Music

Legendury Beatz Master Every Shade of Afropop In Their New Mixtape, 'Afropop 101'

Legendury Beatz, the brains behind "Ojuelegba,” confirm their brilliance in their new mixtape 'Afropop 101.'

If you recall that Legendury Beatz are the brains behind Wizkid’s “Ojuelegba,” “Caro” and “Ginger,” the brilliance of Afropop 101 will not surprise you. It'll only confirm their genius.


The album is a rich survey of African pop carried out by siblings Uzezi and Okiemute Oniko, who are both under 30 years of age.

One overriding feeling while listening to the mixtape is that they could, if they so wished, create and recreate just about any genre so well that they just might be sorcerers disguised as music producers.

My personal 'objective bias' against Simi was done away with when she and Falz released their joint Chemistry EP last year, which was produced entirely by Sess The Problem Kid and mixed & mastered by Simi.

There aren't any sleeves notes or a full list of credits available online to tell if she's written and then mixed and mastered Afropop 101's “Ori Re,” but the fact that she and the wizards decided to update Chief I. K. Dairo’s juju classic “Mo Sorire” says something about her music acumen, or so I’d like to believe.

The 1996 version by Paul Play, I. K. Dairo’s son, was well-loved and a party favourite, and also respectful of its original. This new version by Simi is a very clever and radical take. Where Paul Play seemed to find all the inspiration he needed in the original, Simi treats it as a departure point.

She has plucked and utilised only the first line of I. K. Dairo’s chorus to make hers, but has written verses and a bridge that's rooted in R&B tradition. The wizards who masquerade as Legendury Beatz have fashioned a beat that, like Simi’s writing, uses the juju instrumentation as launch pads for new music destinations.

They couldn't possibly do without the sway and bounce of the original as it's integral to juju, but they've done away with the hectic drumming, all of which has made for a really delightful song—a little too pleasant so still very Simi—and also a masterclass on how not to f*ck up a classic while f*cking with it heavy.

The propagation doesn't end there, if anything it roots even deeper on “Duasi,” with Vanessa Mdee, which is a re-tilling of Diana King’s “Shy Guy”.

Matter of fact, the operating principle of Afropop 101 seems to be crop rotation as song making.

In the former, different plants are by turns, grown on the same soil to as to maintain fertility. In the latter, and on “Ori Re” and “Duasi” in particular, Simi, Mdee and Legendury Beatz keep the framework of their source materials but have also fitted it with R&B tropes.

Mdee has kept the indelible structure and rhyme pattern of King’s chorus, but has written most of the hook and verses in Swahili (she's Tanzanian). It's all cleverly executed.

Elsewhere, what sounds like nasal tones in Maleek Berry’s singing voice gives it a pained quality. It's even more noticeable here on this plea of a song which finds him imploring to a lover that he's “One Call Away.”

The production wizards know this surely and that must be why when the chorus comes, the beat fades, leaving the title phrase to float. It's simple but effective, and proves that to add is to subtract.

On account of being a fresher, Mr Eazi is the starriest of Starboys, even more so that Wizkid. Besides being a delightful song, “Heartbeat” has a strange and telling confluence of influences that requires a moment to untangle

The template for the Mr Eazi-featuring “Heartbeat” is obviously dancehall, but this interpretation is of a particular strain that is recognisably Drake’s and his sometimes ridiculed, but clever excursions into territories not native to him.

What Mr Eazi appears to have done is retrace the lines well-traced by Drake when he incorporates R&B, rap, dancehall, afrobeats and what British Ebonics he's absorbed. It's like being entitled to half of a cake, but laying claim to all of it from someone who owns no part of it.

If I have to say it one more time, i’ll invoice Starboy Worldwide and demand immediate payment: the bright light that is Mugeez is still hiding under the bush of allegiance to R2Bees and the arcade of talents on the label.

Even I, convinced as I am, was surprised to hear Mugeez go into dancehall overdrive on “Apple and Vodka” when, all this time, I pegged him as crooner. As if to further prove a point or to bolster mine, he turns charmer on “Undercover Lover” alongside Wizkid—who is always a welcome presence.

“Kini” with Niniola may have taken its cue from Sarz’ successful experiment, now sub-genre, that is afro-house on the ever magnetic “Beat of Life (Samba),” with Wizkid no less.

Happy to report that this clever duo have progressed the already-forward vision with “Kini”. The heaving drums they've incorporated make for a distinctly tropical feel, and the underlying sax riff embeds the song in the afrobeats it sprouted from.

