African musicians are no longer just appealing to domestic audiences, but also generating more interest abroad
Someone once told me that African music will always influence global music … when the slave ships left Africa they left with the drum beat that continues to travel the world. I believe in those words now more than ever after witnessing the influence West African music, particularly from Nigeria, has had on celebrated international artists like Canadian rapper Drake.
Now, driven by an appetite for local tunes rather than productions from the pop hubs of the US and Europe, African artists are mixing traditional African beats with new tempos to produce cross-genre sounds. In South Africa, the demand for homegrown contemporary music is sweeping across the industry, driving a creative boom. African musicians are no longer just appealing to domestic audiences, but also generating more interest abroad through tours and collaborations with big international names. Black Coffee, D’Banj, Don Jazzy and Tiwa Savage are now taking over from veterans such as Youssou N’Dour and Hugh Masekela to secure deals and work with performers like US rapper Jay-Z.
The future leader in this sound movement is gqom, a style of dance music emanating from Durban’s townships – a house-meets-kwaito hybrid that reverberates the social conditions of township life. Since the rise of its popularity,gqomhas travelled the international music scene to become a crowd-pleaser on dance floors around the world. With that, the gqomscene is gradually becoming competitive.
A duo currently at the forefront of the genre is Distruction Boyz with its hyperlocal multimixes that are going down a storm at morning bangs and house parties in Durban’s townships. Theirs is a fusion of local pride and commercial success that has unlocked a formula for transitioning gqomfrom Durban’s streets to a countrywide trend.
The duo is a great example of one of the central talents that is needed to be a modern musician. In this digital age of streaming and subscription-based music-rental services, our artists and the rising curiosity for our sound has made it ultra accessible in the competitive global music market.
For South Africa, the potency of the gqomsound is contributing greatly to its influence in the global shift of music and a great example of this is the Black Panthersoundtrack. It has served as a springboard for young acts – positioning them for potential global breakouts. Durban’s gqomqueen Babes Wodumo, who scored a dynamic hit in 2016 with “Wololo”, had not seen any of her previous singles hit more than 500 000 streams on Spotify, but her Black Panthercontribution “Redemption” racked up 13 million in just three weeks – causing a ripple effect for the rest of her music.
Since then, Major Lazer – an American electronic dance music trio comprising record producer Diplo, and DJs Jillionaire and Walshy Fire – recruited Babes for their booming new song. Called “Orkant/Balance Pon It”, the tune is highlighted by auto-tuned choruses, whirring synth lines and frenetic EDM drops woven with the gqomsound.
The growth and renewed importance of African music is being driven by innovative artists who are breaking down boundaries and reaching the world’s youth. In this era of digital streaming, the African continent is a massive market for music consumption and we can all celebrate the global successes our local artists and musicians are enjoying.
Rhodé Marshall is an award-winning journalist and currently the lifestyle editor of #Trending at City Pressnewspaper.