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"So Marvin Sparks, what effect will afrobeats have on bashment"

"What effect will afrobeats have on bashment?" Something I was asked recently. I've seen tweets like "bashment is dead now", "afrobeats is taking over", "I'm glad afrobeats has killed bashment" and "remember bashment?" So, I thought "Lemme weigh in on this". Haven't brought out the opinionated Marvin Sparks around here for a while so here he is... [please note: I said "the opinionated Marvin Sparks", meaning this is all my opinion based on my findings and observations. If you disagree, feel free to comment. I'll accept anything positive or negative. Tell me to suck any of my family members and it's a war ting though. Calm.]

First and foremost, this is a stupid, premature debate, hence why I held back from entertaining it on Twitter. I've bitten the bait a couple of times to correct those who should know better, but kept quiet apart from that. Throughout this post I will demonstrate that the only foundation for this "debate" is that the black community in London is largely represented by Africans and Jamaicans and the rivalry/jealousy that comes with it.

Now I already know some will call this biased because they say I'm the UK's leading dancehall correspondent, hating or whatever means to deny the truth, but I'm gonna go ahead anyway. I've been down that road before (namely UK funky live review & Sway's new song: Do we care?). Annoyed me at first 'cos they were actually pretty accurate, then I realised denial (calling people "haterz") is an easy way to diffuse "the ether, the stuff that make your soul burn slow". And in both posts Marvin Sparks' words came to pass... (p.s. I also wrote this about the day dubstep took over UK funky and Labrinth vs Talay Riley vs Loick Essien triple threat/hell in the cell match. Both those came to pass as well...)

Anyway, back to the matter at hand, afrobeats "vs." bashment. Check out the piece by pressing read more (in case you didn't see it)

Let's set out what we're talking about specifically. Afrobeats is a term coined in the UK for what is known as Afro-pop on the motherland - "a term spanning west African dancehall to hip-hop" according to this Guardian article written by a Nigerian-based journalist. Yes, west African dancehall. (Afrobeat by Fela Kuti is completely different story.) Bashment is what UK kids call current Jamaican dancehall. And this is about which has the most dancefloor presence and commercial crossover appeal, because sadly, kids nowadays just like what they feel will be the next pop(ular) sound, either in charts or amongst their mates. The latter has always been the case, the former has increased in recent times since "urban" music became pop(ular).

Afrobeats has been present in select few clubs to niché audiences for a few years now (aka places with high percentage of Africans). Magic System "Premier Gaou" is the first tune I remember causing mayhem - still sounds great to this day. Fit nicely into UK funky house selections. Furthermore, let's hold this post for a second to skank. Thanks.

I enjoyed that. Yeah, so, until last year/early this year, that along with Olu Maintain "Yahooze", 9ice "Gongo Aso", P Square "No One Like You", D'Banj "Fall In Love" and couple other bangers managed to sneak their way into some record boxes of savvy DJs playing in clubs frequented by certain sections of London's black community. I never went to uni dances with 40 DJs playing half hour sets over 3 rooms, but I remember hearing a lifetime long afrobeats set one-time at a Brunel uni rave. Went down a storm! Full on vibes session. That could have been early 2010, so I know it was doing a thing in that circuit alongside the latter stages of UK funky and bashment. Hip hop was quiet them times if I recall correctly.

Outside of the uni lot, afrobeats was still largely missing from any sort of coverage in the wider world. Then, blam, out of nowhere Kanye West signs Nigerian star D'Banj to G.O.O.D. music label last year and everyone starts talking about afrobeats is taking over? "Is" being the operative word here. This right here signals the initial problem.

Almost as soon as Kanye got off stage from guest appearance at D'Banj's Koko show, London-based afrobeats specialist DJ's, journalists, artists and PR's pop up all of sudden. I'm like "Weren't you a UK funky artist/mixed genre DJ/writing about urb*n music last year?" Ur*an blogs and magazines that ordinarily didn't care start covering afrobeats. Mainstream radio stations that didn't show love to music from the motherland outside of night bus hours or not at all choice, I mean, choose to support this new movement, giving  it prime time coverage. Definitely comes from a genuine place... I'm like "Weren't you the home of UK funky house a couple years ago that doesn't have a UK funky show anymore?" Amazing, I tell ya.

So, one of the coolest celebrities signs an artist of a particular genre it's suddenly cool enough to actually boast about the music they love, wanna support and feel is taking over? No coincidence, there then... I just wonder if people believe in it so much, why weren't they doing all this talk before Kanye's blessing? The music was already big on the underground. I guess, that's just the way people operate in the 21st century; wait until a cool co-sign and/or "mainstream acceptance" then bandwagon/overkill. Alas, I digress...

