THE CREATIVE FORCES BEHIND AFROBEATS IN AUSTRALIA
Afrobeats is the global phenomenon that continues to sweep millions of international listeners off their feet with infectious rhythms and polyrhythmic percussion. To put its massive popularity into perspective, next year’s Grammy Awards will host the inaugural award for Best African Music Performance.
The genre’s crossover into wider pop culture has been years in the making, from the likes of Sampa The Great, Mike Akox, and a slew of other diasporic artists who have left indelible marks against the diverse sonic landscape in Australia. Artists aren’t the only ones leading the multifaceted enigma though, instead it’s a combined effort from DJs, MCs, producers and promoters. The creative forces emanating from this enclave are nothing short of seismic, as they expand, shape and redefine the very contours of the Australian music ecosystem.
DJs are responsible for promoting musical palettes to live audiences in various settings. Their creativity and ability to offer a distinct experience goes beyond that of simply playing recorded music; they have a profound impact on the way people discover and enjoy music. Serving as culture curators, DJs are responsible for bringing artists to the masses in a colourful way with unique techniques of blending different tracks, adding effects and manipulating sound elements in real time. For a lot of people, DJs act as the first touch point for being introduced to new genres, especially that of Afrobeats with names like Alexandrè, Adeboii, Deklack, Jazmine Nikitta, PK and CMJ trailblazing the Australian scene.
There’s a certain level of respect and responsibility that comes with the role, as they are at the helm of those who love and appreciate the genre. Having toured with international superstar Adekunle Gold and Australia’s own Joanny, Mauritian-Australian DJ Alexandrè explains: “Playing for largely diverse demographics has enabled me to enlighten people to the cultural significance behind Afrobeats.”
As these sounds continue to creep into our parties and playlists, DJs are not only responsible for piloting the feel good moments of the genre, but also for carrying the richness of each song’s message. DJs hold the power to transcend language and cultural barriers as their creative curation fosters shared human experiences brought together by sound. Nigerian-Australian DJ CMJ, who has worked with the likes of powerhouses Wizkid, Yemi Alade, and Rema, describes her role as a tastemaker, trendsetter and perpetuater.
“Burna Boy’s ‘Last Last’ went viral around the world and half the people singing probably had no clue that it was a break up song. That’s the beauty of it. Music so beautifully has no borders so as DJs we’re like farmers carrying and spreading the musical seedlings for all who are willing to hear.”
A lot of these creatives are multifaceted, and that’s exactly the case for Sydney based producer and DJ Kristelle. By bridging the gap between the creative process of music production and the interactive, performance-oriented world of DJing, she’s championed a unique sound that’s not conventionally widespread within our nation’s musical landscape.
Kristelle shares that her mission “has always been about elevating the sound and for Australia to see what they’re missing out on.” She’s achieving this in more ways than one, but most recently, she’s collaborated with Amapiano hitmaker Pcee from South Africa on her upcoming release ‘Champopo’.
For those unfamiliar with the term Amapiano, it’s a distinct genre of house music that emerged from South Africa in the early 2010s. Characterised by a fusion of deep house, jazz, and Afrobeat elements, Kristelle credits some of Afrobeats’ biggest artists like Burna Boy, Davido, and Asake, for infusing their productions with the long drum sounds. “Afrobeats has played a pivotal role in propelling Amapiano onto the Australian stage.”
Producers serve as culture creators, experimenting with different soundscapes and merging diverse musical elements. Afrobeats was constructed upon the fundamental pillars of West African music by founding father Fela Kuti. Not only a musician, Fela Kuti was also a producer and one of his accomplices to pioneering the genre is Tony Allen, often referred to as the ‘Father of Afrobeat Drumming’. Serving as Fela’s longtime collaborator and drummer, Tony Allen with his innovative rhythmic patterns played a significant role in shaping the sound of Afrobeat. They experimented with different contemporary music of the time, like our producers are continuing to do today.
