Music
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The Director of Urban Music at YouTube Shares 5 Ways to Discover New African Music in 2019

We speak with music exec, Tuma Basa about the best ways to find new African music.

Music discovery just isn't the same anymore.

The Spotifys, Apple Musics and Tidals of the world have completely transformed the way we find new music. Gone are the olden days when we'd wait for new music to premiere on the radio or 106 & Park. The feeling of sliding in a new CD to a car stereo has been swapped with simply typing in an artist's name on a streaming app. This has major implications for what music ends up landing in front of us.

Tuma Basa, the Director of Urban Music at YouTube, refers to this as the "democratization" of music, in which choice is king and every artist and genre is available at our fingertips. But it also means there's a lot more "fluff" to sift through. It seems mediocre songs get more exposure than ever, making it harder to land on the actual "good stuff."

"There are so many choices now that you just have to be dope, and you have to be honest," says Basa. "Whereas, back in the day people just didn't have choices, maybe there's only one video channel. Maybe there was only one radio station that played your kind of music in your market. Now because of digital, the playing field has been equalized. I don't have to listen to an official thing, I can make it myself."


The Rwandan exec, who grew up between Iowa, DRC and Zimbabwe, has worked in music programming for 21 years. He created one of Spotify's most popular playlists: Rap Caviar, and worked as a curator for MTV Jams. Throughout his career, he's been tasked with remaining on the pulse of what is new and worthwhile while also adapting to the changing tides in music consumption.

We spoke with Basa about how streaming has changed the landscape for African music, how he's kept on top of it all, and asked him to share tips on how to find exciting new music from the continent. Some of his tips include joining WhatsApp groups with fellow music-oriented folks and even inconspicuously "Shazaming" at parties. "You hold your phone down below your waist, you push Shazam, and you look around as if you are normally socializing and nobody sees that you're Shazaming something," says Basa with a laugh.

Read on for more tips from Basa on how to stay ahead of the curve when discovering new African music.

Tuma Basa Photo courtesy of Tuma Basa

Make use of tools that highlight country-specific trends.

Basa points out an underused feature on YouTube that allows folks to search content trending in each country. Visit YouTube.com/charts and type in any location in the search bar to see what people on the ground in various places are viewing and listening to. He describes the feature as uniquely "accurate" due to YouTube's high amounts of global users.

Visiting the charts section and typing in "Nairobi," "Lagos" or "Kigali" reveals what folks are listening to on the ground, thus offering more "authentic" choices. The results may surprise you too. They are specific to where, searching "Johannesburg" is likely to wield vastly different results than searching "Cape Town." This more localized snapshot can help provide a glimpse at trends from a non-US-centric perspective, unlike what's shared on the Billboard charts, which are often slow to recognize popular music from the continent—as evidenced by the lingering presence of Davido's "Fall" two years after its release. Utilizing more direct tools in order to observe trends on your own is one major way of staying ahead of the curve, says Basa.

Let auto-generated recommendations guide you

According to Basa, the "recommendations" features aren't getting enough play. The common and straightforward feature has the potential to lead you down a (pleasant) rabbit hole of new music that fits your tastes by default. "After you play one or two afrobeats songs, the recommendations is going to pick up and give you something else. So if you play Wizkid, or you play let's say Tiwa Savage, then the next song might be Niniola or Teni," says Basa.

Go on a "subscription binge"

Another way to stay up to date on new releases and discover new artists, is to subscribe directly to several artists that you like. Pick a new artist, and subscribe to their channel. Then go to their page and go to 'related channels,' say Basa. "[From there] I would do a 'subscription binge.' Pick your favorite Nigerian artist, maybe Davido or Yemi Alade, and then binge. Then do the same thing for South African music. Binge all the featured channels and the related channels, then do the same thing with Kenyan music and Tanzanian. This way, you are also getting notifications [from the artist]—you are actively being engaged. This way, you gain these recommendations when they have new stuff so you're on top of it."

Seek out Unconventional Spaces

As someone whose job it is to be on the top of what's happening in music, Bassa says he surrounds himself with it even on various non-music related platforms. The exec reveals that he is part of a WhatsApp group chat consisting of other music industry insiders who share content with each other on the regular. While we might not all have big-shot music business friends, it is worth checking in with like-minded circles for more human-level music sharing—a major element that's missing if the majority of our findings are based on algorithms.

He even has separate accounts on social media for when he is in "cultural research mode." "I log on to [them] just to keep in touch with what's happening," he says. "It's more exploration, more adventurous and more liberal in terms of how many people I follow."

Play those playlists

The reality is that music programmers have done much of the work for us when it comes to curating popular contemporary African music. Streaming services like Spotify have launched entire hubs dedicated to African music and provide "radio" options that cater directly to the discovery of lesser known artists that may have not landed on your radar otherwise.

Bassa also mentions specific Twitter pages like the hip hop account Lyrical Lemonade and OkayAfrica (his words, not ours) as sources for music discovery. "I like going to those pages, and [just] letting the page run its playlists,' he says.

Our current musical landscape means that the continued growth of African music relies heavily on streaming. Lucky for us, support for African sounds means we just have to listen to more of what we like. It goes a long way. "You're not just supporting them with visibility," says Basa. "You're supporting them economically."

