Azonto! If you’re not sure what that means, you soon might. Afrobeats isn’t a band – it’s a slick style of African dance-pop that is shaking (and shaping) airwaves across the world, and hosted locally by Dubai’s AfroUrban Connexion (although an event on August 31 was strangely cancelled).
In contrast to Afrobeat – African dance fusion music originating in ’70s Nigeria – Afrobeats is the sound of African rappers and vocalists breaking into Western charts with a pop sound that is half booty-shaking Auto-Tuned hip-hop, half high-life street party. It’s loud, it’s colourful and it’s not always politically correct – but man, is it catchy. So much so that Kanye and Snoop have already hitched themselves to the bandwagon, appearing in the videos for Nigerian superstar D’banj’s hits ‘Oliver Twist’ and ‘Mr Endowed’ respectively. We spoke to leading Afrobeats DJs Abrantee and Edu to get the inside track.
It all (still) goes back to Fela Kuti. Edu: ‘This Nigerian [Kuti] musician fused jazz, funk and west African highlife into one, coining the term “Afrobeat” in the ’70s. At present Afrobeats pays homage to this sound but has evolved and infuses modern styles that nod towards hip-hop, funky house and dancehall.’ Abrantee: ‘I’ve heard it described as “a new global pop phenomenon”. To me it’s just great, great music that has been embraced by young people but is appreciated and danced to by all ages and races.’
The stars to hear are… Edu: ‘Check out D’banj, Wizkid and identical brothers P-Square from Nigeria, as well as quickfire rapper Sarkodie from Ghana, and singer-songwriter Fally Ipupa from Congo.’ Abrantee: ‘“The Thing” singer Atumpan from Ghana, and D’banj definitely – his track “Oliver Twist” [about a boy who endlessly wants some more girls] has stuck around. It was the soundtrack to our summer.’
Afrobeats has the same cars ’n’ honeys obsession as US hip hop – see the video to Olu Maintain’s ‘NAWTi’ at www.tinyurl.com/TOnawti. Edu: ‘Like other genres there is an abundance of male artists, but women do play a fundamental role in the genre – it wouldn’t be the same without both the male and female impact. Afrobeats is the soundtrack of the youth in Africa, with both men and women playing a part in this new wave. Look out for Lagos-born Tiwa Savage and Zimbabwe-born, UK-based artist Cynthia Mare.’
It has its own vocab. Abrantee: ‘“Azonto” is the word used to describe the popular Afrobeats dance. You can watch people from all over the world doing it on YouTube [www.tinyurl.com/ TOazonto].’ Edu: ‘Pidgin English is spoken mainly in west Africa, where the music scene is now most vibrant. “Ose” means thank you; “don’t dull” – don’t slack; “a-beg” – I’m begging you.’
It’s embracing the mainstream. Edu: ‘The whole essence of Afrobeats is that it is unapologetically African. People are proud of where they’re from, and you could also argue that it’s an opportunity to show the rest of the world the amazing talent and culture that Africa is bursting to share, even if it does mean tweaking bits to make it more “commercial” – but a lot of popular music does that already.’ Jonny Ensall