a continent with numerous tribes in itself. There are over 165 Million people in Nigeria alone, not to talk of the Nigerian community living abroad. So that puts into perspective the potential reach that embrace and support this monstrous musical movement which is spreading its tentacles globally, and therefore generating a lot of money in the process.
Nigerian born, British based, female music act May7ven even feels that the scene is even having a beneficial economical effect in the UK
‘’Afrobeats has travelled far in a relatively short space of time here in the UK. We still have a long way to go, but the progress is good, steady and we have certainly got the attention of the entire music industry the world over. Odd tracks are getting play listed on day time on some of the UK’s leading radio stations, and we’re starting to have a presence in the charts and clubs. Also, with the frequency of the large scale concerts holding at 5,000 capacity venues headlined by Afrobeats stars, we can certainly now claim to be contributing to the UK economy however little. People may laugh but the airlines are making money, hotels, FEU (Foreign entertainment tax) UK Boarder, jobs are being created!’’
In the early days of the Nigerian Pop music, acts like Eedris Abdulkareem attempted to gain equal footing with American artists such as 50 cent, by inflammatorily sitting in 50 Cents first class seat; a protest to the unequal treatment of indigenous artists by Nigerian promoters and concert organisers. After reportedly being told to ‘Get out of that seat’, Abdulkareem responded “You cannot treat me as a second and or third class citizen in my own country, I will not take it from anybody,” Abdulkareem said after the infraction. “If 50 Cent is a star in America, I am equally one in Africa.”
Fast-forward to 2014 and we’re seeing more Western superstars seeking out African talent and wanting to become a part of this addictive music phenomenon. This movement was internationally recognised when Kanye West signed Nigerian acts D’banj and Don Jazzy to his G.O.O.D music label in 2011. it has to be said. Jaws dropped. People were impressed and excited. Nothing could prepare fans for the moment when Kanye West walked on stage to join Nigeria’s hottest exports- the then ‘Mo’Hits’ turned ‘Mavin Records’ label. Kanye joined them at Hammersmith Apollo in London for their third instalment of the Koko Koncert series (2011). The excitement was intense. Fans alike stamped, shouted and screamed in awe as Kanye West took off his chain and put it around Dbanj’s neck, announcing to the world that the signing was official. Dbanj and Don Jazzy were then the newest members to join G.O.O.D Music.
Tim Westwood (CapitalXtra) said at the time: “I know Kanye well, but when he arrived back stage it was so exciting – it was a hot moment in the game. When he came on stage to perform and then passed the Good Music chain to the D’Banj, the crowd went crazy”!
Some acts have even been accused of jumping onto this latest fad as a business angle. Abrantee Boateng is a radio presenter on CapitalXtra in the UK who champions the afrobeats genre and is known as DJ Abrantee and states..
‘’there’s definitely been a steady rise as a lot of people still don’t understand the whole afrobeats movement although they are jumping on the band wagon, which is a good thing, as it now shows that people are taking notice. One thing is for sure, in every club around the world you will now definitely hear the DJ play an afrobeats set, which wasn’t happening before’’
DJ Shortee Blitz says …
‘’ The Afrobeat Scene on an international level is growing like crazy!! From a dj standpoint. I can play certain tunes all over the world and they’ll get love, whether they know its afrobeat or not. I suppose it depends on the type of dj you are. Whether you play by numbers or play the shit you actually feel…’’
May7ven seems to the outside world to have gone from an R&B Branded Artist to Afrobeats, but she disputes that and clarifies …
‘’ It would appear that way as I was part of the growth here in the UK when it started. When I started my career, I called my style AFR&B, African R&B just because I felt I was different and simply somehow wanted to incorporate my culture, sounds and language into my music as some of my male counterparts such as 419 squad, JJC Skills, Weird MC and co. There were no templates to follow from any other female singers on TV or radio combining African drums, language or sound with real R&B at that time and I wanted to pioneer something as a female artist amongst the many R&B females around at that time. It was during a meeting with Guy Moot from EMI at the time, where he spoke about being original and suggested that there wasn’t that much of a difference between Jamelia, Kele Le Roc and a few of us at the time and he was right. I wanted to be original and stand out; I believe it is working for me now, as you now witness a wealth of female Afrobeats artist’s actively working, combining R&B with Afrobeats. I have travelled the world, performed for presidents, received multiple awards and am in a position to be as unique and original as I want, standing out in my own lane. It is still tough, but my last 3 independent releases have had received A-List on UK radio and across various TV stations right here in the UK, which is fundamental in building a bigger fan base outside of this genre. I still have a long way to go and a massive agenda so I take nothing at all for granted’’.