Zimbabwean-born and Melbourne based producer SwissBerry has over eight years of experience, collaborating with local talents such as Lowkey, Wilson Vanilla, Achai, and more. While all don’t identify as Afrobeat artists, they crave the similar incorporation of Afro-elements into their creations. When you see the likes of Chris Brown, Major Lazer, and J. Cole, who are now using the log drum and other Afro elements, it’s clear to see the sound being pushed worldwide.
From culture curators, to culture creators, we cannot forsake the culture commentators of the ecosystem, emcees. Not only responsible for setting the tone of an experience, emcees add another layer of depth as they keep the audience engaged through their charismatic stage presence and energy.
Congolese born MC Yungkily has hosted a plethora of talented international figures like Trippie Redd, Central Cee and 24K Goldn. As another multi-faceted creative in Melbourne’s scene, he’s also recently released his new single ‘African Titan’. His latest track depicts his life journey, building up deep strength and resilience found within his roots and extending to his African-Australian identity.
“Being an MC allows me to connect with the audience, infuse my own style, and bring energy to the Afrobeats experience.”
Emcees are integral to the development of the creative ecosystem as their demeanour and communication style influence how an audience perceives and experiences music. Narrating and analysing the sonic phenomenon of Afrobeats as it unfolds is important in breaking down the cultural richness to their audience.
Leading Australia’s west coast in this pursuit, MC Big Rak has an impressive resume of working with international acts such as Freddie Gibbs, Kehlani, Xzibit, Ruger, Daliwonga, and the late Costa Titch. Slowly but surely, the Sierra-Leonean MC is turning Perth into a must stop location for international Afrobeats. “There’s a large audience that craves the genre, the community is incredibly passionate and diverse and with so many Afrobeats & Afrobeats-hybrid artists coming out of Australia, especially Perth, it’s a fact that it’s here to stay.”
Sticking with the westside, there resides Perth-based Afrobeats Fusion. Having run events in their home city and touring with the likes of Omah Lay and Kizz Daniel, their aim is to “propagate and spread Afro-music and Afro-culture across the Asia Pacific.” As the culture connectors, promoters bridge and foster understandings between audiences.
The debate of whether or not there is a demand for Afrobeats can no longer be questioned. Despite facing cancellation late last year, Burna Boy sold out his Sydney sideshow within 48 hours. Promoters not only increase genre awareness but also provide a platform for local creatives, fostering inclusivity and cultural exchange. This certainly holds true on the Gold Coast this year with the Promiseland Festival.
Despite numerous challenges and sceptics, Promiseland perseveres to deliver a multi-genre live music experience showcasing the culturally-diverse sounds of multiple continents. As the largest Afrobeat lineup ever in Australia, you can expect to see the likes of powerhouses Davido, Fireboy DML, Arya Starr and many more, as well as timeless industry legends Ms. Lauryn Hill, Giveon and L.A.B. While Promiseland partner Emal Naim says the genre took some time to be well received in the market, it hasn’t culled their enthusiasm. “There is such an amazing form of community engagement and they are not slowing down any time soon especially with the number of locals delivering.”
The different and diverse facets – from DJs curating culture, MCs commentating it, to producers creating it and promoters connecting it – join together to create the ecosystem that is Australian Afrobeats. Interdependent, many diasporic creatives possess versatile talents across various domains under this enigmatic umbrella that plays a significant role in empowering African and African-Australian culture and identity. CMJ believes Afrobeats has shined a positive light on a continent as big and as widely misrepresented as Africa. “Breaking down monolithic ideals that were previously held, increasing tourism, and most of all giving Africans in the diaspora and back home a sense of pride in our people and where we come from.”
Afrobeats is not a passing trend and far deeper than just music. In a renaissance of cultural representation, it has sparked a revival in how African culture has been portrayed. The diasporic creatives from Australia have pushed the genre into exciting new territory; and we’re confident it won’t be long before we’ll be seeing an Australian Afrobeats artist secure an ARIA, achieve global recognition, and sell out a world tour too. It’s clear, Afrobeats has found a new home, flourishing amidst a vibrant diasporic community and beginning to reshape the Australian music scene forever.