LargeUp Exclusive: Cutty Rank Meets the Gambian Cassette Vendors

In the latest installment of his storytelling-n-illustrations column Field Trips with Spliffington, Herbert Spliffington tells the story (with an assist from his Field Trip World colleague, Victor Kerlow) of how he discovered the music of Cutty Ranks while crossing into the Gambia from Senegal in the ’90s. Isn’t that how we all first heard “Limb by Limb”? With Cutty having just returned from hiatus with new music last week, what better time to pay tribute to this most uniquely vicious dancehall bad bwoy?

Dancehall was everywhere in the ’90s, even in West Africa. If you had the right antennae you could catch the occasional rap and dancehall videos on MCM Afrique and on the US Military’s AFRTS channel (which played Snow’s “Informer” a lot.) Being interested in music, I started noticing a sample popping up all over the place: “Six million ways to diechoose one.” Jungle producers were also chopping up the same sample.

I was too young to have heard when Cutty Ranks first dropped his monster hit ‘Who Seh Mi Dun (Wake De Man)’ in 1992. The bootleg cassette tape vendors in Dakar’s Sandaga market didn’t have much dancehall (although plenty of hip-hop, soukous and Dire Straits), and only my friends from the UK even knew what jungle was. Luckily for me, on a trip to the south of Senegal, I passed through the Gambia. While waiting for the ferry to take me across the river, I saw the usual array of people selling cassette tapes but, unlike Dakar, they had lots of dancehall. Being a former colonial outpost of Enlgand in which English was widely spoken, the Gambia was much more up to date with dancehall and reggae. I purchased a sketchy copy of Ragga Ragga Ragga 6 and another tape (see below) with a voice I recognized from the hip-hop and jungle cassettes: Cutty Ranks. When I heard that voice on the original riddim, I had to hear more.

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Interview: Terri Is Stepping Out of the Shadows

We talk to the Wizkid-signed artist about the story behind the massive hit "Soco" and his latest Afro Series EP.

Certain afrobeats songs have made in-roads in international markets and paved the way for the genre's ceaselessly-rising widespread recognition. Among these history-defining songs were D'banj's "Oliver Twist," Tekno's "Pana," Davido's "If" & "Fall," Runtown's "Mad Over You," and of course, Wizkid's "Soco." Wizkid released "Soco" under his label imprint, Starboy Entertainment in March 2018, and the song spread like wildfire across Africa and beyond. "Soco" was an Afro-pop wonder delivered at a time when the 'afrobeats to the world' movement was gathering steam, further cementing its electric nature. The Northboi-produced song was co-signed by celebrities across the world like Rihanna, Cardi B, and Paul Pogba and has accrued well over a hundred million streams across streaming platforms worldwide.

"Soco" was not only a trailblazer amongst mid-2010s afrobeats records, it was also the introduction of the first Wizkid-signed artist, Terri. Just weeks before "Soco" was released, Terri was discovered by Wizkid's longtime producer, Mutay, who saw him covering the song "Oshe" on social media.

Before "Soco," Terri Akewe was well on his way to fame. At fifteen, he had performed at street carnivals in his neighbourhood and, one time, was carried all the way home by neighbours after winning a Coca-Cola sponsored singing competition. Before his life-changing meeting with Wizkid, Terri had a seven-track EP ready for release, as well as a viral song titled "Voices." "One time I was on set with the video director T.G Omori, he told me that 'Voices' was the first time he heard of me" Terri tells me as we settle on a plush couch at his home in Lagos.

Regardless of Terri's initial career trajectory; signing to a label headed by afrobeats' biggest superstar was bound to accelerate his musical journey, and at the same time, cast a huge shadow of expectation on his career, especially given a debut as spectacular as "Soco." With his latest EP, Afro Series, powered by the sensational single "Ojoro," one thing is clear: Terri is stepping out of the shadows into his own spotlight and he is doing it on his own terms.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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