When Afropop makes its place

When afropop makes its place

Burna Boy, Ya Cetidon, Aya Nakamura

For about five years, afropop music, or afrobeats, has been everywhere as leading artists like Wizkid, Burna Boy or Aya Nakamura fill the biggest stadiums of the planet. If the genre has conquered the whole world, how is its popularity reflected in Quebec? Métro dissects the phenomenon.

“Afropop is a term that can encompass all contemporary African popular music. It is an African sound that has become professional and commercial by adapting to the international pop market,” explains Ons Barnat, professor in the Department of Music at the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM).

If the genre – which includes multiple branches like afrotrap, afrodrill, afrohouse, afrojizz, afroswing, afrofusion, amapiano and much more – was first “influenced by others like RnB, dancehall, reggae or rap, it is now his turn to influence these musical movements”, underlines Mr. Touré, DJ of the Montreal afropop scene.   < /p>

“It allows pop music to renew itself and to arrive with new sounds that are not yet ultra-globalised”, adds Ons Barnat.

Multi-factor popularity 

Besides its ability to skillfully incorporate elements of pop music, one of the factors behind Afropop's rise in popularity in recent years is “the advent of digital platforms that have allowed artists to reach global audiences”. , believes Koudjo, a major producer of Afro music in Montreal.  

Being very dance-oriented, TikTok is one of the important platforms for Afropop, a lively music that is danced Alright. Several tracks like Calm Down by Rema, Love Nwantiti by CKay or Rush by Ayra Starr exploded on the platform. 

Another factor in this rise in popularity: collaborations. Several international pop stars having discovered the appeal of Afropop, in recent years we have seen more and more collaborations between artists from the West and Africa. Meetings, often strategic, which are beneficial for everyone. 

Take the example of Drake and Wizkid who, in 2016, released the song One Dance, quickly became a mega hitplanetary. Wizkid's presence on this track enriches Drake's music, making it even more catchy. Wizkid, on the other hand, has benefited from the visibility that Drake has brought him.  

This same strategy was repeated recently with the participation of superstar Selena Gomez in the track Calm Down by Rema, which became a historic success for Afropop music.

Even more recently, the same thing happened here in Quebec. Popular rapper Loud has released a two-song project with Congolese-born rapper Ya Cetidon. The first was able to add an African touch to his music and the second was able to enjoy the visibility of Loud. Win-win. 

And Loud isn't the only one who came up with the idea. Ya Cetidon tells Metrothat several artists are approaching him these days. In his opinion, they all benefit from incorporating Afro into their music, since these sounds can blend with all genres. The proof: the next single he plans to release in the fall is a country-rap track with an Afro melody. 

A motivating movement&nbsp ;

Ya Cetidon says he is very motivated by the recent craze for Afropop. Faced with the success of artists like Wizkid or Davido, he intends to continue his momentum.

A rapper with an Afro flavor, he sees his style of rap thus legitimized. “When I was young, people laughed at those who did more Afro, music lovey dovey, as we said. We found you less strong. It was frowned upon. A rapper had to stay purist and rap hard. The latest developments have changed the situation,” he says.

Now, Ya Cetidon has the wind in his sails and is aware that his new popularity is probably linked to the rise of Afro music.  

Even artists from France want to collaborate with Ya Cetidon. Afropop can be an excellent vehicle for francophone music.

Aya Nakamura, for example, is the most listened to French-speaking artist in the world on online listening platforms, all styles combined. It reaches the entire Francophonie and even countries where French is not spoken.  

It must be said that there are hundreds of millions of French speakers in Africa. Kinshasa, capital of the Congo, is also the first French-speaking city in the world, ahead of Paris.  

“In addition to being a medium for transmitting the French language and culture, Afropop is also a way to enrich the French language, underlines Koudjo. Aya Nakamura uses new expressions which then become common in the language.

Afropop in Montreal 

What is certain is that this music is listened to, including in Quebec. “I went to Carrefour Laval before our interview and in all the stores, ALL THE STORES, we played Afro,” says Ya Cetidon, incredulous.  

Some artists have started incorporating it into their music. Indeed, we find Afropop songs in the latest albums of Afrodescendant rappers, such as Sarahmée, Lost or KNLO. Even Marie-Mai appears on the afropop track Sans tomorrow by rapper Imposs.  

But in the metropolis, the Afro is favored especially by DJs and dancers. “Montreal is an important platform for dance, especially Afro dance,” says Koudjo. Dancers like Citron Rose shine internationally for their choreography on TikTok.

In the world of DJs, Montreal is at the forefront. Mr. Touré gives a little history: “I started mixing African music in Montreal in 2003. At the time, nobody was doing it except in African parties. Shortly before the pandemic, a few crews started to specialize in this. Now it's everywhere. »

The Maqui, Afrotonik, Occupy the Hood and Moonshine are all Montreal parties where DJs mix Afro music.

The world of the night has really taken hold of this wave. “Experienced DJs who weren’t mixing Afro are now doing it, just like new DJs. In the past, when you started, you mixed more often hip-hop or house”, says Mr. Touré.

International stars of Afropop now pass through Montreal to offer shows, which they give in the biggest venues and the biggest festivals.

Camille Guitton, programmer for Les Francos and Osheaga, has made it her personal mission to bring these artists to the festivals she works for.

“My best memory of Osheaga is the Burna Boy show last year,” she notes. It moved me to see people I had never seen in Osheaga.”

“It is important to open the public, to be a festival that speaks to everyone. And Osheaga regulars who didn't know him told me it was their best musical discovery of the last 20 years. The show therefore brought new people to the festival and introduced a new style to those who were already coming. It creates bridges,” rejoices the programmer, who again this year brought several Afropop artists to Osheaga.

A not-optimal system 

Despite the enthusiasm, no artist has yet emerged as a mainstream star. 

Hervé Kalongo, co-founder of the legendary Moonshine evenings, believes that it is because music in Quebec is “strongly compartmentalised”. 

“We must open the doors for grants to people who would be potentially interested in making this type of music. Money in Canada comes from institutions. Artists do not have access to it for lack of information. They don't know about development aid programs like Musicaction, Factor or the other means at their disposal to promote this type of music. And the institutions do not make an effort to canvass the people for whom these funds could be used, ”he says.

Hervé Kalongo believes that labels, to remedy the situation, should hire people who understand these cultures to go around town, go, for example, to youth centers – “where all the kids sing afrobeats” – to present these programs, publicize the scholarships, support the artists in a sometimes difficult administrative process. In short, offer professional support to make the means accessible to young people who could be the next Rema or Ayra Starr.

Ya Cetidon, Mr. Touré and several other afropop artists will participate in the AfroMonde Festival to be held in the Old Port of Montreal from August 17 to 20. 

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