Check Out Great African Music

I try to get to the gym every day. I may not always make it, but needless to say, I listen to a lot of music on my Spotify account.  Mostly, I listen to a lot of Janet Jackson, Shalamar, and 70s music.  So when the New York Times published a story on May 25, 2024 about the rising African music scene, I immediately shared their playlist to my library.  It’s called, “The Morning: African Music to the World.”  You’ve got to check it out!

I’ve heard much in the last year about African music rising in global popularity.  I like a lot of R&B and jazz, and these tunes infuse those feelings.  I was familiar with some of the song selections as they’ve already become hist on mainstream American radio (and Tik Tok).  Who knew that Tyla is South African?!

If you listen to Spotify, check out the station.

And if you want to read the entire New York Times story, here it is!

SONIC BOOM

By Desiree Ibekwe

This week, The Times published a profile of Tems, a 28-year-old Nigerian singer-songwriter who, in recent years, has: become the first African artist to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, appeared on the Beyoncé album “Renaissance” and earned an Oscar nomination for co-writing “Lift Me Up” for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” She will release her debut album next month.

To me, Tems’s music — which straddles R&B and Afrobeats — has an honesty: Her tone is earthy and her lyrics are direct, often set to production that isn’t particularly ornate. Her hooks, though, are the killer; they are seemingly crafted to be hummed around the house or screamed over speakers. These elements come together to vividly capture a feeling — whether it be heartbreak (“Damages”), defiance (“Crazy Tings”) or piety (“Me & U”).

It was unsurprising, then, to learn about her vibes-based songwriting process from the piece. “I just have a sensation, I have signals,” she told the Times reporter Reggie Ugwu. “You’re just the vessel, it’s just coming out of your mouth.”

Tems is one of several artists from nations in Africa who have crossed into the Western mainstream. Burna Boy sold out Citi Field in New York last year; in February, the inaugural Grammy for Best African Music Performance went to the South African singer Tyla for “Water.” And Western artists — including Beyoncé, Drake, Usher, Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez — have featured African artists in their music or appeared on remixes of already-popular songs.

Last year, for Old World, Young Africa, a Times project about Africa’s youth population boom, I spoke with the Nigerian artist Mr Eazi. He told me that one benefit of the growing popularity of music from Africa was that Africans had been able to wrest some control over narratives about their continent. “People are discovering Africa first, not through the lens of CNN or The New York Times,” he said, but “through the lens of the music.”

There are several reasons for the global interest — talented artists, the border-melting power of the internet, collaborations with Western stars — but one I can speak to personally, as a Brit, is the role of the diaspora.

My relationship with music from the continent started with my father, who often played highlife — songs that crackle with age and feature piercing guitar riffs — sung in the Nigerian language Igbo. (Here’s an example.) As my peers and I grew up, we developed an appreciation for African music independent of our parents. Songs by artists like D’banj, Wizkid and Burna Boy were in frequent rotation at house parties.

There is a vibrant cultural exchange between the continent and its diaspora. Young Africans in the diaspora attend concerts and music festivals like Afro Nation, and many travel to Nigeria and Ghana to party during the holiday season, which is lovingly referred to as “Detty December.” Mr Eazi told me that the diaspora in places like Britain had played a role in popularizing African music globally: “These were the ones defining what it is to be cool and embracing their Africanness,” he said.

Here’s a playlist for your holiday-weekend cookout; it includes big names from the continent and a few artists from the diaspora. Amapiano — a house genre of South African origin — makes an appearance, as does “1er Gaou,” an Ivorian song that’s a staple at African hall parties. Enjoy.

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