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These Colombian Civil Rights Activists Are Fighting to Make Sure Afro-Colombians are Counted in the Census

When 30 percent of Colombia's Black citizens disappeared from the data overnight, a group of Afro-Colombian activists demanded an explanation.

It was the end of 2019 when various Black organizations protested in front of the census bureau—The National Institute of Statistics and Informatics (DANE)—in Bogotá, Colombia to show their dissatisfaction about what they called a "statistical genocide" of the black population. The census data, published that year, showed 2.9 million people, only 6 percent of the total population of the country, was counted as "Afro-Colombian," "Raizal," and "Palenquero"—the various terms identifying black Colombians.

For many years, Afro-Colombians have been considered the second largest ethno-racial group in the country. Regionally, Colombia has long been considered the country with the second highest number of Afro-descendants after Brazil, according to a civil society report.

Why did the population of Afro-Colombians drop so drastically?

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists protesting erasure of Afro-descendants in front of the census bureau.

Last year, a crowd of activists gathered in Bogota to protest what they saw as erasure of Black communities in the Colombian census.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

In the latest national census report from 2018/2019, there appeared to be a 30.8 percent reduction of the overall group of people that identified as Black, Afro-Colombian, Raizal, and Palenquero, as compared to the 2005. After this controversial report, an Afro-Colombian civil rights organization known as the National Conference of Afro Colombian Organizations (CNOA), officially urged DANE to explain the big undercounting of the black population.

This wasn't a small fight. Representatives who hold the special seats of Afro-Colombians in Colombia's congress asked the census bureau to attend a political control debate at the House of Representatives in November 2019 to deliver an accountability report. "The main goal of doing a political debate was to demand DANE to give us a strong reason about the mistaken data in the last census in regard to the Afro population," said Ariel Palacios, an activist and a member of CNOA.

At the debate, the state released an updated census data report saying that, almost 10 percent of the Colombian population—4.6 million people out of 50.3 million—considers themselves Afro-Colombians or other ethnicities (like Raizal, and Palenquero). But despite DANE trying to confirm the accuracy and reliability on the latest census report it was clear that, for a variety of reasons, Black people were missed by the census. The state argued that their main obstacles with data collection were related to the difficulties of the self-recognition question, as well as security reasons that didn't allow them to access certain regions. They also admitted to a lack of training, logistics and an overall lack of success in the way the data collectors conducted the census.

How could they have counted Black populations better?

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists playing drums in front of the census bureau.

Drummers performing during a protest against the Colombian census bureau's erasure of Afro-Colombians from the 2018 census.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

These arguments were not reasonable for the civil rights activists, partially because the state failed to properly partner with Afro-organizations like CNOA to conduct or facilitate extensive informational campaigns about the self-identification questions.

"CNOA has worked on self-recognition and visibility campaigns among the Afro community and this census ignored our work," says priest Emigdio Cuesta-Pino, the executive secretary of CNOA. Palacios also thinks that the majority of Afro-Colombians are aware of their identity "we self-identify because we know there is a public political debate and we know that there is a lack of investment on public policies."

That's why it is not enough to leave the statistical data to the official census bureau to ensure that Afro-Colombian communities are fully counted in the country. And the civil rights activists knows that. They made a big splash in the national media and achieved visibility in the international community.

Thanks to The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a human rights organization, Palacios traveled to D.C to meet with Race and Equality institution and a Democratic Congressman. "We called for a meeting with representative Hank Johnson to talk about the implementation of Colombia's peace accords from an Afro-Colombian perspective but also to address the gross undercounts of its black population," says Palacios.

For the activists at CNOA, the statistical visibility of the Black population is one of their battles. They have fought for Afro population recognition for almost two decades. "Since the very beginning CNOA has worked on the census issue as one of our main commitments within the statistical visibility of the Afro-Colombian people," says priest Cuesta-Pina. Behind this civil organization are 270 local associations, who work for their rights and collective interests.

The activists want to raise awareness on identity. Because according to Palacios, "In Colombia, there is missing an identity debate—we don't know what we are. They [the census bureau] ask if we are black, or if we are Afro-Colombians. But what are the others being asked? If they are white, mestizo or indigenous?" Palacios believes that for "CNOA this debate is pending, and also it is relevant to know which is the character of this nation."

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Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists use mock coffins and statistics to protest erasure of Afro-descendants

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Photo courtesy of CNOA

Even though the state recently "agreed with to give us a detailed census report" and make a different projection with the micro data, says Palacios, now with the Covid-19 emergency, CNOA and the government has suspended all meetings with them, including cancelling a second congressional debate and the expert round table meeting to analyze the data.

Unfortunately, it is exactly in situations like the Covid-19 emergency where data analysis and an accurate census report would have been useful. According to the professor and PhD in Sociology Edgar Benítez from Center for Afro Diasporic Studies—CEAF, "Now it is required to provide a reliable and timely information on how the contagion pattern will spread in those predominantly Afro regions in the country and what is the institutional capacity in those places to face it," says Benítez.

He adds that this information is "critical at the moment because the institutional capacity is not up to provide it at the current situation". That's why the Center for Afro Diasporic Studies plans to work with DANE information from the last census. According to Benítez, "We are thinking of making comparisons at the municipal level with the information reported in the 2018 Quality of Life Survey, in order to have a robust and extensive database as possible on the demographic, economic and social conditions of the black, afro, Raizal and Palenquera population in Colombia."









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