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MHD and France's "Afro Trap" Phenomenon

MHD proudly celebrates his roots by making West African-inspired "Afro Trap" music. His songs have over 80 million views and counting.

When MHD uploaded six homemade YouTube videos of of himself and his friends rapping about a year ago, he didn’t expect them to go viral.


All of them titled "Afro Trap," the videos have more than 80 million combined views and have lead the way for a new, off-shoot musical genre of the same name.

Mohammed Sylla—better known as MHD, a 21-year-old French rapper of Guinean and Senegalese descent who reps the 19th arrondissement—is its leader.

But why did Sylla name his music Afro Trap?

The answer is fairly straightforward, the hip-hop scene, the Atlanta-influenced "trap" one specifically, were crowded and MHD couldn’t stand out, despite putting out plenty of music and doing many collaborations.

Sylla wanted to innovate and felt like he wasn't thriving, so he steered his "trap" music to incorporate dance moves, following the likes of French rappers Attila and Niska.

MHD's Afro Trap is only very loosely inspired by American "trap" music. Rather, his style is more characterized by its heavy drums and layered synthesizers, and African influences in terms of the music, lyrics sung in West African languages and the choreographed dance moves associated with the tracks.

Sylla's style is clearly influenced by Afro-Carribean culture, less so trap music. One reason is that trap, as a genre, is geographically specific. Despite it’s worldwide appeal, it’s best output is still made in Atlanta by Atlanta rappers. The other reason is that "trap music" as a genre has simply become such a vague and overused term for any hip-hop music nowadays.

The fusion between Afro-Carribean music and modern hip-hop has been done before in the French pop scene.

Other rappers have tried the crossover, but MHD's the first one to go mainstream. A lot of that can be consistent Afro Trap branding he's plastered across all of the material he's released.

Sylla's light-hearted lyrics tackle his every day life—from football to love—like the song “A Kele Nta,” a Bambara phrase meaning, “My Brother, Just Choose Her." The music video follows MHD to Dakar, Senegal, where half of his family is from.

His debut album, MHD, rose to the number two spot in the French charts. The album features some famous names such as Fally Ipupa and Angelique Kidjo. Since then, MHD's also opened for French stars like rapper Booba.

The influence of MHD’s music has led to the mainstream recognition of others Afro Trap French rappers such as NazaGradur, and Nixo, a rapper from the island Mayotte known for his new single "N’golo Kante," a tribute to the French national team and Chelsea FC footballer.

As a new musical genre, Afro Trap is not clearly defined. It seems to be more of a catch-all phrase gathering hip-hop music made by mostly French Afro-descendants proudly celebrating their roots by making West African-inspired music with gleeful, lighthearted lyrics. Afro Trap tracks are sung in French, often featuring a few words borrowed from West African languages like Dioula and Nouchi (Ivorian pidgin).

West Africa being a muse for hip-hop music isn't a novelty, but for a generation raised on the negative stereotypes of the African continent portrayed by mainstream media, Afro Trap is a step in the right direction. The genre is created and made by second generation kids willing to loudly celebrate who they are: a mix of Western and African cultures and influences.

With MHD signing to Universal Music, does this mean that Afro Trap is about to blow up?

It’s possible. Although African-Caribbean-infused pop music has always been popular in France, many acts like Dealer 2 Zouk or Bisso Na Bisso have struggled to get past being one-hit wonders. French rapper Mokobé is one of the few that succeeded in having a career as a pop/hip-hop act.

Despite the complete lack of a political message in Afro Trap, many believe that the simple fact of having young Afro-descendants celebrating their culture of origins, is, by default, a political statement in itself. After all, Afro-Caribbean culture has, for decades inspired French pop, but never gotten paid its dues.

Afro Trap is a way for young Afro-descendants to feel represented in pop culture by celebrating a musical genre made with the sounds of coupé décalé, afrobeats and rumba, and words borrowed from their parents’ first languages. The dance moves are also of importance, because they help the public remember the lyrics and bring about a general “feel good” mood.

Afro Trap is created from the music, dances and sometimes languages of these rappers' parents—and made for everyone to enjoy. It’s time for Caribbean culture get the recognition it deserves in French pop culture. And Afro Trap is a way forward.

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Cover of Isha Sesay's 'Beneath the Tamarind Tree'

'Beneath the Tamarind Tree'—an Excerpt From Isha Sesay's Book About Remembering the Chibok Girls

Read an exclusive excerpt from the Sierra Leonean reporter's new book, which offers firsthand accounts of what happened to the girls while in Boko Haram captivity in an attempt to make the world remember.

Below is an excerpt from the seventh chapter in Sierra-Leonean journalist and author Isha Sesay's new book, "Beneath the Tamarind Tree," the "first definitive account" of what took place on the ground following the abduction of 276 schoolgirls by Boko Haram in 2014.

Continue on to read more, and revisit our interview with the reporter about why it's important for the world to remember the girls' stories, here.

***

"We should burn these girls!"

"No, let's take them with us!"

"Why not leave them here?"