Top 40 TV & radio stations rightfully show love to "Oliver Twist", Guardian newspaper writes about this new music that's taking over, 1Xtra dedicate a week to afrobeats, make an hour long documentary that trends in UK (I think), both Hackney Weekend (1Xtra stage *cough* headlined by Sean Paul) and Wireless festivals book D'Banj etc., loads of us thought it would go top 5, many thought it would hit top spot and it scraped UK #10 for week. Great achievement for the first new generation African artist to achieve such feat.

Some have noted this song as one that demonstrates afrobeats has crossed over, but I ask "does the song actually sell the new afrobeats sound/movement/lifestyle/culture?" 

On the club-banger, D'Banj name-checks a bunch of familiar western celebrities like Beyonce, Rihanna and Nicki Minaj and ropes in cameos from a bunch of western celebrities like former Sugababes singer Keisha Buchanan (if you read this, DM/email your number babe. We can whatsapp. Love xxx), comedians Eddie Kadi, Kojo and Vujanic - who does the popular azonto dance move - in addition to popular US rappers including Big Sean and a dubious appearance by his boss Kanye West.

To quote Nas: "Now let's get this all into perspective..."

Conceptually, it's pretty regular, so that doesn't sell a new culture. If you didn't know the azonto before, you probably won't know it's the popular (and fully sick) African dance, especially as it's done by a European male. And the beat definitely doesn't stand out as distinctly African. The "labatah/lebeteh" chants are undoubtedly the most African. To Joe Bloggs and Lucy Hill, it's probably just a banging house sounding track that happens to be by an African - one that Kanye West likes/signed. I know people that say "I don't like afrobeats, but I like Oliver Twist." Like, a lot of people.

The impossibly infectious "Oliver Twist" was a calculated attempt to crack the market in the UK. "I thought we could do with a sort of funky house sound. I thought: 'It's not like the music is that different from the music we listen to here,'" says D'Banj in an interesting article on the Guardian website.

Major label release, one of the easiest songs of the year to sell as a plugger, released at the peak of it's crossover powers (I know the song was old to hardcore afrobeats fans, but it wasn't to the general urb*n), not forgetting it's one of the best club songs this year pound-for-pound, yes, but it's still just one song. Good start. Nothing else. Much like Kanye signing D'Banj. Good start, nothing more. Akon has P Square and Wizkid. Rating that, but we'll see where that goes. He had Winsin y Yandel when reggaeton was hot. Brick & Lace when dancehall was at its hottest commercial point in the 00s. See the trend?

Afrobeats is still at novelty one-hit wonder stage making steps towards recognition, but there hasn't been a genuine breakout star or stream of songs as yet to claim even a summer. No Afrobeats artists featured on top 40 chart artists songs nor official afrobeats remixes of chart songs. Remember the '04 summer bashment had on lock? Elephant Man on every remix, Busta Rhymes, Lumidee, Rihanna, Nina Sky, Christina Milian, Ne-Yo and Will Smith all had bashment/bashment-infused songs. That's what you call running a summer. To quote Sean Paul "Dancehall's impact on popular music culture is immense" (interview by me).

We've had other minorities enjoy a little spike in interest for a summer then fade in the harsh winter wind. Latino dancehall a.k.a. Reggaeton brought out everyone that speaks Portuguese and Spanish to their club nights (and claim "/Latino" on Hi5, Bebo and MySpace). Remember La Bomba? How about when south Asians (India, Pakistan etc.) enjoyed a bit of commercial success with bhangra? (Don't crucify me if that comes across ignorant. Thanks in advance.) Jay-Z jumped on Punjabi MC and Jay Sean achieved chart success (Eyes on You and Dance With You), plus Timbaland and Dr. Dre sampling Indian sounds etc. Where are they now?

Afrobeats hasn't even hit those levels yet. I've said from beginning of the year that if the afrobeats summer doesn't happen next year, I'll be surprised if it ever does. And who's to say K-Pop isn't gonna be the next ethnic minority hype as has been suggested for longer than afrobeats? Remember when black/urb*n/MOBO folk thought UK funky was next, then dubstep came and obliterated the whole place?

K-pop (this song is too funny.) This is on 175 million views

And this "afrobeats is taking over" can be answered by my Twitter mate (Nigerian-born, living in London) Karl Nova's tweet:

And that's what it comes down to really. It isn't "taking over", getting a little more shine than before, yes, but not taking over. Check the YouTube comments if you don't believe me. "I'm so happy we're finally getting recognition by the mainstream" will appear on many occasions. So does "thumbs up if this song makes you proud to be Ghanaian/Nigerian".

