The rise of UK Afrobeats

No­body is quite sure what to call it and that’s what is so ex­cit­ing. Dan Han­cox charts how a new wave of black artists have by­passed tra­di­tional gate­keep­ers to de­liver their ver­sion of Afrobeats

The National - News - The Review - - Front Page - Dan Han­cox is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to The Re­view who also writes for The Guardian, Lon­don Re­view of Books, Vice and The New York Times.

Many of the artists are mak­ing and con­sum­ing mu­sic en­tirely on YouTube

Over the decades, the sound of young Lon­don has long had a reach far be­yond its nar­row de­mo­graph­ics. Take the punk scene of the late 1970s to dance styles uniquely associated with the British cap­i­tal such as UK garage, and more re­cently, the once-niche grime scene that has pro­duced in­ter­na­tional stars like Dizzee Ras­cal and Skepta.

It’s long been said of the evolv­ing styles of British dance and rap mu­sic that there is a thrilling mo­ment of white-hot fluid cre­ativ­ity, when a new genre is still be­ing forged, be­fore its for­mal tropes and habits have cooled and hard­ened, and it re­mains un­named. Ob­servers have called this “the wot do u call it? mo­ment”, named af­ter the 2004 Wi­ley song of the same name, in which the leg­endary MC broke down the emerg­ing genre that would be­come grime: “What do you call it, ‘garage’? ... Lis­ten to this, it don’t sound like garage”.

In the past year, we seem to have en­tered an­other mo­ment like this, as the in­ter­na­tional path­ways of pop and rap con­verge on the ears of a new generation of young Lon­don­ers.

The mu­sic com­bines el­e­ments of thriv­ing Ghana­ian and Nige­rian “Afrobeats”, Ja­maican dance­hall and dif­fer­ent United States rap styles, in­clud­ing south­ern “trap” and the newer, ni­hilis­tic (and ono­matopoeic) Chicago “drill” sound. What do they call it? Well, no one can quite agree: Austin Daboh, hired from the BBC black mu­sic sta­tion 1Xtra to de­velop Spo­tify’s playlists calls it “Afro-bash­ment” – a bash­ment be­ing a type of Ja­maican reg­gae-dance­hall. Oth­ers go with “Afro-trap”, or sim­ply “UK Afrobeats”.

The African in­flu­ence marks a sig­nif­i­cant shift in the black British di­as­pora: for decades, black British mu­sic was dom­i­nated by the sounds im­ported by post-war mi­grants from the Caribbean, who came to the UK for work; heav­ily in­flu­enced by Ja­maican ska and ca­lypso, and var­i­ous it­er­a­tions of reg­gae – and lead­ing to British-born styles like lovers rock in the 1970s, and later jun­gle, garage and grime.

Over the decades, changes in mi­gra­tion pat­terns grad­u­ally came to cre­ate an African ma­jor­ity in Bri­tain’s black di­as­pora, and now, sec­ond or third-generation mi­grants in big cities like Lon­don and Manch­ester are em­pha­sis­ing their roots, just like those with a Caribbean back­ground did.

The first big star from this asyet-un­named scene, 21-year-old J Hus, re­leased his de­but al­bum

Com­mon Sense last month, to con­sid­er­able ac­claim. It en­tered the British charts in the top 10. Ap­pear­ing on the cover of US rap magazine The Fader re­cently, he talked about a child­hood full of “African par­ties – all African mu­sic, all night long” with his Gam­bia-born mother. It’s cer­tainly some­thing you can hear on the al­bum, thanks to bits of slang and oc­ca­sional in­flec­tions in J Hus’s oth­er­wise very Lon­don-sound­ing ac­cent, but most of all in the pro­duc­tion, cour­tesy of in­creas­ingly in­flu­en­tial young pro­ducer Jae5.