“Legendury,” is not as distinct for a house beat but it, along with “BDL (Bend Down Low),” are two songs on which Timaya is featured. His singing on both songs, and elsewhere, is muscular. When he gets going, he's able to straddle a beat, however choppy.

I want to complain that having Timaya on two songs on a nine track EP is overdoing it, but if seen from another angle, this makes perfect sense.

After Sarz’ “Beat of Life” appeared to have brought new life to afropop, Masterkraft was next to match that brilliant 'invention' when he made “Jasi” for Banky W and “Ukwu” for Timaya. Banky W outdid himself when he self-cast as a pervy 'uncle' with a disturbing baritone, and frankly hasn't done much to surpass that since.

Timaya other the other hand has made dancehall, whose hard percussion is no different from that on afro-house, a mainstay in his repertoire.

So it makes total sense to have Timaya tame the wild horses of afro-house on “Legendury” and dancehall on “BDL (Bend Down Low),” both still domesticating in Nigerian pop with unequal success rates.

Perhaps this is what genius is—simply knowing what best fits where—and it becomes clear all through Afropop 101 that the wizards, Legendury Beatz, make brilliant choices at every turn.

Sabo Kpade is an Associate Writer with Spread The Word. His short story Chibok was shortlisted for the London Short Story Prize 2015. His first play, Have Mercy on Liverpool Street was longlisted for the Alfred Fagon Award. He lives in London. You can reach him at sabo.kpade@gmail.com

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From Chale Wote Street Art Festival 2016. Photo by Ofoe Amegavie.

5 Ghanaian Creative Spaces Doing Afrofuturist Work You Need To Know

These Pan-African outfits are actively visualizing and creating realities for black people that are better than the ones we inhabit now—get to know them.

In her praise for Octavia's Brood (an anthology of science fiction stories from social justice movements), filmmaker dream hampton quotes these words of adrienne maree brown, a co-editor of the anthology: "All social justice work is science fiction. We are imagining a world free of injustice, a world that doesn't yet exist." A respectable appropriation of brown's statement would be: all pro-Black/African activism is afrofuturism in praxis.

In that frame of social justice activism being twined with the useful framework that afrofuturism is—envisioning and exploring viable realities for black people all over the world—here are five Pan-African outfits out of Ghana who're doing advocacy work, and variously tasking our imaginations to visualize an existence for black people other—and better—than the one we inhabit presently.

Accra [Dot] Alt

Photo courtesy of Accra [Dot] Alt.

The "Alt" in Accra [Dot] Alt stands for alternative, which should say much about this organization's orientation: an invested interest in facilitating the alternative. To that end, A[D]A creates programs which provide spacial and other forms of support for the expression of alternative thought, and also for spawning boundary-breaking art. A[D]A's most popular initiative, the annual Chale Wote Street Art Festival, since its inception in 2011, has been thematically preoccupied with imagining and creating existences that are more humane and fulfilling—particularly for black people.

The African Electronics Trilogy exemplifies this. Between 2015 and 2017, the Chale Wote Festival's themes, African Electronics, Spirit Robot and Wata Mata—have altogether exhorted festival participants to "tap into a super power grid [and] create a new encounter with reality that is entirely of our choosing and construction." The theme for this year's festival, Para-Other, does not stray from this visionary mission. A[D]A partly describes Para-Other as an order "embracing of a black labyrinth and establishment of an aesthetic that captures our cessation of flight and transit into a non-contested existence."

Last time the statistics were checked, in 2016, over 30,000 people were at Chale Wote; which is a more than 6,000 percent increase from the number that attended the first edition of the festival. Talk about possibilities.

African Women's Development Fund (AWDF)

Photo courtesy of the AWDF.

This grant-making foundation, Africa's first pan-African women's fund, was co-founded in 2000 by three African women: Hilda Tadria, Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi and Joana Foster, who passed in 2016.

Since setting up, the African Women's Development Fund has funded and supported close to 1,500 women's rights organizations and women-led initiatives in countries all over the continent.

In April 2017, the institution launched their ground-breaking AWDF Futures Project. The initiative is basically composed of projections on the future of the continent as seen through an African feminist lens. These projections are based on a mix of data/trends analysis and sheer imagination.

The AWDF Scenario Stories is one aspect of the project. It comprises of four short stories imagining four different kinds of futures—desirable, undesirable, wild card, transitional—for African women, in Africa. The protagonist in each of these scenarios (set in August 2030) is Mariam; a queer, intelligent and free-spirited young woman in a wheelchair.

