Photo courtesy of Noel Cymone Walker.

How Afrobeats’ Global Rise is Changing Carnival’s Rigid Genre Conventions

The runaway popularity of African music at Caribbean carnivals has even the soca purists excited.

It's 5:30 in the evening on a Sunday in Kingston, Jamaica and masqueraders are revelling down Waterloo Road, on the last lap of their day-long Xodus Carnival road march chanting "Are you done talking, tell me baby are you done talking." The song, "Fall" by the Nigerian superstar Davido echoes through the streets for what feels like the hundredth time that day. Revelers in feathered backpacks stop to bust a sweet whine to the tune.

West African afrobeats hits, like "Drogba" by Afro B, and "Soco" by Wizkid, have been making their way into Caribbean carnival celebrations for years now—pushing crowds into frenzies alongside popular Jamaican dancehall and Trinidadian soca tracks. Though soca has strictly dominated carnival in the Caribbean for the past three decades, afrobeats has, in recent years, defied restrictions and brought new sounds to the annual celebration.

"Afrobeats drum patterns, tone, and lyrical content is fusing with the current state of soca music and some of the dancehall that exists," says Ryan Alexander, more commonly known as DJ Private Ryan. The Trinidadian DJ is known for producing the most sought out carnival playlists: "DJ Private Ryan Presents Soca Starter," and Soca Brainwash carnival fete.

Photo courtesy of Noel Cymone Walker.

"When you look at a song like 'Lebeh Lebeh,' it's not an original track," he says about the 2017 dancehall track by Jamaican artist Ding Dong. "Lebeh Lebeh" is a remake of the afrobeats record, "Mad Over You" by Nigerian singer, Runtown, and one of the most prominent songs heard on the 2018 and 2019 carnival road.

"Some Jamaicans didn't even realize that," Alexander continues. "Because Ding Dong literally took that song, sang that over, put his spin to it, and added a dance. That's how it was born."

Because of this, afrobeats has tapped into the two groups that trek to Caribbean carnival the most: soca gatekeepers and foreign (aka "farin"—which is how Caribbeans refer to foreigners particularly from the US) tourists who can't establish the differences between soca, dancehall and afrobeats music anyway.

"When you go to Europe, the UK, and certain places in North America, the distinctions aren't drawn as hard as they would be within the Caribbean," says Kamal Bankay, chairman of The National Carnival Committee in Jamaica and director of Xodus Carnival Band. "When you're in the Caribbean you make a distinction between bashment or what they call a particular style of dancehall or soca, calypso, or wuk up from Barbados, etc. The further and further you get away from the Caribbean, the more that the lines eventually cease to exist and people just say Caribbean music and it becomes carnival music," Bankay continues.

But how did West African pop music get in this mix?

Despite colonial restrictions forbidding the enslaved to sing songs and utilize drums, Africans and their descendants in the Caribbean proved resilient and innovated ways to preserve West African traditions using percussion instruments out of bamboo and steelpan. Trinidadians extended use of call & response and repetitional phrase at an identical pitch in songs became known as calypso. The blending of East Indian chutney sounds and calypso later transformed into "the soul of calypso" better known as soca.

Photo courtesy of Noel Cymone Walker.

Africans were later introduced to Calypso in the 1940s when the style became the first Caribbean sound internationally sold, reaching London and imprinting on the West Indians and Africans in the UK. Soon after, reggae, made famous by Bob Marley and his peers, became wildly popular on the African continent. Overtime afro dancehall, afro-reggae, and afro soca were born.

In retrospect, Caribbean people, especially Trinidadians, haven't been as open to playing additional genres at carnival with local gatekeepers attempting to protect their biggest cultural event from outside infiltration. What drives the genre is what limits it from reaching charting global status as afrobeats has now accomplished. Soca is almost too strict to Carnival.

"On a listening basis, Soca is like EDM. EDM is festival music. You just can't listen to EDM like that," says Kwesi Hopkinson aka Hype Hoppa, the head of Scorch Limited Entertainment company in Trinidad responsible for the prime carnival fete, Scorch Duck Work. He believes that soca's close association with carnival has to do with its party energy.

"If you haven't been to the festival or a part of it, you may not get it. If it's your first time hearing some of the faster songs, it's going to be strange," he says.

Afrobeats, however, did strike the Trinidad carnival crowd in 2018 with songs like Davido's "If" and "Fall", Afro B's "Drogba (Joanna)" and in the past there was "Bend Down Pause: The Carnival Remix" by Machel Montano, Wizkid and Runtown. But some also suspect that the genre specifications were ultimately undetected and that may be why certain songs advanced. "I don't think people realized that it is afrobeats," Hopkinson resumes. "They don't know it's afrobeats they're listening to because it's so similar to soca. The beat is so similar that it's really easy to transition."

Due to afrobeats' newfound popularity, however, some believe it does have the potential to deepen and develop Trinidad's carnival restrictions on a more regular basis.

Photo courtesy of Noel Cymone Walker.

"If I had to speak on behalf of Trinidad and Tobago, afrobeats is so similar to the music that we know and we love that it will easily emerge in our society," reflects Jules Sobion, commander-in-chief and CEO of Caesars Army Limited, a Trinidad event production company which host Caesar's Army AM Bush, a weekend carnival frenzy where attendees gather at 3:00 am to get doused in paint and water while dancing. "I just think that we are very limited in what we know and what we experience," Sobian continues. "So ideally, we are not prepared to jump outside of the box or go experience other culture's music. It's a learning curve that hopefully the next generation will now start to pick up on. But afrobeats is an innovation. We just need more persons or entities to be the catalyst."

