Afrobeats has moved from the underground to become one of British music's true MVPs.
As a sound, its evolution from its deep Nigerian and broader West African roots has created space to absorb older UK traits - think grime's artistry, UKG production - to create new conduits for British creativity, allowing diasporic artists to explore the complexities of their identity in an artful new way.
Whether it's straight-up afrobeats or a new blend, it's clear that this sound now sits at the core of British music, a vastly influential part of the landscape.
This weekend, BBC Radio 1Xtra is launching The Official UK Afrobeats Chart Show with Eddie Kadi (Sundays, 1-2pm) - the first ever official weekly UK Afrobeats chart show, and a vital platform for this sound in all its guises.
As host Eddie Kadi puts it...
“This is a significant moment for Afrobeats and the diverse sounds of Africa, as the UK is one of the main hubs of the music outside of the continent. To go on this journey with 1Xtra, a station that has been championing black music including Afrobeats for such a long time is also extra special. I look forward to showcasing the impact this great music is having on the UK scene and I’m even more excited for the artists who deserve to have their work displayed on the highest platforms.”
As a guide to the evolution of afrobeats, it's well worth picking up Christian Adofo's superb book A Quick Ting On: Afrobeats on its publication next month. Written with passion, love, and no small degree of authority, it finds Christian digging down to the roots, before taking the reader forward to afrobeats current international success.
Ahead of its publication on October 7th, Christian has penned a short guide to afrobeats, moving from vital track to vital track in order to provide an outline of this beautiful, ever-evolving form.
He tells Clash: "I wanted to capture the journey from Afrobeat to Afrobeats as I have done in my book A Quick Ting On Afrobeats, via various chapters reflecting the evolution of genres from West Africa to the wider African diaspora. These seven personal song selections personify how the music has grown over decades and also been passed down from past generations to the present through poignant social commentary, sampling classic hits and dance."
Dig in below.
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Alhaji K Frimpong - 'Kyenkyen Bi Adi Mawu'
I had a difficult choice between this and Ama Bonsu by Jerry Hansen and the Ramblers Band but this reminds me of my parents dancing to Highlife in their younger days. This genre was one of my first early connections to Ghanaian culture and my family heritage. It’s a song my dad still listens to now and utters “Gone are the days” reminiscing about the quality of production and instrumentation.
An undeniable classic from the late Highlife legend Alhaji K Frimpong where the interplay between the sweet riff of the guitar, rising key chords lull you at the start. Once the swinging trap drums sway with the groove of the rhythm and the brass enters it serves as the icing on top of this very delectable dancefloor treat. The title translates as Come Back My Love and I imagine this song would’ve been a musical magnet to bring his lover back (perhaps).
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Fela Kuti - 'Shakara (Oloje)'
I run out of superlatives for his brilliance but Fela’s influence on music is undeniable and is still very much felt to this day. His dedication as a composer and bandleader to his showmanship on stage interposing social commentary within his lyricism atop of Afrobeat is both deliberate and dance led. You can hear his homage to traditional elements with the apala (talking drum) panning from left to right, woozy Rhodes keys and the late Tony Allen’s majestic drumming.
All the while Kuti doesn’t enter the fray until halfway of the 13-minute song lambasting the bravado of politicians who boast about power and influence in Nigeria (and at large I imagine). Notable mention to producer Ossie’s Bump Edit which pays homage to the classic and reimagines the brass in a BrokenBeat House style for the club.
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Daddy Lumba - 'Bribi Gyegye Wo'
An artist who arguably provided the soundtrack to most of my early hall party experiences, Daddy Lumba is one of the GOATS of Ghanaian Music.
I picked this ahead of his popular shoulder shuffler ‘Aben Wo Ha’ as it’s reflective of his Burger Highlife period and a genre which soundtracked a new experience for Ghanaian migrants in the West away from the motherland. You can hear the marriage of new technology and traditional instrument elements of Highlife in this riddim produced by the late Bodo Staiger.
