I’ve always felt music on a very personal level. As my friend Kitoye says;
“When I listen to music, I want to feel the emotions behind the artist’s voice; only then can I relate to his story”.
For Kitoye and music lovers alike, music is never just about the genre or artist behind a track. I believe that on the first listen, a song should make you feel something in your [might I say] soul. There’s a story the artist is trying to tell from his life, a vibe that he can only put into the world through his music and your ears pick on that as you listen. It could be how the drum kicks in a certain style or pace, it could be a particular line that makes your mind sink into a nostalgic maze and you begin to identify with it. This triggers your brain to ‘LOVE’ or ‘LIKE’ the song, it gives you a distinct experience which makes this feeling relatable.
This is precisely why I find music so fascinating; the borderless core that exists within it as an art form. Perhaps we could say that music is an emotional library of relatable stories from all timelines of humanity.
There are two points to this article. First, let’s address popular African music and it’s growth.
Music in Africa has always been poetic and rhythmic –one could argue that Africans have always been a passionate people. Whether it was a combination of sounds in praise of the gods, a celebration, or melodies to demonstrate a cause within our empires and so on. As it progressed, the melodies changed but the music typically stayed true to the times, reflecting the general lifestyle of the people, and in some ways shaping it.
Fast-forward to the afrobeats era; a period that I strongly dislike and I’ll tell you why. I believe it is a false reality which has never demonstrated people’s true state of mind. If you’ve listened to afrobeats, then you know what it sounds like: a rush of drums and percussions all directed towards a certain exhilarating feeling. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for that too but considering the state of the continent, I never really understood why this was the popular sound. As a consequence, I grew up listening to a lot of Western music because I simply couldn’t identify with the sounds and stories behind most Afrobeats tracks at the time. Admittedly, a few artistes started something different; I fucked hard with MI’s Talk About It, Asa’s ASA, and I won’t say I didn’t groove to D’banj’s Why me.
But at deeper points when I was at my lows, when I felt the full pain of Nigeria and how crappy my world was, majority of our contemporary artistes offered nothing I could hold on to.
In a more conscious Africa, music has to mean more to the audience. For years, I had discussions with friends about a time coming when we could finally identify with the popular ‘Nigerian sound’ (which eventually became a cornerstone in the creation of Euphonic)
We weren’t the type that only knew how to groove to a beat without considering what else music could mean to our personal lives. Besides, the scene was now saturated with the same redundant ‘Wizkid-esque’ sound.
I agree, this sound gave us international recognition however, as a music for the people, or even the artistes, it was nothing but a way to make money, to escape poverty and perhaps find hope in the pockets of an endorsement from one of the Telecom giants.
The cause and direction Fela and the pioneers had given to our music was now lost in the sauce.
And just as all hope of originality was fading, the New Age comes in deus ex machina and alas! a savior has presented itself. So the second part of this article is this: What next for us?
The New Age has been a refreshment thus far, reshaping cultures in sectors of fashion, music, art, film, tech, media, business and recently more pressing areas like politics.
Let’s talk about the music. It’s been somewhat of a ‘hostile takeover’ of the music industry across Africa in the past few years, as young individuals reclaim the creative liberty to make music based on what they feel and not what the radios will play. Artistes broke free from rules of conventional genres, choosing their own wave and refusing to dumb it for anybody. I’ve documented, interviewed and spoken to a lot of these individuals because I’m thrilled to hear music from African artistes that I can finally relate to. Finally, after all my years of screaming about the music, the world has finally listened and my generation is going on full rage mode!
Soundcloud erupted like a volcano of talent that had been waiting for years to rain larva on everything in it’s path. I found rock bands, indie pop sounds and all sorts of afro-infused acts which helped create a much needed new chapter for ‘Afrobeats’. It was a genre explosion of music pioneered by young minds who just wanted to express themselves first and foremost, hoping their audience could relate to their stories. Issues like depression, drugs, sex, life and conscious everyday matters are addressed. Our generation, exposed to the world like no other before us could fully understand and consume and disseminate.
So what’s the issue now? The issue is, we need to find more of ourselves.
Lately, the progression of our sound feels stuck. There have been stand out bodies of work out this year which have blown my mind but amidst all of that, one can begin to hear Africa following its old ways. By old ways, I mean the pestilent urge to follow like sheep instead of honing our individual voices.
The term “new age sound” is now being normalized as one single tune, a genre, instead of a statement that represents an era when we can be free of labels.
I’ve had discussions with people who identify the emerging sounds as something to just copy and, like the previous generation, cash in on the hype as ‘new age’. NO WAY! The entire Africa is on a rise because finally, we’ve looked within and appreciated ourselves and I believe this is why the music got better. The kids who grew listening to Kanye, Coldplay and Rihanna, et al, understood that they too could find their own voice and make music they wanted to hear. With the internet and social media, they got instant feedback realizing the world actually vibes to it.
We need to keep doing this; now isn’t the time to restrict ourselves once more, we’ve barely scratched the surface of what the African sound can be, like the way African America is the pop cultural lingua franca of the world, the new age has the potential to be that and more some day because there’s so much to explore, so much to say, so much to create, the stories that haven’t been told over the years are an endless pool for us to tap into. This is the exploration of ourselves and our whitewashed history through music, we can’t dull this! Let’s not ever get lost in our sauce! it will only get better if we keep moving forward, keep experimenting, keep collaborating and pushing our own boundaries on our own terms.
I’ll add my favorite song right now which is 925 by Aylø