For 2019, the Trinidad carnival parade did not play much outside the box of soca. But in Jamaica, which happened on April 28, was a great infusion of afrobeats that has officially become apart of the country's carnival: one reason why some choose to attend the newer carnivals over traditional affairs.

"Afrobeats has been warmly welcomed to the shores of Jamaica for a couple years now," says Andrew Bellamy, co-founder and managing director of I LOVE SOCA Jamaica Cooler Fete. "The similarities in musical construct between reggae and afrobeats make it super easy for Jamaicans to love it. It is played regularly on our radio airways and as such is regular part of our events and by extension will be a part of our carnival."

"I was recently in Africa and it was while I was on that trip where I truly learned of the genuine love of Africans for reggae and some dancehall and it had me thinking of it was possible to export a brand or product there," Bellamy continues. "...I believe in a few years, every carnival will have to infuse afrobeats and dancehall (whether it be on a small scale) as the Caribbean continues to become one big famalay."

The only thing missing now is a Caribbean-style carnival in Africa in which all the carnival entertainment leaders agree that they are tackling in the very near future.

Still from YouTube

Watch the Retro Music Video for Dyo's 'Go All the Way' Featuring Mr Eazi

The video, directed by Mahaneela, is a tribute to the vintage photography of Malick Sidibé, James Barnor, Seydou Keïta, and Samuel Fosso.

Mr Eazi teams up with budding Nigerian artist Dyo, for her latest single "Go All the Way."

The duo share a memorable music video, inspired by the work of vintage African studio photographers like Malick Sidibé, James Barnor, Seydou Keïta, and Samuel Fosso. The music video features cameos from several young African creatives including Congolese artist Miles from Kinshasa, who are all photographed in stylish clothes before staged backdrops.

The video was directed by multi-hyphenated creator Mahaneela, who also appears in the video,

The Mirza-produced song sees both artists singing suggestively about their lovers. "Go go, go all the way," Dyo sings smoothly on the track's chorus.

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Join Us For an Everyday Afrique Party This Labor Day In NYC!

Featuring music by DJ Moma, DJ Tunez, Rich Knight, Boston Chery and DJ Buka.

Everyday People, OkayAfrica and Electrafrique are back with the best Labor Day weekend party around with Everyday Afrique.

Come hang with us for another installment of the party that brings out the New York City's finest.

This September 2 we're taking Everyday Afrique back to The Well in Brooklyn, where you can dance and drink the day & night away across the venue's outdoor and indoor spaces.

Grab Your Tickets to Everyday Afrique's Labor Day Party Here

Music will be handled by a top-shelf line-up of selectors including DJ Moma, DJ Tunez, Rich Knight, Boston Chery and DJ Buka.

The party will be hosted by Young Prince, Saada, Roble, Sinat, Giselle, Shernita and Maine.

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Courtesy of Sibu Mpanza.

INFLUENCED: Meet Sibu Mpanza—the YouTuber Who's Making a Killing from Just Having Fun

'I am the person I needed when and even before I started my YouTube channel,' the prolific YouTuber says.

OkayAfrica brings you the 2019 INFLUENCED Series. In the coming weeks, we'll be exploring the online communities being fostered by young South Africans who are doing more than just influencing. From make-up gurus and hair naturalistas to socially-conscious thought leaders, get ready to be influenced. Read the rest of the series here.

Years ago, Sibu Mpanza found himself experiencing two realities Black South African students are still battling with even today: crippling financial woes at university and debilitating depression.

An aspiring musician who ended up studying psychology instead at the University of Cape Town, Mpanza began skipping as many classes as he possibly could. He would spend copious amounts of time at a computer hidden away in the corner, passing the hours watching funny videos on YouTube. In fact, he says he spent so much time on YouTube that he was literally one of the very first people to view Beyoncé's epic "711" music video—something Mpanza recalls in stitches.

He was searching for something, although admittedly, he didn't quite know back then what it was exactly. It eventually got so bad that in his second year of university, he packed up his things, dropped out and moved to Johannesburg to see if he could become what he'd always imagined he could eventually be.

Fast-forward to 2019, and the name Sibu Mpanza is not only an undeniable success story but an entire brand.

Mpanza is a full-time YouTuber who has been able to capitalise on creating hilarious content about his life and pretty much anything that interests him. While he initially "blew up" because of a YouTube video he put out, a video which called out White students at the University of the Free State who were recorded beating up protesting Black students at a rugby game, he's since moved onto a second channel, More Mpanza, where he makes content that's a lot more fun, apolitical and doesn't take a toll on his mental health. As if two successful channels weren't enough, he's also got a third channel, Arcade, where he and his business partner talk about things they enjoy in the technology space.

For anyone looking to just let off some steam, watch a YouTuber who's willing to poke fun at himself or find some really quality content in an era where everyone seems to have a YouTube channel about something or the other, Mpanza is definitely your guy.

We caught up with him to talk about what inspired his various YouTube channels, the fame that comes with being a household name and what's really important to the young South African creative.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Follow our SONGS YOU NEED TO HEAR THIS WEEK playlist on Spotify here and Apple Music here.

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