To those who’ve been paying attention, Nigerian-German artist Ayo needs no introduction. She first caught most people’s ear with her rootsy 2006 breakout track Down on my knees from her debut album Joyful, an album which went on to achieve platinum and double-platinum status in different European regions.
Ayo has set the tone for further success with the release of her fourth album Ticket to the world. She collaborates with Congolese rapper Youssoupha, who’s been igniting musical minds from France to Dakar, on the opening track. Check it out below.
The face of music in Africa is changing. Musicians are seeking alternative routes to the shoddy label of ‘world music’, and finding unprecedented levels of success in the process. There is a growing amount of independent artists who, through their ability to combine global influences with localised flavours, have figured out how to capture a wide-ranging legion of followers.
For this month’s post, I’ve mined some treasure to present the second edition of African musicians to look out for. We chart territory ranging from pop music in South Africa to post-Fela beats in Nigeria. I also got in touch with Brooklyn-based Ghanaian rapper Blitz the Ambassador whose free-to-download offering entitled The Warm Up was released on Tuesday.
Beatenberg – Chelsea Blakemore
Beatenberg comprises three South African lads whose latest single Chelsea Blakemore harvests from their backgrounds in jazz and electronic music to add to their growing catalogue of hauntingly evocative songs. These, in drummer Robin Brink’s words, are aimed at “everyone ready for a fresh South African pop sound.” The lyrics are playfully gutsy – or painfully ironic depending on how receives them. This particular song is named after vocalist/guirarist Matthew Field’s ex-girlfriend. “We’re all tight friends” asserts Brink. Ross Dorkins’ touch of bass adds to the song’s smoothness, making it a potential favourite at the country’s festivals during the upcoming summer. Their full length album will be released by Universal Records in 2014.
Zone Fam – Translate
Zone Fam is a Zambia-based rap group who has done well in penetrating the consciousness of audiences across the continent since their break-away hit Shaka Zulu on em hit airwaves two years ago. With a new single circulating and a new album in the works, it’s exciting times for the quartet comprising Dope G, Jay Rox, Yung Verbal and Thugga. They’ve been nominated for the African Entertainment Awards – a ceremony aimed at honouring “the rich culture of african [sic] art and entertainment” – under the best group category. Their sophomore album is due for release later on in the year. They follow up their party-centric Lobolawith this subdued homage to body language.
Burna Boy – Run My Race
The solid, gliding patterns of Afrobeats have ensured that Fela Kuti‘s legacy continues to exist in modern pop music. While bands elsewhere are taking the Afrobeat staple refined by Kuti, artists on the continent have resorted to panel-beating the danceable aspects of the genre into a new wave of sound referred to as Afrobeats, a sub-genre described by Olufemi Terry as “African pop about women, parties and success” in an article published by South Africa’s Rolling Stone magazine. Commenting on the Kuti/Afrobeats relationship, Terry pondered whether the legend would turn in his grave were he to hear the sound he was linked to this sound.
Burna Boy, the Nigerian-born artist who sang “They say I sound like a combination of Sizzla and Fela Kuti” on My Journey, has decided to embrace comparisons to the latter. He went to the Afrobeat legend’s shrine, the Kalakuta Republic, for the video of one of his latest works. Entitled Run My Race, the song is best experienced in sweaty clubs along West Africa, and increasingly across the continent.
Blitz the Ambassador
“From Tahrir Square to Madison Square the streets are crammed, Revolution will not be televised or Instagrammed,” raps American-based Ghanaian rapper Blitz the Ambassador. He set aside time to chat about how his song Bisa(What [are] you asking?) got made. The result is a fierce socio-political manifesto featuring UK-based rapper TY and Nigerian vocalist Nneka.
“There were only two collaborations that were done in person. One was Nneka. That literally happened accidentally I recorded with her [over the] Internet for the actual album, ” Blitz the Ambassador explained.
“We facilitated that through the internet, it’s a brilliant song! I got to Paris; she just happened to be in town as well and wanted to link up. So I told her I was working and she came through to hang and say hello. She heard Bisa; I’d just started crafting it, and she was like ‘This is amazing, I’d love to jump on.’ I said: ‘Take a shot.’ That’s how the song ended up being made.”