As humans, sometimes we try to like things what we think everyone else likes, so we're involved in the conversation usually generated by hype commonly referred to as a bandwagon. To many, afrobeats is currently going through this phase of trying to like it to fit in. Right now is the golden generation for the sound. When the dust settles and hype subsides, the strong will survive. If afrobeats is here in 3 years, it's done well. We'll see how it fairs when the "Afrobeats was better back in the day" brigade come out. Still not on the same level as dancehall, but congrats will be in order.

Reality is you can still go to clubs and nights across the whole country and hear dancehall songs spanning decades even if it's just Chaka Demus & Pliers, Shaggy and Sean Paul, while afrobeats is still absent in most of London let alone nationwide. I've been to central London clubs and even Oceana on a few occasions and not heard afrobeats in their urban room in Kingston, Surrey (greater London). Asking most non-Africans/afrobeats specialists to name or even hum 5 afrobeats songs is setting yourself up for failure. Can the same be said for bashment over the numerous years?

Bashment songs rising from ground up to the charts organically is sparse nowadays, mainly due to label political reasons (every artist is homophobic until proven otherwise in their eyes) and lack of structure. Last one happened in 2010 when Gyptian's monster "Hold You" took dance floors by storm. Major label-assisted pop ones are more frequent (Rihanna, Sean Paul, Cover Drive etc.).

Unlike D'banj's major label assistance, Gyptian's song popularity grew organically in New York and across the Caribbean through being an infectious song. Young Money's starlet Nicki Minaj, who was making a name for herself, jumped on it unofficially, because it was a popular song she liked. No major label's telling anyone which rapper should be put on the record to gain radio spins in certain territories or radio playlists. Why? Because there wasn't a major label involved in breaking it. The producer with assistance from an independent dancehall distributor sent the unfinished song to their DJ mates. Really was that simple.

"Hold You" was released in November a year and half after initial release to DJs, 7 months after playlist on 1Xtra (I think it sat on playlist that whole entire time too), at least 3 months after what many would consider maximum potential and amidst X-Factor chart manipulation, yet still charted at number 16 through independent label Levels/Ministry of Sound. Gyptian wasn't booked for any festivals except 1Xtra Live at Wembley Arena (if that counts) where he was the only independent artist on the bill.

The reason I compare the two songs is because they are two examples of chart success, results are slightly different, but factoring in all the variables (initial promotion, time of release, label, mainstream support), the difference isn't as great as it should be. There has never been an afrobeats song to chart without major push. "Oliver Twist" would not have got anywhere near as far as it did without Kanye's blessing. Essentially, Kanye West gave afrobeats their first top ten.

Likewise, Gyptian probably wouldn't have done it without Nicki, but Nicki's feature came from genuine hype before her. Like, over a million views on YouTube before her. Same for when Alicia Keys jumped on Cham's "Ghetto Story". Awesome co-sign, but the song was massive without her.

Bashment doesn't even require chart certification to be crossover; Beenie Man & Fambo "Rum & Red Bull" and Tony Matterhorn "Dutty Wine" have featured on prime time chat shows, "Clarks" written about in a few national newspapers despite no released date, PR firm pushing the story etc., and countless songs by Vybz Kartel, Mavado, Mr. Vegas et al are urban club-smashes. Serani "No Games" plays up and down the country. Of those mentioned, only Serani had a bit of major label assistance, but he would be at the same level regardless. For whatever reason, Island flopped with the release of that. Mr. Vegas "Bruk It Down", Popcaan "Party Shot" and "Only Man She Want" are examples of songs that keep the clogs turning on bashment, transcending the hardcore fans appeal.

The probable reason for major labels not taking up "Hold You" is because they assume "the kids don't listen to dancehall" and "dancehall doesn't sell anymore". I know of at least one a&r that regrets not signing it. He said it was sh*t and wouldn't sell lol. Reason for that is they don't go to normal clubs with normal people or know normal peoples taste so prefer to dictate and/or jump on any new sound, because all they do is go to industry events, read Music Week to analyse club airplay gainer charts to see what people supposedly like. I digress again, but bear that in mind for later.