Released in 1994, ‘Bribi Gyegye Wo’ was the lead single from his ‘Playboy’ album and held the number one position in the Ghanaian charts for 20 weeks. The song title translates as Something Is Bothering You and is a smooth love song with a touch of Reggae and Pop.
The video is funny and cheesy in equal measure as you watch the Jheri-Curled Lumba in his red suit run around a park courting a new lover doing a dodgy Bogle dance and laying on a feast of a picnic. What a charmer.
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Kontihene - 'Aketesia'
This one slaps harder than an uncle trying to kill a mosquito with a chalewote sandal. Aketesia is the biggest hit from Kontihene, a Hiplife rapper from Kumasi, a city revered as a rich birthplace of the Asante tribe.
Hiplife was a coming-of-age genre for me as many of the artists were looking toward the fearless energy of African-American artists in hip-hop and rap but they still blended touches of traditional polyrhythm drums and church chords synonymous with Ghanaian music.
This banger reminds me of the latter stage of attending hall parties, especially those held at Broadwater Farm Community Centre in Tottenham. The singalong chorus brings back fun memories of young and old generations putting two fingers of approval up in the air a la Gunfingers in the dance.
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KG - 'Feeling Funky'
Whenever I hear this I am immediately transported to a uni rave in 2008. I’m probably doing a shoulder skank whilst my face is simultaneously doing a look away expression to the opposite shoulder as I warm up during the intro of this tune.
'Feeling Funky' is a certified UK Funky classic from my GH sis KG aka Karen Nyame. One of few women producers in that scene during its peak she vocals the riddim alongside its hypnotic production. I think the stringy synth line slyly samples Bunny Mack’s Afro-Disco classic 'Let Me Love You' and reflects the audio appreciation of the past in the present.
When the wave of inevitable bass and solid drums arrived on this one it always united the ravers who got lower than Atlantis and were thankful for Deep Heat in the rave aftermath.
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Fuse ODG ft Tiffany - 'Azonto'
This riddim was a special arrival in the early noughties inspired by the Azonto dance and music movement from Ghana. Fuse ODG as a Ghanaian-British artist went back to his roots and collaborated with talented Tema producer KillBeatz and rapper Tiffany. I think this song was released at an important time, as the World Cup was held in Africa for the first time in 2010 and goal celebrations including the dance, particularly led by Asamoah Gyan, accompanied Ghana’s run to the quarter finals.
I feel like this song spread positivity and pride across the diaspora long after the end of big sporting events which often give you a rare pass to embrace your parents’ heritage in mainstream media in the West. Azonto was a communicative movement and a precursor to the plethora of dance challenges uniting the diaspora today. Fuse and Tiffany even have a back and forth verse referencing UK Funky skanks and dances emerging on the continent, portraying the similarity of dance despite the geographical distance.
You can watch a deluge of Azonto dance battle videos at ACS (Afro-Caribbean Society) rave linkups across the East Midlands and the South-East on YouTube today which personify this.
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Wizkid ft Tems - 'Essence'
One part of the most well-known Afrobeats triumvirate alongside Burna Boy and Davido, WizKid has been holding his own in the scene for a decade.
Affectionately known as Starboy, his rise to global prominence has rightly seen him mirror his rise to the top with a healthy discography with copious riddims including Don’t Dull, Ojuelegba and his cameo on Drake’s Billboard hit One Dance. However, Essence is a perfect versatile singalong anthem primed for a summer party rooftop or hibernating indoors on a Sunday with a cup of hot chocolate.
The assured refrain of Tems’ “You don’t need no other body” just lets her man know there’s rice at home and no need to look for love at other rival outlets. The subtle roar sample from Blackbox’s classic 'Ride On Time' is a nice touch which evokes that burning passion to keep love flowing and Essence, alongside recent album Made In Lagos, has further cemented his legacy as an artist unapologetically embracing his roots in a pop sense.
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A Quick Ting On Afrobeats by Christian Adofo will be published by Jacaranda Books on 7th October 2021 and is available for pre-order here now.
Photo Credit: Krystal Neuvill