Like Your Style: The Sounds of UK Afrobeats

Clubs Editor Milly Whyman talks you through the development of a new generation of ‘UK Afrobeats’.

As grime grabs headlines while continuing to carve out its distinct identity  within the British mainstream, a new sound has been trickling into club culture at an ever-growing pace. It’s a genre that found widespread popularity in the UK back in 2012, characterised by D’Banj’s ‘Oliver Twist’ and the repeated chart success of Fuse ODG.  And it’s a genre that in 2017 can be heard spilling out of clubs and mainstream radio, finding its way into our charts with the help of artists like J Hus.

Defining the sound isn’t easy to do. Terms like Afro-bashment, Afro-swing, Afro-pop, or even just ‘Afro’ all come into play, with some producers choosing not to label their music at all. The reality is that the Afrobeats style has long been popular in Ghana and Nigeria, and with its digital rhythms, catchy hooks and move-inducing beats, it’s not difficult to see why it has cross-continental appeal. Afrobeats merges West African elements with hip hop, dancehall and bashment sounds, and it’s a hybrid that has recently met with UK music culture; grime and garage met with an African beat.

The rise of Afrobeats can be can be partly attributed to Fuse ODG (real name Nana Richard Abiona). Abiona took to the UK in 2012 Ghanaian influences of Afropop and Naija Beats, as well as the Azonto; a dance from Ghana he transformed into a viral hit that made its ways onto British mainstream radio. Fast-paced, high-energy tunes like Antenna and Million Pound Girl crept their way into the charts, and nightclubs soon followed suit. But the use of African styles was by no means a marketing strategy. The title of his 2014 album, T.I.N.A, stands for ‘This Is New Africa,’ and his website promotes initiatives to build schools in Ghana, stating, ‘his mission is re-programming the world’s mental image of Africa, it’s people and its diaspora’. This positive image promotion of ‘New’ Africa as modern, relevant and full of energy was, and still is, uplifting as well as progressive.

In the UK today, Afrobeats has changed into something different. Unlike the Fuse ODG era, the current sound is relaxed. West African elements are fused with grime and hip-hop, the result less energetic and somewhat more laid-back. J Hus, of Gambian descent, is the most relevant example of this. Vocals on his hooks are melodic and soft, challenging the hard exterior of a typical UK grime ego, and the tone is uplifting. Some elements of his debut album Common Sense, like ‘Did You See’, take on a lighthearted, cheeky tone, with others, like ‘Good Luck Chale’ tackling darker issues in youth culture. This, combined with classic Afrobeats digital sounds and percussion, as well as influences from The Streets, shows the mish-mash sound that UK Afrobeats can be. It’s a genre that allows for freedom.

A quick look at the charts and you’ll spot Afrobeats continuing its rise. WizKid’s ‘Come Closer’ collaborates with Drake and is a regular on club playlists. Kojo Funds, who calls his sound ‘Afro swing’, is an emerging newcomer that gets widespread plays at clubs and radio. Not3s ‘Addison Lee,’ similarly to Yxng Bane’s ‘Rihanna,’ combines dancehall, afropop, grime and hip hop, and the combination of such genres is proving popular –just look to the millions of Youtube hits the tracks have racked up. The new generation of UK Afrobeats is subtle but growing, gathering pace and seeping into mainstream culture at impressive speed. The diasporic sounds of the genre are inclusive and freeing.

Although the style is ever changing, African influence remains, and artists are keen to show their heritage: cultures brought together to create the sound of the moment.

Milly Whyman

Image credits: Spotlight First