Afro B talks the rise and rise of UK Afrobeats
The “AfroWave” pioneer explains the new UK sound that’s even got the ear of Drake and Beyoncé.
There’s a new sound spreading across the UK – a mix of African pop, rap and dancehall, with figures like Kojo Funds, J Hus and Yxng Bane running up some serious figures on YouTube and Soundcloud.
To that list, you can add Afro B. A South Londoner by birth, but tracing his heritage back to the Ivory Coast, he’s one of the scene’s most respected vocalists, with support from Westwood, MistaJam and Toddla T. He also hosts a monthly show on London’s Radar Radio, and recently curated the brand new MOVES compilation – a crucial guide to the UK Afrobeats sound featuring Belly Squad, Mazi Chukz, Naira Marley and more, which drops May 19 and launched with a roadblock party at Red Bull Studios London last month.
We caught up with him to hear about his personal history, and find out where the UK Afrobeats sound is going in 2017.
Hi Afro B. How did you get involved in music?
I've always been into music – I used to play the piano in church. I’m from south London, Greenwich, and I used to put on events for the youth. We ran a night called All Star Skankers, [collaborator] Kenny Allstar was also a member of that team. From then I started DJing, then the artist thing followed after that.
What were people calling the music back then – and what do you call it now?
When I first started playing the sound, it was mainly called Afrobeats. There wasn't really the fusion that’s happening right now – it was more authentic sounds from artists from Africa. It's hard to come up with a name, because there's UK Afrobeats, and then there's the sort of music that the likes of J Hus, Kojo Funds and myself are doing.
I call it Afrowave – it's a fusion of hip-hop, dancehall and Afrobeat melodies
I call it Afrowave – it's a sort of fusion of hip-hop, dancehall and Afrobeat melodies, all in one. The lyrics make it a UK sound but the actual beat and the melodies expand out to Africa. I actually think African audiences enjoy the more rap-led thing more, because it's so different to what they're used to hearing.
Your parents come from the Ivory Coast…
That’s right – a French-speaking country. That's why I have a few songs speaking in my language, speaking to that crowd. There are French speakers in the UK, but not many of us – that's why we really stress on adding one or two words in French, just to feel at home.
Was there a moment when it felt like you really found your sound?
Three years ago I released a song called My Sweet Coco, featuring Mista Silva. At the time a lot of UK Afrobeat artists were featuring this uptempo Azonto sound, but My Sweet Coco was very mellow, I think that's why that track really stood out. I followed up with Décalé, which is more uptempo – I was speaking solely French in that song, and at that time there wasn't any artist catering to that crowd. My follow up after that was Baba God, which had a more Ghanian feel to it. There weren't a lot of gospel songs at that time.
Where do you think the sound is going to go?
Eventually there will be an official stamp on what the name of the genre is. I don't think the sound needs that, but I think it needs to be acknowledged that this is a big thing that's happening. People know it's there, but they don't yet know the extent, the impact.
The co-signs are really helping the genre spread.
There's a recent song by Don-E called You Alright Yh?. Beyoncé posted something on Instagram using the instrumental. So that's very big. It's hard because there's a new artist literally everyday dropping a hit on Link Up TV, or some other platform, and if the audience likes it, it's big. It's very unpredictable. The co-signs are really helping the genre spread. Figures like Drake have played a major part in our sound being accepted by a mass audience.
What’s next for Afro B?
I'm going to continue releasing visuals from my CD, then looking to touring, around the UK or the world. I've recently been getting a lot of love from Sweden and Australia, getting random DMs on Instagram from fans listening to my music, so it’d be great to get out there.