So how many of the new collaborations from her genre are authentic? So far there have been numerous alliances between African and international acts, in the same way as in the early British days of urban music trying to break out to a bigger listener demographic, we used to persuade American acts with huge amounts of UK record labels cash, to feature on our remixes. The idea that now the occasional UK acts, as well as American is being sought out, to feature with afrobeats talent, is telling.
The collaborations usually still involve a huge exchange of cash and persuasion from the African teams side, but American and UK acts aren’t silly. They see this scene is blowing up with an unstoppable momentum of its own, and want to be seen as part of the movement. The international act is of course, always expected to shout out the African act in their verse. (Sean Paul) ‘’Fuse ODG and SPeezy- WHAT WE TELL THEM?-BLAZE THEM!’’…./ (Kanye) ‘’That D Banj cause hysteria, As we step of the plane in Nigeria’’…../ (Rick Ross)‘’Konvict music-Turn up the music we bumping P Square’’….and so on.
After all what’s the point of parting with bucket loads of cash without a personalised co-sign right? (Probably just because I’m British), the UK/African collaborations sound more authentic and less forced to me than the American ones. Something to do with the diaspora community here in London being much more engaged with African culture be it food, friends or music than the American’s who seem so far removed from it all).
Some things never change though. The joint videos are still materialistic urban cliché’s with opulence in the form of champagne, shaking posteriors, exotic palm tree’s, penthouse suites, the love of wearing all white and yachts- The difference here however, that’s hilarious, is that a lot of African communities are actually filthy rich and keepin it real, unlike early UK and U.S acts, who often had to act out and fake their bragadocious wealth.
The videos also expectantly feature an over sexualisation of women and you’ll see that reflected again in the collaboration between African act Dr Sid and X Factor alumni Alexandra Burke who collaborated earlier this year on their single Baby Tornado. Alexandra rocks a skimpy clinging red mini dress and shorts whilst she suggestively and sexily sings her chorus.
“We shot the video for ‘Baby Tornado Remix’ featuring Alexandra Burke with UK producers Uzo Oleh and Michael Buckman”, says Dr Sid. “They were able to bring something different to my visuals. The magic happened when both our styles met. Alex brought her sexy vibe, while I brought my African flavour. I feel it was a great synergy between the UK and Nigeria and am very proud of the result. African music will thrive with or without international recognition because it’s not just music- it’s also a culture. It can never die out- it will just keep evolving. Having the support and interest internationally, is an added bonus. I continue to be grateful for all the support”.
Alexandra herself has an opinion on what is helping Afrobeats star rise.
‘’Personally I think social media, clubs and the radio all play a massive part in fuelling the love of the Afrobeats scene. Not only that, but also most importantly Afrobeats is a joy to listen to. It’s particularly great to listen to when you are in need of cheering up, as it will never fail to make you want to dance. It always puts a smile on my face. I’ve been friends with Dr Sid for a while, I actually met him through his fiancé. I told him about my love for Afrobeats and we sat in my studio and listened to his album. It all just worked out. I heard his song Baby Tornado and fell in love. We wrote the verse and I recorded it there and then in my studio at home. It was a magical experience. Shooting the video for Baby Tornado was awesome. The energy was electric. The vibe was totally natural. Dr Sid made me feel right at home. He also taught me all the right dance moves! It was great, I look back with very fond memories’’.
Maybe Alexandra’s collaboration and the afrobeats movement in the UK will encourage MOBO to televise an afrobeats category next year as BET did this year. MOBO CEO Kanya King explained ….
