Interview: Alpha P Is Ready to Take Afrobeats to the Next Level
We talk to Alpha P about his journey, getting signed to Universal Music Group Nigeria, and his ongoing self-education on the history of Nigerian music.
Alpha P knows what he is doing. The 18-year-old afrobeats/afro-trap artist radiates a striking self-assuredness of someone who is acutely aware of where he fits as a young Nigerian artist in the emerging mosaic that is the sound of this generation. Sounds as experimental as they are bold, brimming with grit and inventiveness, passion, and access to a world sufficiently interconnected by technology.
The sound of Nigeria's new wave is at once set apart from the whole, yet remains in sync with the endless possibilities to be found at a time when the world is listening avidly to what African music has to say. What does it mean to be part of a generation overflowing with promise and the potential of changing the face of Nigerian music as we know it?
Inspired by globally recognized acts like Justin Bieber and Billie Eilish, Lana Del Rey, Don Toliver, Burna Boy, Wizkid, and of course, Fela, Alpha isn't afraid to make music that is experimental while keeping in mind the need for cultural adaptability—and the need to make afrobeats a truly global sound.
Right now, though, Alpha P is taking things slow. The times demand it. Over a Zoom call, he talks to me from his home in Lagos, where he has been in quarantine hibernating since the coronavirus struck. Like many of us, Alpha has also had many of his plans for the year canceled and disrupted by the pandemic, but as he tells me, he is making up for time lost in other meaningful ways.
Between the line's occasional cackle and abrupt WiFi interruptions, Alpha, an undergraduate who has just enrolled in the University of Lagos after moving away from Benin in 2019, speaks with a wisdom well above his age.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Photo courtesy of Alpha P.
Who Is Alpha P?
I see Alpha P as the leader of the pack. The pack is essentially made up of those who [rock] with me, my fans, the new generation. I am also just an 18-year-old [kid] trying to make a difference. I am trying to do so much with my music and my lifestyle, so I can inspire lots of young people. There are a lot of talented young artists from around Africa and Nigeria who feel unmotivated to do anything because they believe that they have to get to a certain age before they can start off. I've been making music since I was 12. I've always had the mentality of starting early and I basically want to use my platform to show other young people like myself that they do not have to wait for a certain age approval to do what they need to do.
Talking about platforms, what is your vision for afrobeats, as one of the people at the frontline of the new wave?
Like the ones before me, I am just trying to take afrobeats and music from Nigeria to the next level. Icons like Wizkid, Tuface, Burna Boy and the rest of them have made the work easier for emerging acts to take [Nigerian music] to the next level. If Davido or Burna hadn't done the work they did, there wouldn't be much of this new wave, maybe I wouldn't even be on this interview right now. And because they worked hard and are still taking afrobeats to the next level, they are able to pass the baton to us, to me and my generation and Maybe you guys would not have known me yet. And I am happy to be part of the generation taking Afrobeats to the global stage.
Can you talk more about what the idea of the 'next' level means to you as an artist and for afrobeats in general?
The goal is to make afrobeats the number one genre in the world. There were times when all you would see on the Billboard charts were pop and now its trap music. During Sean Paul's time, the rave was dancehall, before it moved on to pop, the time of Justin Bieber, Chris Brown and now we have moved to trap music which is what we are really big on right now. And now, I think the next phase is afrobeats. I think so because there is a global acceptance now to the sound and it is growing every day, and I feel like with this new generation and the sound we are creating and using to present afrobeats out there, I feel now we can take it to the next level and make a universal sound. Not just this sound from Africa. When they hear afrobeats anywhere, I want it to be recognized and respected. The way they respect pop music, the way they respect hip-hop.
Photo courtesy of Alpha P.
You have an endearing way of fusing different elements, genres, and influences into your music, how do you personally define your sound?
I don't like fixing myself into only one genre, I am really experimental with my sound. But I would say my sound is essentially a liberating sound. The type of music I am making right now is something you just don't listen and dance to, it takes your mind to a different place. The kind of music I make is supposed to paint pictures in your mind, in a way that connects with something deep in you, almost cerebral.
You're one of the fast-rising acts in afrobeats' new wave of dynamic talents, what does it feel like to be making music at a time when the bridge between local audiences and the world stage is one social media post away, a time when everything seems possible for afrobeats artists?
Yeah, I feel great. Especially because I am not the only one making music in this new wave. I know one or two persons or even three people can't take afrobeats to where it needs to be. There has to be a lot of us, it has to be a movement. Because before trap music became a thing, there were a lot of people using trap sounds, it wasn't just one person. So I feel very excited and honored to be part of the movement. And part of my brothers and sisters preaching afrobeats right now.
