A few weeks ago, Jamaican-born dancehall artist, Mr. Vegas presented a candid lens to glean the implications of the current reinvention of dancehall music on the originators of the sound. The singer argued that dancehall artists may be heading to the place of irrelevance thanks to artists like Drake, Justin Beiber and Tyga amongst others who have drawn influences from the Jamaican sub-genre. Further arguments have since weighed the dangers of forgetting the true genre creators and definers who neither have the financial nor logistical advantage their Western counterparts have.
This curiously places Afro-inspired sub-genres in the same box. In the last few years, a steady but gradual growth of the African soundscape on international airwaves has created a bigger channel of communication between homegrown artists and their relatively more successful foreign counterparts. Though we have to admit, African sounds from Nigeria have been spreading to many corners of the world since the oil-boom music era of Fela, Oliver De Coque, King Sunny Ade and Orlando Owoh amongst others. The growth, however, has been hampered by language barriers and pattern arrangement problems that have kept the sound out of the mainstream.
The progression of Nigeria, South Africa and Ghana amongst other African countries in music production via rhythmic arrangements original to the continent and Western-influenced beats have however merged the best of both worlds. Sub-genres of Afro-pop, Afrobeats, Afro-house and others created from the fusion have been on a simultaneous rise in different parts of the world including the West where competition and oversaturation are rife.
Yemi Alade, Tiwa Savage, Wizkid, Davido and Ayo Jay are only some of the few names of success stories who have crossed more landmarks in their international cross-over efforts than many of their predecessors ever dreamed of. Unlike the days of P-Square, 2face and The MoHits crew — some of the former global ‘success’ stories — who used a combination of big-money lobbying and sheer luck to open certain international doors, younger pop stars have hinged on global access to the internet and social media amongst other things to reach larger audiences and all the right ears listening. And in a response that almost feels like a bandwagon effect, more foreign artists are taking bigger chunks of the African texture to incorporate in their original sounds.
The people at the lower ends of this scale, however, are the true creators of the sound who laboured sweat and tears to bring the sound to a level even younger artists can emulate. In a culture like Africa’s where socio-political history suggests many elements of our identity have been multi-layered by years of colonialism and economic dependency on Western nations, the achievements of veterans like the Kuti brothers, King Sunny Ade, Angelique Kidjo and others may be swept under the rug too quickly.
Another possibility here, is the complete overhaul of the sound by foreign artists. Before Drake’s One Dance or the contemporary Nigerian-bounce of Jidenna’s Little Bit More , bands like Vampire Weekend have made alternate rock versions of Nigerian highlife music since their debut album in 2008. This puts even younger generation artists in a conundrum where fighting for recognition in Nigeria is a mere sidestep when compared to the stifling battle to get their music a global audience. Afro-inspired genres will be treated like a dispensable fad, while artists who have dedicated their careers to it are thrown into the shadows.
It goes without saying that whether Afrobeats or Afropop, international audiences are starting to turn their attention to African artists. Hence, these new-age ambassadors must strive to make an indention bigger than supported features and background vocals (Shout out to Wizkid by the way). Efforts must be augmented with better production and gaining foreign airplay.
From the activism of Fela and Brenda Fassie to the sexual energy of D’banj and now the swagger of Wizkid, African music has definitely come a long away and we need to be the ones to tell the story.
Oti Oti to anything else.