The music scene on the African continent has always been a hive of activity, starting from the early sixties when the likes of Franco reigned supreme. But this activity was always shrouded in terms such as “world music” which tended to lump wide-ranging musical styles into a flat, gray mass of indistinguishable sounds.
Over the past decade, this trend has changed. More cross-continental collaborations are taking place and, thanks in part to continent-wide television networks like MTV Base and Channel O, more people are being exposed to the wide array of artists coming out of the continent.
I’ll be bringing you a monthly recap of some of the amazing music being released, from Ghanaian hip-hop artist Sarkodie and Nigerian artist 2Face Idibia, to the emerging Namibian hip-hop trio Black Vulcanite and South African pair Dirty Paraffin. For this inaugural music review, I trekked east and found Kenya’s Camp Mulla collaborating with recently-relocated Ghanaian rapper M.anifest on a made-for-the-club-dance-floor track; crossed the border over to the DRC to find Alec Lomani’s mind-altering beats, then headed to the continent’s southern tip where current hip-hop darling Khuli Chana was waiting with his poignant blend of retrospective rap awesomeness.
Kenya’s Camp Mulla collaborate with Ghana’s M.anifest on a song so watertight it wouldn’t need to jostle its way onto a commercial radio playlist to be noticed. When I first heard All In‘s opening chords, it sounded very urban. Bar my reservations about the appropriation of fringe cultures by the mass market, All In is a decent song. M.anifest’s ascent has been nothing short of inspiring – barely a year has passed since he moved back to Ghana from America, but his list of achievements and award nominations are testament to his focus and relentless work ethic.
Imagine Miriam Makeba on tour in the summer of ’72 in New York City. Pata Pata had just been released, and as the world prepared to usher in a new superstar, time leaps forward to 2013 in Kinshasa. Her historic tune has been usurped, turned on its head and re-interpreted into an unintended – yet exceptional – groove by Alec Lomami. The Kinshasa-born rapper currently living in South Africa is responsible for lifting the iconic song’s lilting melodies and ejecting electronic sounds which underpin the original’s funky strut. This accentuates rather than obscures Pata Pata‘s ubiquity on the musical landscape. Lomami expertly maintains the original song’s charm, yet drives it forward with his imaginative, forward-thinking approach to composition and song structure. “The song is an almost four-minute complaint,” he explained in an interview recently. “It is me being cynical … I tell myself ‘no one really cares, bruh, you’re just wasting my time.'” Pardon My French must be played at a really high volume while doing Saturday morning chores like laundry. Ridiculous dance moves are compulsory.
Khuli Chana’s story is not just the usual narrative of obscure-turned-famous artist. It is, rather, a nuanced tale of a childhood spent in the former homeland of Bophuthatswana under Lucas Mangope, absorbing mid-nineties rap music and dabbling in high school rap groups which laid a solid foundation for his music career. He was recently honoured with three Sama awards including Album of the Year. Khuli is no stranger to mainstream success; as part of Morafe, the group, along with Hip Hop Pantsula (HHP), brought the Motswako sound to a greater audience in the mid-2000s. Arguably, Motswako – a “melting pot of creativity, style, music and art” according to HHP – has now become synonymous with good times and party vibes, and Khuli Chana is its president. Firmly rooted in the basics of rap music, his impeccable flow and delivery set him apart from his peers. Coupled with his relentless work ethic,it will ensure his music endures time and its elements.
Hip-hop is taking on an increasingly localised flavour, but it’s not all Africa has to offer. In my next review I’ll take a look at Ghana’s Azonto dance craze and South Africa’s emerging electronic music acts.
I come from Lesotho, a country not only plagued by the tired narrative of western media – war, famine, HIV and Aids – but also one that possesses its own unique set of problems. We are often portrayed as little else but a nation of blanket-wearing horse riders and job-stealing immigrants. Lesotho-isms can fill up a novella – example: we’re horse meat-eating imbeciles whose country should be incorporated into South Africa because we “just sponge on South Africa and [have] no true right to statehood”. Yes, ignore historical events which led to the status quo; disregard our scholars; overlook our founder King Moshoeshoe I, who may have been the greatest diplomat on the continent. Just bundle this nation of 1.8 million-odd nobodies – nobodies who, by the way, hosted successful elections and oversaw a peaceful transition into a destructive mess that needs cleansing.
