Nonny's Afrobeat Report
Seemingly out of nowhere, 2011 has proven itself as a momentous year for Afrobeat. With a signing to Kanye West’s label, a Grammy nomination, a MOBO Award, widespread dance fever, a stack of international concerts and a rising film and fashion industry, it appears that Africa can no longer be ignored. A new generation of African artists are emerging, fully equipped with an impressive back catalogue, fanbase and, dare I say it, swagger. Spearheaded by the likes of Nigeria’s 2Face Idibia – whose infectious feel-good ballad, ‘African Queen’, was a staple at African weddings for some time – recently stormed the O2 Arena in London with a sell-out show.
Back in the summer, all eyes were on another of Africa’s biggest artists, as history was made when D’Banj became the first international signing to Kanye’s G.O.O.D Music label – along with his producer and Mo’Hits crew member, Don Jazzy. Not only are the genre’s most talented artists being signed, but they’re being recognised. Put aside the two BET Awards that both 2Face and D’Banj added to their respective collections, and turn your attention to 21-year-old rising star, Wizkid – who picked up the award for Best African Act at this year’s MOBOs.
If that wasn’t enough, Tiwa Savage – who is an up-and-coming singer/songwriter with the hugely popular track, ‘Kele Kele’ – walked away with a Grammy nod for her work on Fantasia’s ‘Collard Greens and Cornbread’ album. Big brands were also forced to pay attention. Reebok named Afro-German singer and rapper Nneka as the European face of the brand. Africa was also swept by Ghanaian dance craze ‘The Azonto’ (a cross between a funky skank and the cooking dance), which has so far sparked a string of worldwide YouTube videos and dance competitions.
Back at home in the UK, the theatre production of ‘Fela’ – based on the life and times of the father of Afrobeat, Fela Ransome-Kuti – hit the stage and ethnic-inspired prints and patterns could be spotted all over the catwalk and the high street. Gone are the days when DJs drew for all of two African tunes amidst a mammoth collection of soca and bashment CDs. A thriving club scene has emerged, particularly on the university circuit, championed by the likes of Sef Kombo and DJ Larizzle, as first generation British-Africans embrace their identity and demand to hear their music in equal measure at raves.
Also, let’s not be naive, the UK is also home to its own flourishing population of artists making Afrobeat music, such as Dotstar, M3nsa,Noni Zondi and M.I.A. collaborator, Afrikan Boy. Nevertheless, to think that Afrobeat is still yet to occupy a space in the commercial mainstream is quite absurd. It was only a matter of time before someone realised that Africa and its 1,000,000,000 inhabitants was a viable market. As cliché as it may sound, Afrobeat is here to stay – shame on you if you were thinking of turning a blind eye. Vive la revolution!
Words: Nonny Orakwue (@MisssN)
Online editing: Joseph 'JP' Patterson (@Jpizzledizzle)