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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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Artwork: Barthélémy Toguo Lockdown Selfportrait 10, 2020. Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co

1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair Goes to Paris in 2021

The longstanding celebration of African art will be hosted by Parisian hot spot Christie's for the first time ever.

In admittedly unideal circumstances, 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair will be touching French soil in 2021. The internationally celebrated art fair devoted to contemporary art from Africa and the African diaspora will be hosted in Paris, France from January 20 - 23. With COVID-19 still having its way around the globe, finding new ways to connect is what it's all about and 1-54 is certainly taking the innovative steps to keep African art alive and well.
In partnership with Christie's, the in-person exhibits will take place at the auction house's city HQ at Avenue Matignon, while 20 international exhibitors will be featured online at Christies.com. And the fun doesn't stop there as the collaboration has brought in new ways to admire the talent from participating galleries from across Africa and Europe. The fair's multi-disciplinary program of talks, screenings, performances, workshops, and readings are set to excite and entice revelers.

Artwork: Delphine Desane Deep Sorrow, 2020. Courtesy Luce Gallery


The tech dependant program, curated by Le 18, a multi-disciplinary art space in Marrakech medina, will see events take place during the Parisian run fair, followed by more throughout February.
This year's 1-54 online will be accessible to global visitors virtually, following the success of the 2019's fair in New York City and London in 2020. In the wake of COVID-19 related regulations and public guidelines, 1-54 in collaboration with Christie's Paris is in compliance with all national regulations, strict sanitary measures, and security.

Artwork: Cristiano Mongovo Murmurantes Acrilico Sobre Tela 190x200cm 2019


1-54 founding director Touria El Glaoui commented, "Whilst we're sad not to be able to go ahead with the fourth edition of 1-54 Marrakech in February as hoped, we are incredibly excited to have the opportunity to be in Paris this January with our first-ever fair on French soil thanks to our dedicated partners Christie's. 1-54's vision has always been to promote vibrant and dynamic contemporary art from a diverse set of African perspectives and bring it to new audiences, and what better way of doing so than to launch an edition somewhere completely new. Thanks to the special Season of African Culture in France, 2021 is already set to be a great year for African art in the country so we are excited to be playing our part and look forward, all being well, to welcoming our French friends to Christie's and many more from around the world to our online fair in January."

Julien Pradels, General Director of Christie's France, said, "Christie's is delighted to announce our second collaboration with 1-54, the Contemporary African Art Fair, following a successful edition in London this October. Paris, with its strong links to the continent, is a perfect place for such a project and the additional context of the delayed Saison Africa 2020 makes this partnership all the more special. We hope this collaboration will prove a meaningful platform for the vibrant African art scene and we are confident that collectors will be as enthusiastic to see the works presented, as we are."


Artwork: Kwesi Botchway Metamorphose in July, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957


Here's a list of participating galleries to be on the lookout for:

Galleries

31 PROJECT (Paris, France)
50 Golborne (London, United Kingdom)
Dominique Fiat (Paris, France)
Galerie 127 (Marrakech, Morocco)
Galerie Anne de Villepoix (Paris, France)
Galerie Cécile Fakhoury (Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire/ Dakar, Senegal)
Galerie Eric Dupont (Paris, France)
Galerie Lelong & Co. (Paris, France / New York, USA)
Galerie Nathalie Obadia (Paris, France / Brussels, Belgium)
Galleria Continua (Beijing, China / Havana, Cuba / Les Moulins, France / San Gimignano, Italy / Rome, Italy)
Gallery 1957 (Accra, Ghana / London, United Kingdom)
Loft Art Gallery (Casablanca, Morocco)

Luce Gallery (Turin, Italy)
MAGNIN-A (Paris, France)
Nil Gallery (Paris, France)
POLARTICS (Lagos, Nigeria)
SEPTIEME Gallery (Paris, France)
This is Not a White Cube (Luanda, Angola) THK Gallery (Cape Town, South Africa) Wilde (Geneva, Switzerland)

For more info visit 1-54

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