African music has been influencing Western music for generations. Now, a new wave of musicians are becoming huge stars in their own countries, partly due to the growth of music streaming services. And they’re determined to show the rest of the world a diversity of sound that in the past has been lumped together as simply world music.
Owen Fairclough reported from the South by Southwest music festival.
Olanrewaju Ogunmefun his voice as a teenage lead tenor in his Nigerian church choir.
“It was a music foundation but I leveled out with rap,” he said on a balmy evening in Austin, Texas, shortly before taking to the stage at the South by Southwest music festival.
As Vector the Viper he’s a charismatic rapper and one of Nigeria’s stars.
But he’s also part of an African contingent bringing their sound to the US and determined to challenge stereotypes.
“While I was studying philosophy I hated the fact that my lecturers always said the Western world didn’t think Africans could rationalize enough to have a philosophy,” Vector said. “And that rubbed off wrongly on me. And I thought through my music I’ll show the world Africans can reason.”
Vector is one of three dozen artists playing the biggest showcase of African music ever seen at South by Southwest in Texas – a southern state whose sounds owe so much Africa.
The slave trade brought Africans to the United State and with them influences on all kinds of music, from blues, to jazz, to hip hop.
But if Africa’s cultural impact on the U.S. is undeniable, there seems to be less political engagement by the current administration.
President Donald Trump may have hosted African leaders at the White House, but subsequent derogatory comments remarks about some African countries caused significant diplomatic fallout, though Vector seemed philosophical about it.
“It’s the norm,” he shrugged. “Africa has been frowned upon over the years. Africa has been condescended upon over the years. I’m aware of that, but I’m also aware that away from all that, there’s greatness too.”
Just ask Rihanna and Drake – megastars who’ve both collaborated with the likes of Nigeria’s Wizkid, prompting American record label RCA to sign him to a multi-album deal.
It’s great exposure in the U.S., but also an opportunity to grow fan bases in places like Nigeria and South Africa, whose young populations are willing to spend on new mobile streaming services.
Hakeem Condotti, Chief Executive of Nigeria’s Bavent Street Live music promoters, said: “The market for them is actually in Africa. If you make enough noise, enough good music, you have the numbers. And once the brands pay attention, once the media pays attention, then you have this stage.”
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