Why we worry about Yemi Alade’s Mama Africa campaign

Since the success of her breakout single, Johnny a clustered cross-genre fusion of Afro-pop, European EDM and South African House music, Yemi Alade has been set for the international stage.  In the years that followed the release of Johnny, Yemi has silently climbed to the top of charts across West, South and East Africa, France and the United Kingdom. In the same space, the singer has sold out arenas, headlined concerts alongside Mary J. Blige, Akon, Fally Ipupa, Mafikizolo amongst others and has amassed for herself, a horde of international awards  and nominations.

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Currently the demand for her talent is so high she has been forced to break language barriers by reworking her hit singles in other African languages to make the music more accessible for audiences in other African countries.

With the crisp quality of her music videos and Alade’s religious embrace of African prints as part of her personal style, it doesn’t take a genius to know she is paying attention to little details and placing her brand on international waters.

To prove this point, her sophomore album dropping later this month is to be titled “Mama Africa”. While Nigerians have been mostly proud of her endeavours, we can’t help but wonder if the former Peak Talent show contestant is indeed ready for the big stage and its demands.

Assuming a world view for her brand will mean additional work for her team and attention to her music as an artiste. Though she has already built a steady pace for herself by breaking language barriers, Alade will have to pay more attention to making the music more personal for every African listener that will make the choice to buy her album.

Afropop is a valid African music genre, but it is not the only one. Sound arrangements and layered  textures are peculiar for each sub-region on the continent, so If Yemi Alade plans to stand in the shoes of artistes like Angelique Kidjo or Brenda Fassie who have headed down the same path, her music would require more producers, homework and research than a few new words in her vocabulary.

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The second burden of  a world view for Yemi is content editing. Though Yemi Alade’s debut album,  King of Queens was relatively well received, for audiences conversant with Nigerian music, the album held nothing special in terms of content outside the cliche poppy formula of dance, God and love.

While Yemi Alade will still be largely confined by the rules of the pop genre her music belongs to, she will have to improve aesthetics for her music to tell African stories. Because, let’s be honest, not every African is popping champagne or losing their heads over a cheating lover.

If she succeeds in her Mama Africa campaign, she would become an ambassador for  Africa and she cannot afford  to misrepresent our stories or leave weightier issues that affect the larger mass of people on the continent undiscussed. And this is where it gets tricky.

Yemi Alade is still a pop artiste regardless of her RnB underlinings. Talking about deeply issues require a deep level of emotion pop music may not be able to shoulder. The biggest pop anthems all over the world are often based on catchy repetitive one-liners which would be difficult to do if she is singing about poverty, malaria or any other social injustice affecting African nations. To supersede this limitation, Yemi Alade will have to exploit all of her creativity, vocals and song writing abilities. Making a claim to parenting Africa is no child’s play.

We hope she is ready to do the work.

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