African clubbing in London

Time Out celebrates the new wave of parties, promoters and DJs representing twenty-first century Africa. But what took the most multicultural city in the world so long to catch on?

  • African clubbing in London

    They play a pan-African musical mix at Kalabash, while focussing on a different country each month

  • ‘Oh my god. Victory at last.’ Eric Soul, DJ and promoter behind ‘Afro-twist’ parties Afrogroov, Components and new monthly, Hot Plate, is a happy man. Originally from Rwanda, Soul has spent ten years ‘lobbying’ to bring contemporary African and Afro-fusion sounds to London’s clubland and form a scene as vibrant and influential as the capital’s Caribbean, Latin American, Brazilian and Asian movements. ‘When I started DJing no one cared about contemporary African music,’ says Soul. ‘London is at the forefront of club culture but the link between African music and club culture was missing. Before when I played Afro-music no one would understand it, but now people are up for it. The movement’s come of age.’

    African music events have been a regular fixture on London’s cultural calendar for decades. However, the tendency to focus on indigenous instruments and tribal chanting offered a skewed vision several eras away from what’s happening on the continent today. Thankfully, a new influx of parties has arrived to redress the balance. With their record boxes and CD wallets (most new music from Africa isn’t pressed on vinyl) bursting with emerging and fusionist genres, and address books full of UK-based African acts, the DJs and promoters of the new school host nights guaranteed to get the adrenalin pumping of even the most jaded beat bon vivants.

    At Kalabash, a monthly soirée in Islington that combines film, live music, socio-political debate and dancing, DJ Simpson blends Nigerian afrobeat, Moroccan hip hop, Ghanaian hip-life (a fusion of hi-life and hip hop), South African kwaito-house, Algerian rock and rai and many more quality Afro-flavours. The monthly Components in Brixton features live PAs, an open mic session and DJ sets focusing on everything funk, electro, jazz and world but with a prevailing ‘Afro-slant’.

    In contrast, DJ Edu’s monthly Panache night (Edu is the 1Xtra DJ given the task of fitting a continent’s worth of music into a weekly two-hour show) is more akin to an MTV Africa party with garage, hip hop and dancehall cut up with emerging dance music genres coupé décalé from Ivory Coast, kuduro from Angola and African reggaeton, hip hop and R&B. ‘The Panache crowd is very mixed,’ says Edu, ‘so I play a 50-50 split and the African stuff goes down well as it’s new but in a familiar format. Five years ago a night like Panache wouldn’t have worked.’ Why? ‘The music wasn’t right plus I think everyone was so caught up in being British or West Indian it put them off exploring Africa.’

    Edu has a point. Due to Britain’s immigration history the black British identity is very much tied up with all things Caribbean. West Indian culture has become part of the warp and weft of London’s multicultural identity. Until recently, anything African, except within the African community itself, barely registered on the city’s cultural radar and there was a perception among inner-city kids that Caribbean culture – patois, music, dance, fashion – was cool, whereas anything African was not. Today, West Indian pirate radio stations have African music shows on their schedule, MC Afrikan Boy bases his entire image around his heritage, and grime track ‘Sweet Mother’ by Skepta samples one of his mum’s old Nigerian records. So what’s brought about the change?

    Eric Soul thinks the new generation of African musicians using computers to fuse traditional sounds with global electronic and western influences has a lot to do with it. ‘African youth are very up-to-date with technology and western music. The result is some incredible new genres and fusions that are easier for Europeans to relate to.’

    These new genres have been seized upon by a wide variety of musical ‘heads’ with global beat-mashers such as MIA, Sinden and DJ/production outfit Radioclit broadening the horizons of ‘hipster kids’ by slamming kuduro, coupé decalé, zouglou and stuff they’re ‘not even sure what it is’ from Africa with British grime, Brazilian baile funk and Baltimore club music. ‘A hardcore grime track and a kuduro beat have the same hungry energy so work well together,’ says Johan of Radioclit. ‘Often a crowd won’t know what they’re dancing to but go crazy anyway because they feel the raw energy of it.’ The response to their new electronic African music mix has prompted Radioclit to start a new night ‘Secousse’ at Notting Hill Arts Centre (starting March 14) and make their first artist album with Hackney-based Malawian singer Esau Mwanwaya. ‘It’s the right time to mix something very African with something very poppy and European,’ adds Johan. ‘People are ready for it, they want it.’

    Eric Soul clearly agrees, signing off his latest Follow The Groov newsletter, ‘It is a good time to feel and BE African.’

    Where’s the party at?

    Afrogroov at the Ritzy Café Bar in Brixton on January 26.
    Africa Beyond presents Translations Two
    at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre on January 28. Club Afrique, 158 Barking Rd, E16 (020 7511 8494). Open Friday-Sunday. East London’s premier African club.Club Volts 169-171 Fore Street, Edmonton (020 8887 6936). Open Fri, Sat & Sun. The favoured nightspot of north London’s African community.Components at Jamm, Brixton on February 3. Sunday Shebeen at Big Chill House, King’s Cross on February 17. Kalabash at Salmon & Compass, Islington on February 21 (
    at Moonlighting in Soho is back on February 22.

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