Like J Hus, Jae5 was born in Lon­don, but his African roots re­sulted in a move to Ghana be­tween the age of 10 and 13, and with lit­tle else to do but play foot­ball, he started play­ing around with PC mu­sic soft­ware Fruity Loops – chan­nelling the UK garage he had heard as a child in Lon­don, the US rap mu­sic his brother loved and the Ghana­ian “hiplife” his mum lis­tened to.

As if to com­plete this network of 21st cen­tury black di­as­po­ran in­flu­ences, Jae5 de­scribed his for­ma­tive mu­si­cal mo­ment. This was when he saw Ja­maican dance­hall leg­end Shaggy in a sta­dium in Ghana at the age of 12: “I think that might have con­firmed for me that I wanted to do mu­sic. It was huge.”

The part­ner­ship of J Hus and Jae5 has cre­ated an hour or so of some of the most glo­ri­ously fun, fre­quently dance­able new mu­sic to come out of the UK in years – which some­how man­ages to draw on all of those in­flu­ences with­out ren­der­ing them an in­co­her­ent mess. The ef­fer­ves­cent con­tem­po­rary style of Jae5’s beats, in par­tic­u­lar, draws on some of the most ex­cit­ing mu­sic com­ing out of West Africa in re­cent years but de­vel­ops it in new di­rec­tions.

Lead sin­gle Did You See is ir­re­sistibly cool, thanks to both Hus’s smirk­ing charisma and Jae5’s ar­ti­fi­cially-en­hanced finger-clicks. The funky Bouff Daddy and pure G-funk swag­ger of ti­tle track Com­mon Sense are other stand­outs. But the whole al­bum is im­pres­sive – this is an artist who can rhyme “tilapia” with “mafia” and still sound ef­fort­lessly cool.

While the thriv­ing plat­forms of Web 2.0, smart­phones and faster broad­band have en­cour­aged the col­li­sion of the cross-con­ti­nen­tal sounds that feed into Com­mon Sense, they are also help­ing a new generation of artists cul­ti­vate sub­stan­tial fan­bases with­out need­ing sup­port or ap­proval from the es­tab­lished mu­sic in­dus­try and their gate­keep­ers.

Prior to his de­but al­bum, J Hus’s 2015 mix­tape, The 15th Day, wasn’t played on com­mer­cial ra­dio, or dis­trib­uted via iTunes, Spo­tify or other of­fi­cial down­load and stream­ing ser­vices. His break­through un­der­ground hit from that mix­tape, Dem Boy Paigon, has more than 7.5 mil­lion views on YouTube but no mu­sic video, just a static im­age. It could be heard play­ing from mo­bile phones, cars and house par­ties through­out 2015 in Lon­don; passed around for free as an mp3, cre­at­ing a huge buzz but no in­come for the rap­per (some­thing he is likely to have made up for now).

In­deed the young artists set to soon fol­low in J Hus’s wake are mak­ing mu­sic which is hosted and con­sumed al­most en­tirely via YouTube, fas­ci­nat­ingly – much like the Chicago drill rap which in­flu­ences some of them. And us­ing this direct artist-to­fan plat­form, crews like Belly Squad, Har­lem Spar­tans and 67, and solo artists like MoS­tack, Abra Cadabra and Mist are mostly still un­signed, with­out PR teams or record la­bel back­ing, but are reg­u­larly get­ting two mil­lion views or more for each of their new tracks.

It seems safe to as­sume this fan­base is com­prised largely of teenagers who don’t buy mu­sic and don’t sign up for sub­scrip­tion stream­ing sites like Spo­tify. The in­dus­try can only fol­low their suc­cess and try to lure them into more tra­di­tional deals for al­bum re­leases. What­ever this hy­brid genre might end up be­ing called, it seems to be thriv­ing pre­cisely be­cause it’s be­ing al­lowed the space to breathe and do things on its own terms.

Cour­tesy Olivia Rose

At the fore­front of this new scene is J Hus, whose new al­bum chan­nels UK garage, US rap and Ghana­ian hiplife.

Com­mon Sense J Hus Black But­ter, Dh38

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.