UK Grime and Afrobeats. Two strictly opposing genres. One, saturated by the gritty tales and brutal bass lines of inner city life; the other, a movement of percussive celebration. Despite the contention of the originating environments, Britain is witnessing a compelling merge of Afrobeats and Grime, into the ‘UK Fusion’ sound. A vibe of dance-inducing beats, half sung, half spat verses all condensed into the reigning fusion of the UK’s current sound-scope. Music that has facilitated the BBQ-ing, balancing out and ‘backing up’ of our most recent summers. A sound that’s incited more than just a good-times-all-round, Wray & Nephew-sipping-soundtrack.
The original term ‘Afrobeat’, is far removed from what we’ve come to understand of the Afrobeats sound today. Ambassador of the seventies ideal of Afrobeat music, West African artist Fela Kuti, maintained a sound embodied by political outcries. His saxophone and the belief that in music, lay revolution. His music illustrated the power in human connectivity and union. With contemporary Afrobeats intensely linked to West African pop, a separation builds between the original and the developed energy of the music. To some extent connecting factors between the revolutionary and celebratory sounds have been put into play. In 2014 Fela Kuti’s son, Femi Kuti, lit the young generational torch with an old flame, featuring on Nigerian artist, Wizkid’s track, ‘Jaiye Jaiye’. In doing so, he invested in the next generation’s creative expressions of African identity and the sonic African diaspora.
Meanwhile in the UK, artists were developing the abrasive sound of grime. With focus on social commentary and urban inner city life, grime as a music form reflected the environment it lyrically challenged. One of the forefathers of grime, Skepta, played a fundamental role in the merging of Afrobeats and grime with his verse on Wizkid’s 2015 track ‘Ojuelegba’. Skepta’s rhymed…
When I was in school, being African was a diss
Sounds like you need help saying my surname, Miss
Tried to communicate
But everyday is like another episode of Everybody Hates Chris…
I had to tell my story cause they’d rather show you
Black kids with flies on their faces on the television
In those few bars, Skepta did something monumental. His words highlighted an unspoken misrepresentation, bringing to the forefront of our attention a dismissal of heritage and human identity. Skepta’s bars, along with the uplifting drum line of the song, revealed a tone of determination, challenging stereotypes with his commitment to celebrate heritage.
For centuries, London has been a melting pot of culture, with UK artists developing upon residual sounds of the city. West African Afrobeats being no different, British based artists such as Fuse ODG, Mista Silva, NSG and Vibe Squad have been crucial in energising the UK with the sounds of Afrobeats, along with radio DJ’s like Capital Xtra’s DJ Abrantee or Radar Radio’s Afro B. International singer and song writer Seyi Shay, identified with this collection of influences, artists and DJ’s, explaining to Viper, “Being born and raised in Tottenham, London, I got to see first hand how Afrobeats infiltrated the UK grime scene. A lot of rising artists were African or Caribbean and we all used to bump into each other in the studio just recording demos and experimenting with African or Caribbean melodies, rhythm and lyrics.”
All sound interpretations aside, disregarding differentiating artist area codes – or continental ones for that matter – if this development of music shows us anything, it’s that this hybrid genre is neither concluded or completely expanded. It is in fact, a strain of music emitting a very intrinsic essence of our human selves. In his 2012 book, ‘Hip Hop Africa: New African Music and a Globalising World’, writer, Lloyd Bradley, recognises that “entertainment of any kind can be used to promote humanistic objectives such as inter cultural understanding, co-operation, social integration and inter racial as well as inter-ethnic respect and tolerance.” With drums acting as its respiratory system. Yoruba, Pidgin English and lyrical mastery, its heartbeat. It’s within the celebration of musicality and sound, a foundational notion of progression and universality, that UK Fusion is encompassing the basis of conscious ideals and human agenda; not too far from those of the revolutionary Mr Fela Kuti.
This is an extract from Viper’s AW17 NOMAD issue. Buy physical and digital copies via Viper World.
Words by Anastasia Bruen
Photos by The Naturalist