A brief history of Africa’s influence on UK music

Brighton events brand Tropicalé have an appetite for music from the vibrant continent. Ahead of their next show with Afriquoi, they explore the ever-increasing reliance of African tradition on UK dance music…

By Marko Marincic

The presence of African sensibilities in Western music is no new phenomenon; after all, it was Blues – a genre created by African-American slaves – that set the blueprint for popular music as we know it today. Throughout the last century artists such as Talking Heads and Paul Simon (to name but a tiny few) have looked to African music in inspiration and found an invigorating blend of rhythm, genuine soul, and a raw happiness hard to find in a lot of music.

Whether it be the Soukous and High Life of West Africa or the Jit style of Zimbabwe, all the way through to the more recent Kuduro explosion in Angola; so much of this continent’s incredibly varied music scene has a very profound influence on Western music, especially in the contemporary clubbing and electronic climate. 

ISSUE TWO OUT NOW

Aside from his revolutionary tendencies Fela Kuti, for instance, brought the world Afrobeat in the late 60s and early 70s, a genre that would reinvigorate the focus on groove and rhythm in popular music. It would also come to define Africa’s position as a genuine source of inspiration to a huge variety of musicians. Perhaps most notably, Brian Eno and David Byrne both credited Fela Kuti as an essential influence when working together on the critically acclaimed Talking Heads album “Remain In Light”.


*goat emoji*

Above all else Afrobeat, Soukous and Jit all bring an essential focus on rhythmic dynamism, more specifically polyrhythms and intricate drum sequences. It’s all designed to move the body – a physical approach to music that is intriguingly separate to the Western classical tradition in which there was little to no percussion at all. 

For instance, it is the iconic “cavacha” rhythm (one of many names for the groove) behind Soukous, High Life and other intrinsically African genres, that lends so much energy to the music. Try and stop the natural impulse to move your body to the beat, it’s impossible. Indeed, long drawn out grooves are prominent features in Soukous, High Life or Afrobeat – they give space to dance and to lose yourself in the beat. Something that sounds incredibly similar to something at the core of dance music in general. 

So there’s no wonder that African rhythms from all corners of the continent have had – across multiple decades, styles and countries – a profound effect on music made to dance. The Afro-Caribbean diaspora in the UK particularly has ensured the vibrancy and innovation in the British music scene. From Skepta to Dele Sosimi, musicians of African descent are increasingly making strides in the music industry across the board. 



Perhaps the area we now see its influence most is in contemporary club music. For instance, the rhythm behind Soukous and High Life was a driving factor behind UK Funky’s explosion into popularity in the late 00s, and, especially since then, a lot of more commercial music has been exploring the same drum pattern – most notably Drake’s “One Dance”. Aside from this, the rise of artists such as J Hus has heralded the arrival of a new term “Afrobeats” which is far from the Afrobeat of Fela Kuti and co., but has come to dominate prime time radio waves in recent years.

Listen to Radio 1, even at the height of its commercial-ness, and you will quickly be able to hear evidence of a groove intrinsically related to that of Rumba, Azonto, High Life or any number of other native genres or rhythms. It permeates through music from across the world, from high-rise corporate record label offices to impoverished streets, precisely because of the wonderful emphasis on a vibe. On a feeling. 

Now more than ever it seems as though the UK is properly waking up to this – Afrobeats currently dominate Radio 1xtra and a number of radio stations, Tash LC has just gained a 1xtra residency exploring music from across Africa whether it be electronic or traditional. Live streaming institution Boiler Room hosted a stage at last years Nyege Nyege Festival in Uganda, broadcasting an eclectic array of sounds to an international audience. Along with the increased globalization of the present day has come a cross pollination of Afro and Anglo music, a truly exciting development for a huge array of fans. 

This in turn has led to the rising popularity of artists born and bred on the continent. The Lagos born Wizkid is an obvious example, but there are a host of other musicians that are beginning to find huge success across the world, especially in the realm of dance music. For instance, DJ Lag, the Gqom pioneer, has taken an industrial Durban sound and managed to tour the world with it. Ghanaian MC Bryte released his debut album last year on the influential More Time label, touring the UK and even playing at Wembley Arena. The Afro dance scene is incredibly fertile at the moment, and respected British producers such as Mina or The Busy Twist are increasingly making the trip over to collaborate with the vast wealth of talented musicians.



What happens next is a beautiful fusion of UK dance electronics with the captivating rhythms and melodies of the African continent. It’s a match made in heaven, and when it’s done properly and authentically – as in the case of The Busy Twist or Afriquoi – there genuinely is not much better. The latter in particular are a perfect homage to a truly globalized 21st Century, one in which music has the power to transcend all of the artificial boundaries it is presented with – whether that be age or origin.

The aim is to fuse African sensibilities with modern electronic dance music, a captivating blend of Gambian kora, Congolese guitar and Mandinka percussion styles with a constant eye on more club-oriented music. And it really works too. No wonder really, the band are an Afro supergroup of sorts, with each member a respected bandleader in their own right. 

It’s not often that anyone manages to instil pure unadulterated joy into their tracks, especially in the often harsh and gritty world of dance music… but Afriqoui do it with ease. A cocktail of Afro-Latin tradition-bound together with the pulse of UK club music, there’s rhythm, genuine soul, and a raw happiness hard to find in a lot of music. Perfectly emblematic of the gift African musical sensibilities have given to the world.

When combined with the rapidly rising UK club scene it gets really interesting, injecting a vital focus on vibe and groove in a scene that can often feel stagnant due to the repetitiveness of the rhythm and intense concentration on sound design or other such aspects. As Afriquoi’s Jally Susso was keen to point out, “the main aim you know is to have one foot firmly in the club scene. It was a calculated thing, certainly not a mistake“. You can hear it in their music, but it never seems forced, far from it. It’s just music to dance too, to smile too, to hug your friends on the dance-floor too and shout various loving phrases in their ears. Perfect for the dance.



It’s no wonder then that their DJ sets also something they offer, it would be hard to top the live show, but listening to some of their mixes for Rinse FM or Dimensions festival, shows that the immutable spirit and fun is undoubtedly translated. Brighton party starters Tropicalé welcome them to Patterns for a debut DJ set in the city, following their sold-out live appearance in April. Come and see first hand what a wonderful synthesis it is when sounds and vibes cross continents in such an authentic and wholesome manner. And if you buy a ticket here, it will only cost three quid.


tropicaleafriquoiposter

 

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