So what was the process behind creating your EP King Of Wolves?
That was a time when I was discovering my sound and who I am as an artist. So while working on the project, I was being free, I was just thinking about not being limited to one sound or to one type of music. It was me making some discoveries about myself while recording songs I liked. At the end of the day, we had a lot of songs that we had recorded, so I and my team decided that the songs that went on the EP were what should be released at the time. And I was good with that. That experience saw me having fun and experimenting with music.
Can you talk a bit more about moving to Lagos at 15 all by yourself, what was the motivation, did you have any assurances that you would get signed, did you already have a deal at the time?
I was about to enter my second year of university in the University Of Benin, and we had a long break, about three months, and I thought it would be a great time to visit Lagos. I had been speaking with DNA twins, whom I am good friends with, and they'd been asking me to come to Lagos so we all could work together on some projects. So at the time of my arrival, I didn't have a deal, I simply came to stay with them and I was there for about two months. We were making music together, working on songs for myself, and for them, it was like a family of three boys just vibing and making music. Then I got discovered by my manager, and he and Bizzle sent my music to UMG, and the next day I was called for a meeting and subsequently signed that same day. The rest is how we got here.
You told me a record label deal wasn't in your plan or vision, any reason why?
Getting signed was honestly the last thing on my mind, all I actually came here for was to fully find myself because in Benin there are a lot of talented people but I sounded way different from my peers. It felt weird at some point. There were songs I couldn't record because the producers didn't understand where I was coming from, so I knew there was something I needed to discover about myself because although I was hearing myself sound good, I knew I wasn't there yet. I had to leave the environment and go somewhere else to find what I was looking for. I got to Lagos and I kept on working on myself and working with other producers until I found it, my love for creating unique afrobeats sounds. I am still growing and evolving, but I am confident about what I have going on for me right now. So even though I didn't come to get signed, God made it happen.
What was the music landscape like back in Benin, you mentioned producers not getting your sound and how has that changed since you moved here?
In Benin, I was making trap music. It was only a couple of months before I left that I started making afrobeats songs and it was still sounding a bit trap-like because all my life I've been making hip-hop, trap, and RnB, but not really afrobeats. So before I moved to Lagos, I started trying to infuse trap melodies into my afrobeats and that is basically what I do now and what I did with some of the records in King Of Wolves. This is made it hard to for people back home to understand me as an artist because they would give me an Afro-centric beat to work with and I would try to do a trap-mixture in it and they would always be like 'Nah, this is not how it should sound', but I would always be like, this is how I want to do it because nobody is doing it right now, this is how I want to make my music. Coming to Lagos has only fueled my conviction.
Alpha P - Paloma (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com
How does the success of ""Paloma" make you feel?
I feel really happy about it, we are close to hitting a million views on youtube, probably in a couple of weeks. I am so happy that people are appreciating the sound and my music can actually bring joy to people. When I see people being happy and making dance videos, It tells me that people are catching on to what I am trying to do and that makes me really confident to drop more music.
Can you talk more about your investment in learning about the history of the music you do?
This actually happened because of my manager, apart from him being my manager, he's also my A&R. When I started working on myself, he was always there with me, he would always let me know that I need to go back and learn as much as I can about the history that birthed my sound. Sometimes he just sits me down and goes on Youtube to play a lot of Fela songs, his performances, and generally just puts me through some afrobeats history. When I am on my own I often go back to listen to the songs and further understand how the music was made and why they were making that music then. The pioneers were going through a lot of things while they were making afrobeats music. That made me realize that all I had been doing before then was writing fictional music, music that people might be able to relate to, but did not really capture my truth. Now I tap into my personal experiences and whatever I am going through, I express through music.
Do you have any new stuff coming out soon?
I am dropping some singles next month, I can't say exactly when but next month surely. And some collaborations coming, I can't say with whom, but I have it coming.
In what ways has quarantine affected your music negatively, and what's been the most important lesson you've picked up during this time?
It affected me a lot with outdoor shows because before the quarantine started, I was going to different cities around Nigeria and I could see the fans reacting positively to the music. I went to Abuja for the first time and the crowd sang my song back to me word for word and I didn't expect it cause I didn't think anyone was listening over there. I'd been planning to go back and see the fans and appreciate them for their support but quarantine made that impossible. It really just slowed down a lot of stuff. The advantage though, is that I get to work more and discover new sounds, this time has helped me discover some really cool sounds. There were some songs I was planning on dropping, but because of the sounds I've discovered and recorded recently, the label was like 'na, let's not go back, now there are new ones we can release. So on the bright side, I just have the time to work more, find myself, settle down, and actually be with myself.
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