The full narratives of Mariam navigating each of these four futures can be accessed, in both text and animated audio-visual formats, on AWDF's website, together with the Futures Africa: Trends for Women by 2030 report.

What will Africa be like in 2030? What would we see if we looked through the eyes of a woman? The AWDF Futures page holds a number of possible answers to these questions.

AfroCyberPunk Interactive

Photo courtesy of AfroCyberPunk Interactive.

Sci-fi writer and self-proclaimed afrofuturist, Jonathan Dotse, created AfroCyberPunk in 2010. Then, it was a blog whose focus was on "exploring the creative potential of African science fiction and speculative narratives."

Almost a decade after running as a blog, AfroCyberPunk morphed into AfroCyberPunk Interactive—a digital hypermedia content developer and publishing house—in 2017. Still, the preoccupation with "exploring the future of Africa" (as went the blog's tagline) remains prime. A part of what could be referred to as their mission statement reads thus: "Our roots in afrofuturism continue to inspire the recurrent themes, motifs and aesthetics of our publications. We aspire to [...] address the global imbalance in the representation of marginalised peoples and perspectives."

Founder Jonathan Dotse is himself at work on his debut novel, a cyberpunk mystery/ psychological thriller set in Accra, Ghana circa 2060 AD.

All of the above certainly do echo these words offered by Jonathan in a blog post titled Why Africa Needs Science Fiction: "As Africa marches onward into the future it is important that we as Africans begin to critically visualize the development that will take place on our own soil, and our vision must be based on our own unique reality, cut from the cloth of our own societies and tailored to our specific needs."

Drama Queens

Photo courtesy of Drama Queens.

This feminist and Pan-Africanist theatre organisation optimally embodies the idea of Sankofa: an examination of heritage to select and use, presently, the positive and helpful values, in the ultimate service of creating the future.

Drama Queens is founded on the ancient Egyptian philosophy of Ma'at—which adjures for justice, balance and harmony as ways of being. The world being as it is now—generally unjust, imbalanced and disharmonious, against black people specifically, and more specifically against marginalized black communities—renders Drama Queens' work futuristic.

To ground this, they are avowedly working towards "a just, balanced and harmonious world where highest respect is given to nature and all nature creates."

This year, for instance, is Drama Queens' year of "contributing to an end to homophobia towards the African LGBTQ+ community" through various activities such as theatre productions, facilitating queer film production workshops, social media discussions and talk events.

Nana Akosua Hanson, founder and director of Drama Queens has said in an interview that her organization aims, ultimately, "to end oppression by changing mindsets through the use of cultural tools, to revolutionalize thinking and bring forth the existence of an Africa without heteropatriarchy, and a continent free from the exploitation and destruction of racist nations." Sounds about Afrofuturist.

Squid Magazine

Photo courtesy of Squid Magazine.

Comics, games and animation are probably the most popular media through which creators indulge in futuristic thinking. Add to this the truism that critical, intellectual engagement and documentation are of lifeblood importance to the efflorescence of a culture. Put together, it adds up to the fact that Squid Magazine (simply, Squid Mag) is doing essential afrofuturist work.

Started in 2015 by Kadi Yao Tay and Kofi Asare, Squid Mag is dedicated to the "exploration, critique, promotion and archiving of African creativity manifested within comics, games, animation..." As it happens, Squid Mag is one of the very few, if not only, platforms on the continent that wholesomely covers African output in the above mentioned media.

There's a rather poetic resonance as to why this outfit is named 'Squid.' Here's the import of the name, as explained on their website:

The name is inspired by squids, sea invertebrates that release ink as a defense mechanism. We find it poetic how such a mechanism can be a metaphor for painting a people's realities and dreams fluidly in an ocean of canvases. An ocean that is threatened to be overrun with narratives that exclude us.

So now you know, if you didn't know before, where to go in search of a sea of narratives—of realities and dreams—that include us.

*

There is a great deal more than can be said for the imagination—and exercising it. It begets creation, after all. Thus, what these and other entities are doing—engendering alternative socio-political imaginaries for all peoples of African descent—is such a needful venture. But after all is said and visualized, the ultimate challenge, most probably, is to act, to create. Blitz the Ambassador puts it succinctly on his afrofuturist song, "Africa Is The Future" (long since renamed "Africa Is Now"): There ain't no future unless we build it now.

moshood lives in Accra, from where he writes across genres. He has recently taken on painting. He tweets here: @thehamzay

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Following Government Suppression, Sierra Leone's 'People's Popstar' Is Finally Allowed to Perform

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