Afrobeats takes over London

DJs Edu and Abrantee give us the lowdown on D'banj and Afrobeats's hottest artists

Afrobeats clubbers Afrobeats clubbers

Afrobeats is a slick style of African dance-pop, and you’re about to hear it absolutely everywhere this summer. Jonny Ensall gets a briefing from scene DJs Edu and Abrantee.

Welcome, my friend, to the summer of Afrobeats. Azonto! If you're not sure what all that means, you soon will. In contrast to Afrobeat - African dance fusion music originating in '70s Nigeria - Afrobeats is the sound of African rappers and vocalists breaking into the UK and US charts with a pop sound that is half booty-shaking auto-tuned hip hop, half highlife street party. It's loud, it's colourful and it's not always politically correct - but man, is it catchy. So much so that Kanye and Snoop have already hitched themselves to the bandwagon, appearing in the videos for Nigerian superstar D'banj's hits 'Oliver Twist' and 'Mr Endowed' respectively. With two big London Afrobeats shows happening this fortnight, we've asked Choice FM's DJ Abrantee - behind Afrobeats at Somerset House - and 1Xtra's DJ Edu, host of the Southbank's 'Ultimate Afrobeats Utopia', to give us the story. 

Where did Afrobeats start?

Edu: 'With the late Fela Kuti. This Nigerian musician fused jazz, funk and west African highlife into one, coining the term "Afrobeat" in the '70s. At present Afrobeats pays homage to this sound but has evolved and infuses modern styles that nod towards hip hop, funky house and dancehall.'

Abrantee: 'I have heard it described as "the new sound of the UK underground" and also "a new global pop phenomenon", etc. To me it's just great, great music that has been embraced by young London but is appreciated and danced to by all ages and races.'

Who are its stars?

Edu: 'Check out D'banj, Wizkid and identical brothers P-Square from Nigeria, as well as quickfire rapper Sarkodie from Ghana, and singer-songwriter Fally Ipupa from Congo.'

Abrantee: '"The Thing" singer Atumpan from Ghana, and D'banj definitely - his track "Oliver Twist" [about a boy who endlessly wants some more girls. Sample lyric: "Oya, shakey shakey bum bum"] recently stormed the top ten and has just stuck around. It's the soundtrack to our summer.'

Afrobeats has the same cars 'n' honeys obsession as US hip hop (see the video to Olu Maintain's 'NAWTi'). Can it also be misogynistic?

Abrantee: 'No way! Women rule the floor at Afrobeats gigs. We love our women. Full stop.'

Edu: 'Like other genres there is an abundance of male artists, but women do play a fundamental role in the genre - it wouldn't be the same without both the male and female impact. Afrobeats is the soundtrack of the youth in Africa, with both men and women playing a part in this new wave. Look out for Tiwa Savage signed to newly formed Mavin Records – a brilliant songwriter she’s written for US R&B stars like Monica and Fantasia – Mo'Cheddah in Nigeria and Zimbabwean-born but UK-based artist Cynthia Mare who is signed to 2Face's label.'

What's the lingo?

Abrantee: '"Azonto" is the word used to describe the popular Afrobeats dance. You can watch people from all over the world doing it on YouTube.'

Edu: 'Pidgin English is spoken mainly in west Africa where the music scene is now most vibrant. "Ose" means thank you; "don't dull" - don't slack; "a-beg" - I'm begging you.'

What's an Afrobeats stage show like?

Abrantee: 'Pretty electric. There is always a mixture of live music and great DJs. We play the newest sounds and also pay homage to some of the old school tracks. Our audiences are loud, friendly and dance for hours on end. Try it, it's fun!'

Edu: 'It can't be summed up in a sentence. It's electrifying, upbeat, pulsating and energising. It's actually a complete body workout. You can't just sit and watch. You will be forced by the rhythm to get up and dance!'

Is it a help or a hindrance being out of the mainstream?

Abrantee: 'It has its benefits in that the scene has been allowed to develop under its own steam and so the music that has come through is the music audiences love. Its rise has not been dictated by labels.'

Edu: 'The whole essence of Afrobeats is that it is unapologetically African. People are proud of where they are from and I guess you could also argue that it's an opportunity to show the rest of the world the amazing talent and culture that Africa is bursting to share, even if it does mean tweaking a few bits to make it more "commercial" - but a lot of popular music does that already.'

So, why should I shakey shakey bum bum at your party?

Edu: 'The mashing, mixing and fusing together of other musical styles with Afrobeats and range of music from right across Africa makes my parties unique and inclusive to anyone who is a music lover.'

Abrantee: 'Let's just say my Afrobeats parties do what they say on the tin: Afrobeats in the mix with club bangers. And the atmosphere is on fire. AZONTO!'

Afrobeats at Somerset House with Olu Maintain, Atumpan and May7ven is on Sat July 14. The Ultimate Afrobeats Utopia with Ice Prince is at the Royal Festival Hall on July 21.