Performing Arts

A concert of African music at its finest


South African singer and dancer Kamo Mphela at the Africa Day Spotify “Sounds of Africa” event in Johannesburg on May 25, 2022. PHOTO | POOL

The atmosphere last Wednesday night in the luxurious surroundings of a Johannesburg suburb reverberated to the infectious groove of Extra Musica’s hit song “Bokoko” as guests to an Africa Day event got on their feet to the catchy rhythm.

Hyde Park in Johannesburg was filled with artistes, podcasters, producers, music industry insiders, and influencers, all clad in colourful African fabric styled in modern chic designs, celebrating the occasion with a mix of DJ sets and performances by some of the continent’s biggest stars.

This year’s celebration of Africa Day was an opportunity to bask in the glory of a renaissance of African art, specifically music, and the role that innovation has played in transforming genres like Afrobeats and Amapiano into global brands.

Among the stars of the party organised by streaming giant Spotify, under the banner of Sounds of Africa, was Kenyan singer, rapper, producer, and DJ Blinky Bill who played a 30-minute set that he curated to reflect the diversity of contemporary African pop.

“I wanted to move around the continent and also include some Kenyan music because we don’t have much of a presence in these parts,” he said after playing a 30-minute set.

In his view, Kenyan music should follow the lead of the African countries whose music has become successful, by establishing more allies around the continent.

“Nigerian Afrobeats, for instance, has become global because of the goodwill it enjoys among Africans and as a consequence grown around the world,” he says.

“Africa is where the future is and there is such a diversity of sounds, the kids have access to so much more sound recording equipment than ever before,” says Bill.

He also describes an ‘I-don’t-care’ attitude that he has observed among young artists, from Accra to Johannesburg, who are creatively expressing themselves by innovating their sounds without any barriers.

“Africa has always enjoyed a rich musical history, the only thing that has changed is how people access it, according to the Jocelyn Muhutu-Remy, Spotify’s managing director of sub-Saharan Africa.

“We see people in Germany bumping to Amapiano, and this diffusion across countries and even continents would probably not have happened without streaming platforms,” she says.

According to Blinky Bill support for African music has to be homegrown before the world can embrace even more genres from the continent, citing the example of Nigeria which has an official policy allocating 70 percent airplay to their music.

“How did Kanye West get Ayub Ogada’s music to sample when it doesn’t play on the radio?” he poses.

“We have so much good music but we are always looking at other people for good music,” says Bill who adds that he has had to dig deep into archives to sample Kenyan music from 1970s icons like Slim Ali and the Cavaliers.

“When you push the music then the artistes who are good become better and those who are not so good can see how high the bar is. If you are in Nigeria and you see Burna Boy playing to a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden then you have to go back home and improve your craft.”

He says the time for debate is over and there should be no choice about enforcing a policy on airplay.

“When you land in South Africa you hear Amapiano and back in Nairobi, we are also consuming the same music at the expense of our own. We have an opportunity to contribute to the global music conversation by being original and playing our music,” says Bill.

After his South Africa gig, Bill will be flying to New York this week to finish the mixing of his new album “We Cut Keys 2” where he is working with a sound engineer who worked on classic albums like Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation…” and Damian Marley’s “Welcome to Jamrock".

“This gives me confidence that someone of his skills has heard my sound and wants to work on it so there is no question that it is good,” he says.

Jocelyn says data collected by Spotify points to African music genres and artists finding listeners in Europe and the US in greater volumes than ever before.

“We believe that exposing global audiences to the vast pool of African talent will have a positive impact on how the perception that the world holds of us as Africans,” she adds.

There are also opportunities for African artists to get their music onto playlists like the flagship African Heat, Fresh Finds Africa which spotlights independent newcomers and independent artists, and Equal Africa which is dedicated to female talents across the continent.

She countered accusations of exploitation levelled at streaming platforms by quoting data showing that about two-thirds of Spotify’s revenues from Premium subscribers and advertisers are paid to music rights holders, including artists, labels, and distributors.