‘’Afrobeats has been around for a while, but it’s definitely starting to gain the recognition it unreservedly deserves. Afrobeats has more recently taken off in a big way I would say – there are now one hour long sets on mainstream radio stations in the UK such as BBC 1Xtra and Capital Xtra. We have seen Afrobeat artists such as Fuse ODG flourish on the dance floors. If you look at his ground-breaking success – achieving the highest charting UK Afrobeats single to date, collaborating with Sean Paul and a spellbinding performance at last year’s MOBO Awards – it’s difficult to escape the impact Afrobeats has had on the UK music scene and worldwide which now leads to great collaborations between African and international artists, a clear win-win and thus also creating more opportunities for African artists to gain popularity in other parts of the world. We’re very happy to be supporting this development’’
ITV News host Charlene White is awed by the speed of the movement…
‘‘the pace at which the scene has been moving is incredible. I remember being in Kenya visiting a friend early 2011 – and falling in love with D’Banj’s track Gbono Feli Feli. So to fast forward to 2014 and see international acts (finally!) seeing how strong the market is for Afrobeats is great. What has also been wonderful is to see so many UK house producers working with Afrobeat sounds like Fela Kuti. These changes can only be seen as positive’’.
As a supporter of black music over two decades, journalist Hattie Collins, (Music Ed: i-D,Freelance: The Guardian, Grazia, RWD, BEAT, ASOS, The Hunger, G-Shock, The Sunday Times Culture…) has seen the African acts fight for their right to party in the global music industry, across many decades….
‘’ It’s exciting to see the slow spread of Afrobeats; for so long anything from Africa (and indeed Brazil, India, South America and so on) is thrown into the somewhat reductive ‘world music’ and therefore ‘niche’ category. In fact, Afrobeats is as thrilling and important as anything the UK or the US has produced and has the potential to be as globally culturally important as Hip Hop, R&B or Dancehall. It’s taken a few years, but finally, it’s not unusual to read about Azonto on Noisey or listen to a mix from Mista Silva on i-D. Now we can all cheer on Stylo G and Fuse ODG as they get another Top 10, or when we hear that Kanye West has signed D’Banj to G.O.O.D music and Tinie inked Wizkid to Disturbing London. The latter is an important point; these days, the all-important co-sign can often make or break an artist. Having the OK from a Kanye, Jay, Wayne or Drake can make the world of difference – see Drizzy’s recent Popcaan endorsement as proof, as well as Sean Paul teaming up with Ghanaian raised Fuse. Together, the two bagged a Top 3 with Dangerous Love. When a mainstream act endorses a new artist or genre, it shines a hugely powerful spotlight and sends a powerful message. The future of Afrobeats looks incredibly bright right now, and deservedly so. It’s about time that African, Indian, Brazilian music was invited from the shadow of the land of niche to be fully embraced by audiences worldwide’’.
Vietnamese Afrobeats DJ Neptizzle from Reprezent Radio says…
“I am a firm believer that it is a collective effort of Artists, DJ’s, promoters and fans that are keeping this genre relevant. As a non- African DJ that plays Afrobeats- I learnt very quickly how powerful the music is. There ain’t no party like an African party! The fact that someone like Alexandra Burke, or even myself who doesn’t come from an African background can appreciate the music and want to be involved, speaks volumes of just how influential the music is. The language barrier doesn’t hold anyone back either. For me, it’s about the beat, the rhythm and the enjoyment! It’s so infectious I’m not surprised that international collaborations are happening. Even if the collaborations are happening just for money, or purely out of love of the music- either way the music is spreading and it shouldn’t be ignored if you want to stay ahead of the game’’.
