What do "Oshe!", azonto have in common? Well, they're both either a popular phrase or type of dance born from the hottest, fast-rising genre of music: Afrobeats- a name coined by Nigerian multi-instrumentalist Fela Kuti in the 1970s. Essentially, it's a fusion of jazz, funk, and chanted vocal styles with distinct percussion rhythms. So, in essence, Afrobeats has been around for quite a few decades now and has evolved substantially with other African nations adding their own flavours and dialects to create the distinctive sound as we know it today (incorporating Afro-pop and Afr&B). The commercial success of artists such as D'Banj and P-Square who are signed to major record labels owned by Kanye West and Akon have definitely brought this genre of music to the world stage.
I only really started listening to Afrobeats about a year and a half ago and since then, it's grown on me. As a native of Sierra Leone, I'm so incredibly proud to see such progress in African music. Though bred in the UK, I've never lost touch of my roots. I remember when I was growing up and it was all about West Indian music like bashment and dancehall and only really listening to African music at home or when I went back to my homeland for holidays.
So, on Saturday 14th July 2012, Choice FM's DJ Abrantee (@DJAbrantee) hosted 'Afrobeats at Somerset House', an outdoor concert dedicated to some of the best established and up-and-coming Afrobeats artists. Headlining were Olu Maintain (@MrOluMaintain), Atumpan (@AtumpanGH), May7ven (@May7ven), Vibe Squad (@Vibe_Squad), Mr Silva (@MistaF2DaSilva), Skob, Flava (@FlavaJfmb) & Kwamz (@Kwamz_k), SOA and Tyroon Da Prince (@TyroonDaPrince).
I was granted two press passes so went along with my friend, Joy (Joy to the World) and, over the course of the evening, got the opportunity to interview some of the main acts backstage in the VIP lounge.
|Vibe Squad: (L-R) Wizzy, Dee and Kelvin|
|Tyroon Da Prince|
'Boomboomtah') and had one of those brain fart moments. The super laid back, East-Londoner explained how he mixes up his music by "incorporating my native language and own personal style" to create his sound. Originally from Ghana, he told me: "It's about time people took notice of Afrobeats. It's not just for the clubs. We're bringing it to the masses.". Quite right. As Abrantee pointed out during the show, he's definitely one to watch out for.
Silva's sentiment of taking Afrobeats further was echoed by Atumpan, who after making me blush by telling me I was beautiful (how sweet), metaphorically expressed: "Just how John the Baptist did in the bible, I want to open a bigger door for African artists. Afrobeats is, of course, here to stay. It's been here for a long while. We're just a new generation."
|Left: First lady of Afrobeats, May7ven | Right: Atumpan|
May7ven- whose stage name literally represents her birthday; yes, she was born on May 7th 1984- recently tweeted that her style is unique. Eagle-eyed UK urban website, Pappzd, posted a photo of her and Nikki Minaj juxtaposed sarcastically questioning the weight of her statement. I wondered what her thoughts were on this. "Do I look anything like Nikki?", she asked me rhetorically. "People who know me well know that I've always been experimental with my hair colour and style and that I've been around before Nikki even came onto the scene, so it really doesn't bother me."
Personally, I think we're all influenced by each other. So, that begged the question of where she gets her fashion inspiration from: "Everywhere. My music has been influenced by Michael Jackson and Fela Kuti and I guess their style translates to how I dress." So, how would she describe her own style in three words?: "Eccentric, eclectic and me". Can't argue with that.
|May7ven blingged up|
The crowd wasn't phased by the rain, and I guess that's because Afrobeats is feel-good music. "Aaaawww, you guys are dancing to Afrobeats in the rain.", Abrantee said with his signature Cheshire cat grin, while sheltered on the stage. Apparently, it took a good month after presenting the idea of playing Afrobeats for a whole a show before getting the go-ahead from his Choice FM boss. He shared with the crowd: "Finally one Monday morning- he must have gone to see an African woman that weekend and had some good fufu and eba- he said "Abrantee, remember that Afrobeats mixtape you gave me? Would you be able to do a show this week dedicated to Afrobeats?"". As they say, the rest is history, eh?
|Left: SOA (to the far left) and a dancer who is ridiculously good doing the azonto | Right: DJ Abrantee|
|Kwamz, Silva, SOA and Flava|
|Vibe Squad, Silva, Kwamz and Flava|
|Tyroon Da Prince|
|Left: Olu Maintain | Right: Atumpan|
I sure enjoyed Atumpan's energy-filled and somewhat raunchy, sexed-up performance. Well, with lyrics to his most popular track being: "Small girl, you don't know the thing; I am teaching you the thing; you are playing with the thing..." I wouldn't have expected any different.
Olu Maintain delivered a playful and sensual performance with a very well fitting outfit indeed. He performed Yahooze and my favourite track at the moment NAWTI.
The end of the show saw DJ Abrantee mixing up a few tracks for us to all jam to in the courtyard; call it an outdoor clubbing experience, if you will.
So, that was me done for the night. It was my first ever music concert so have nothing to compare it to but I can honestly say I had a great time and it was a lovely experience (big thanks to @IAmChantelleBP/ ABM Entertainment (@ABMukENT) for inviting me along).
Who knows whether Afrobeats will be around for a long time yet to come. In recent years, it's gone from strength to strength, so I hope this trend continues. In the meantime, I'll definitely support it and I'm going to master doing the azonto just like DJ Abrantee and the stage dancers.
Did you go to the concert? If so, tweet me your thoughts: @rebeccamonique.
*Please click on integrated links within this post to find out more about artists mentioned and their music.