The men were still arguing, dozens of them trading verbal blows while Saa and the other horrified girls looked on. None of the men seemed particularly troubled by the fact that the lives of almost three hundred schoolgirls hung in the balance. Amid all the yelling, the girls had been divided into groups. Each batch would burn in a different room in the school buildings that were aflame just a few feet away. Tensions were escalating when a slim man with outsize eyes suddenly appeared. Saa had never seen him before. Like many of the insurgents, he too looked young and was just as scruffy. But when he spoke, tempers seemed to cool for a moment.

"Ah! What are you trying to do?"

"We wanted to burn them!"

"Why not take them with us, since we have an empty vehicle?"

His suggestion triggered a fresh round of quarreling. The same positions were expressed, and the newcomer continued to calmly repeat his idea of taking the girls with them, till he finally got his way. The girls later discovered his name was Mallam Abba. He was a commander.

"Follow us!" the men shouted.

None of it made any sense to Saa. Why? To where? As the insurgents shuffled her out of the compound, she felt as if her whole life were on fire. All Saa could see was the ominous orange glow of flames consuming every one of her school buildings. With every step, the fears within her grew. She struggled to make sense of the competing thoughts throbbing in her head. This isn't supposed to be happening. The insurgents had asked about the boys and the brick-making machine; they'd systematically emptied the school store, carrying bag after bag of foodstuffs and loading all of it into the huge waiting truck. With everything now packed away, Saa had thought the insurgents would simply let the girls go home. After all, that's what had happened during their previous attacks on schools—they'd always let the schoolgirls go, after handing out a warning to abandon their education and strict instructions to get married. Saa had simply expected the same thing to happen once more, not this.

She scanned the crowd of faces surrounding her; the creased brows and startled expressions of the others made it clear that everyone was equally confused. Whatever the turmoil they were feeling, they kept it to themselves. No one said a word. Saa fell into a sort of orderly scrum with the men corralling and motioning her forward with their guns, each weapon held high and pointed straight at the girls.

Saa and Blessing moved in unison, along with the hundreds of others, snaking along in the dark through the open compound gate, past the small guard post usually occupied by Mr. Jida, which now sat empty. Yelling came from nearby Chibok town. Saa could smell burning, then heard the sound of gunshots and people running. It was bedlam.

Just beyond the compound walls sat a crowd of bushes. As she and the men moved out into the open, Saa felt their thorns spring forward, eager to pull at her clothing and scratch and pierce her body. Careful not to yell out in pain, she tried to keep her clothes beyond the reach of the grasping thicket with no time to pause and examine what might be broken skin.

Saa retreated into herself and turned to the faith that had anchored her entire life. Lord, am I going to die tonight, or will I survive? Desperate to live, unspoken prayers filled her mind and she pleaded, repeatedly, God save me.

She was still praying as they walked down the dirt path away from the flaming school. The shabby-looking men with their wild eyes gave no explanation or directions. They simply motioned with their heads and the sweep of their rifles, making it clear to keep moving. As the reality began to sink in, Saa felt her chest tightening. Her heart was going to beat its way out of her body. But she couldn't allow herself to cry or make any sound. Any kind of display would make her a target, and who knew what these men might do?

The insurgents walked alongside, behind, and in front of her; they were everywhere. Every time Saa looked around, their menacing forms filled her view. Initially, all the girls were steered away from the main road and onto a rambling path overgrown with bushes; the detour was likely made in an attempt to avoid detection.

Parents lining up for reunion with daughters (c) Adam Dobby


***

This excerpt was published with permission from the author. 'Beneath the Tamarind Tree' is available now.

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The 12 Songs You Need to Hear This Week

Featuring Wizkid, Stonebwoy x Teni, Thabsie, Sampa the Great and a classic Funána compilation.

Every week, we highlight the cream of the crop in music through our Best Music of the Week column.

Here's our round up of the best tracks and music videos that came across our desks, which you can also check out in our Songs You Need to Hear This Week playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

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

Check out all of OkayAfrica's new playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

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South Africa has Ruled that Spanking Children is Now Unconstitutional

The judgement was unanimous.

Back in 2017, the South African High Court ruled that it was illegal for parents or guardians to spank their children i.e. use corporal punishment in the home setting. The ruling arose after a father allegedly beat his 13-year-old son "in a manner that exceeded the bounds of reasonable chastisement". Today, the Constitutional Court has upheld the High Court's 2017 ruling and declared that the spanking of children is a violation of the constitution.

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Nigerian Women Have Taken to the Streets to March Against the Serial Killing of Women

"The women in Port Harcourt no longer feel safe," the protesters say.

Hundreds of Nigerian women have taken to the streets in protest of the the spate of murders that have taken the lives of eight women in various Port Harcourt hotels thus far. Dressed in in black clothing and holding placards denouncing the femicide in a scene quite similar to the protests led by South African women last week, Nigerian women are demanding that the police as well as the government do more to protect the women living in Part Harcourt especially. The BBC reports that the police have arrested two individuals who are thought to be suspects in the killings.

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