Collectively we are known as Basotho (the singular is Mosotho), an amalgamation of people from different clans founded by King Moshoeshoe I during the fierce Mfecane wars of the early nineteenth century. We have fought our battles, managed to win some, and suffered major defeats in the process.
Lesotho is as much a part of the continent as any other nation. Our potholes are no less different from those in Uganda; our highlands, though not as densely forested, are as green as any in the Congo; our government is as corrupt; our public sector services – health, education – as inefficient as those in any other member states. Sometimes, the authorities like to pull a Ghana on us with rolling power blackouts, but thank goodness these are not frequent! We have food, we have life, and we have rap music.
Like elsewhere on the continent (Mali, for instance), our form of rap is informed by age-old traditions. Our rappers are from a lineage of liroki (praise singers) who used their oratory skills to record history for the sake of posterity. Lithoko tsa Marena a Basotho (Praise songs of the kings) by African folklorist Z.D. Mangoaela contains praise songs composed by chiefs during wartime; vivid portrayals of the setting, the events, and the aftermath are outlined in their moving depictions of battle.
Our hip-hop culture is devoid of burgeoning graffiti, deejay, or break dancer scenes à la South Africa or Egypt. Though we are aware of these elements, their incorporation seems to have been secondary to the rap aspect. Perhaps the paint was too expensive, and those who could afford turntables found collecting and spinning house music vinyl more lucrative. After all, hip-hop in Lesotho remains a fringe culture with no guaranteed returns; a labour of love where labourers toil with no end in sight.
Rap was introduced in the late eighties/early nineties through people whose families had travelled overseas and had access to all the releases which were making waves during that period – the Public Enemy’s, Rakim’s, and NWA’s. Throughout the nineties, local rappers tried to get songs recorded and released, but the odds adversely affected their individual and collective efforts. Firstly, no one in power saw hip-hop as a cultural tour de force, and everyone else who was not a practitioner but had exposure to it in some way immediately dismissed it as an ‘American thing’. More importantly though, Lesotho has never had a recording industry to boast of – all of the traditional Sesotho musicians had to – and to some extent still do – cross the border into South Africa in order to ply their trade and become recognised.
All these factors, coupled with the environment at that time – one public broadcaster in the form of Radio Lesotho, lack of interest in the music by the general populace, as well as low disposable income of citizens – made it near impossible to have any hip-hop/rap movement to speak of.
And so it was that hip-hop heads got relegated to the peripheries of society, and rappers only had the odd show to attend – at least this was the case when I got involved towards the tail end of the nineties. While I had been listening to rap music for some years, coupled with the staple diet of kwaito à la M’du, Trompies and BoP, I had never considered rapping until then. The scene as I remember it at that time consisted mainly of rap ciphers (‘jam sessions’) around town; Wu Tang Clan and Canibus were big in the rap world, so naturally emcees gravitated towards their style of rap.
In 2013, the challenges have advanced beyond lack of airplay or live performance venues, though there is still a shortage of the latter. Rather, Lesotho hip-hop struggles with relevance: to purge the bones of Americanisms in favour of a more local aesthetic, one that derives from the ubiquitous accordion music scene, for instance. Along with this, the challenge is to also address and redress social ills (rape, police brutality, government fraud); to engage people in a conversation that stretches beyond the trappings of mainstream rap’s materialistic sensibilities. I am confident that we will get there. We started with cassette tape demos before graduating to lo-fi DIY recording and small-scale CD replication. Now we have our own bedroom set-ups and small-scale studios. It will be interesting to see what comes next.
A duo of forward-thinking lyricists whose long-time involvement in the rap scene has given them a firm grounding on which to unleash their futuristic, kwaito-rap-afro-jazz-inspired brand of musicality.
A relative newcomer, he understands the fundamentals of lyrically intensive hip-hop, yet utilises his natural flair for well-crafted raps to deliver borderline catchy songs, satisfying the uninitiated and the connoisseurs in the process.
Ts’eliso Monaheng is a Lesotho-born writer whose obsession with rearranging words is threatening to overtake his abilities as a computer scientist. He blogs at ntsoana.wordpress.com