May7ven feels collaborations have their perks and drawbacks ‘’ Collaborations are always a great thing and a positive step if done properly. Examples of Wyclef and FuseODG on Antenna are a great example of getting the mainstream to finally pay attention to a hit song, exposing it to a wider audience. It is an opportunity to tap into the international artists audience presenting our style and genre of music to their world in a fashion they are familiar with, rather than forcing it down their throats. It is also a sign that times are changing and the international stars themselves welcome this sound and generation of hit makers to compliment their own records; their aren’t many examples of this so far as at the moment Afrobeats artists are the ones featuring them. Chingy welcomed and featured 2Face Idibia and myself on his own record and on the Alexandra Burke track that I am on, her team approached us to feature on a remix of her own track and not the other way round so certainly a good sign. With the exception of Fuse ODG and 2Face, the collaborations have only been good for raising the profile of the afrobeats artists in their own industry, as the international artist are not the ones promoting the songs; for example Rick Ross and P Square arguably the biggest collaboration for Afrobeats but it was noted that Rick Ross was not actively promoting/releasing or even tweeting about the song; we have had some amazing features but none of them have really penetrated the desired territories.Alexandra Burke also did one with Sid, I think it is good for him as it’s a nice song but equally Alex in her case benefits and shows her versatility and exposes her to the African market if she was to have her own release there or try her hands in Afrobeats’’.
DJ Abrantee concludes ‘’Before the scene came to commercial awareness it was already there on the underground, and more importantly the artists were doing the Afrobeats back in Africa creating their own scene. What’s happened now is the UK are taking notice of the Afrobeats scene due to artists like Dbanj, P Square ,May7ven, Mista Silva, Atumpan, Moelogo and of course Fuse all getting daytime playlists on commercial radio and charting ,which wasn’t happening before. Loads of people would tell me that the afrobeats scene wouldn’t last and that it would dwindle away. What you’ve got to understand is that Afrobeats is not a man made genre back in Nigeria /Ghana and the rest of Africa. The artists are living the music they make, and the knock on effect is that the new artists from the UK and beyond are now adapting that style and adding their own western style, to create an even more vibrant sound and culture incorporating the dances and more in terms of collaborations. I was recently at the MTV Mama awards where afrobeats artist collaborated with U.S artists in a big way: Sarkodie with Migel, Trey Songz with D Banj and French Montana with Ice Prince, so collaborations are definitely happening on a big scale. Collaborations from different genres of music are always a good thing as it just broadens the genre into different markets, which is healthy for the scene’’.
As we head into the last quarter of 2014, the UK has been given an array of confirmed gigs and Afrobeats tours from the likes of Iyanya, Mafikizolo, Tiwa Savage, Wizkid, Davido and Dr Sid. This further reiterates the words of Sid that ‘the scene will continue to thrive with or without international support’. There will always be a demand. I look forward to see what else the scene has in store.
My TOP FIVE AFROBEATS COLLABORATIONS (IN NO PARTICULAR ODER) ARE:
5-Fuse and Sean Paul:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cdpbjfV4e4
Dangerous Love stormed the UK chart at number 3!
4-Dbanj and Kanye West:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O8CUbMu-pdg
Scape Goat was a massive look with Kanye jumping on a favourite of
3-P Square and Rick Ross:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lY2H2ZP56K4
2- Timaya ft Sean Paul:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4tWUJKiT1M
1- DR Sid and Alexandra Burke:
To see just how strong the collaboration route is becoming take a look at just a few of the other major collaborations between Afrobeats artists and international artists:
Fuse ft Wyclef ‘Antenna remix’https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6LCoksSQMzsGhana/US
Ice Prince ft French Montana – I Swear:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhqVanTPqKoNigeria/US
Dbanj FT Snoop Dogg Endowed remix https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=diNW3D4SfRcNigeria/US (2011)
Dbanj and Kanye West:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nuyxLYeoVqk – Scape Goat was a massive look with Kanye jumping on a favourite of Dbanj’s. Nigeria/US
Sarkodie and Wretch 32 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HmKbV-nWty4 – massive Ghana/uk link up
Watch the throne- ‘lift off’ The track which ft Beyonce, Kanye, Jay Z was co-produced by Nigerian hit producer Don Jazzy:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZCNs0rnKxkUS/Nigeria
Wizkid ft Wale ‘Drop’:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=suMFolZ4–4Nigeria/US