At the moment (and for the past few decades) ska, reggae, dancehall and brand Jamaica are still bigger than the motherland. Regardless of my personal heritage, these are the facts of pop culture. It's ingrained in the foundations of British culture now - Jamaican mass immigration happened over 60 years ago, bringing their music and culture. (To find out more, read these posts.) These bring new ears to reggae as evidenced by David Rodigan MBE, reigning Red Bull Culture Clash champions Channel One, Aba Shanti and other sound systems increasing popularity since dubstep. Even Prince Charles likes reggae and Jamaica. Convo between him and David Rodigan MBE:

Prince Charles: "You really love this music, don't you?"
David Rodigan MBE: "I certainly do, sir"
Prince Charles: "So do I... I love Jamaica"

Source: "How Jamaica conquered the world" on Guardian website. (Yes, another Guardian article. They go in, what can I say. Oh, and you can check the top 8 Jamaican acts piece I wrote for them here)

No matter what people say about "yardies", crime, "baby father culture" and all the other negatives, name a culture from a black country that contributes more to pop culture? British history, and cliché things like entertainment music and TV, food, slang, sportsmen, markets, landmarks etc. Someone like Levi Roots is successful for selling a taste of Jamaica in a bottle, Rihanna's "islands" niche is Jamaican culture, Usain Bolt wouldn't be as popular with posters all over the country if he came from [insert other Caribbean/African country] etc., not many countries could make Clarks cool.

Remember, there were two Jamaican songs played during the Olympics opening ceremony (Dandy Livingstone - Rudy, A Message To You and Jamaica's first UK top 5 from 1964 Millie - My Boy Lollipop). I don't think any other non-British country had songs representing in the opening ceremony (Asians got shine in the closing ceremony). They also paid tribute to Windrush. Get me?

It's only now that Africans are starting to contribute to the British underground culture. Saying that, most British-African artists rep a side of London, not Africa. Last time you heard one speak in their mother tongue? Only comedians do. And that's to a niché audience again.

My answer to the topic question was "It's on Africans to support African music unconditionally." Be proud of your music, because you are proud of it not because an American rapper you like possibly (probably) sees it purely for business. Don't say "it's cool to be African now" when what you really mean is "I'm an African that's finally being cool with being African". That logic is so flawed it's a shame. Be proud of who you are because it's you. The real questions are "Will afrobeats last longer than one generation? Will the next be appreciated like the first?"

If/when Kanye decides he ain't about the D'Banj vida loca and, like bashment, afrobeats becomes the thing labels/mainstream say "isn't cool anymore, the kids are into [insert genre which hangs around for the year]," will all these afrobeats aficionado's go back to whispering about afrobeats whilst falling in line with everyone else's taste? Will it become irrelevant in clubland like UK funky as the other side of the argument suggest? I personally don't think it will fade, because some Africans have pride and will keep it going. Will it have the same appeal?

Ultimately, afrobeats and bashment can be played in the same club, so it shouldn't be a debate of one or the other.  DJ's can mix both seamlessly in the same set to represent/celebrate all of us, as opposed to one against the other. What's the point in that? I don't know why we always fight each other when there's bigger fish to fry.

Afrobeats artists rate bashment, many Africans rate dancehall and love reggae -  Kenya, The Gambia, Senegal, Tanzania and more are big markets for reggae/dancehall. You can hear the influences in quite a lot of songs; "Yahooze" sounds like Sean Paul "Head To Toe", Olu Maintain "Nawti" is a bashment song, Wizkid "Tease Me" is a rip off Mavado "House Top", Sarkodie "U Go Kill Me" is Aidonia "100 Stab", 9ice "Gongo Aso" is Steps riddim, Atumpan is rapping like a Jamaican on "The Thing", Ice Prince has a song with Gyptian, 2Face makes reggae songs like "Raindrops" and has a song with Beenie Man, Nneka "My Home" is built on reggae and she performs at reggae festivals... No harm in that, most of those songs are bangers, but let's keep this debate in perspective.

We all know Jamaicans have been bigging up Africa more than anyone else in mainstream. Bob Marley made red, gold and green cool. We used to sing "Hello mama Africa, how are you?" when British-Africans were ashamed, denied eating fufu and said they were from the Caribbean. Jamaican artists have always said Africa is home. It's mutual love. Senegalese rapper/singer Akon's ode to Africa "Mama Africa" was on a reggae rhythm that also featured Sizzla amongst others.

Many tip Wizkid as that crossover kid. He certainly has the right ingredients, plus a reported collaboration with Tinie Tempah on the remix of his lead single "London Girl" (which is a bashment song - Diwali riddim drums are a big giveaway). I wish him all the best just hope he drops his knock-off American stuff right out. Will he be as big as Chaka Demus & Pliers/Shabba/Shaggy/Sean Paul?

May I add, the latter reached #2 in the UK national charts and sits on 96 million views this year with EDM(lol)-dancehall hybrid smash "She Doesn't Mind" and #12 with Simple Plan "Summer Paradise" despite everyone thinking he's passed it? Will afrobeats have knock-off songs by manufactured pop bands like Cover Drive who topped the charts with "Twilight" this year? Or reggae songs made by elite foreigner producers like Diplo/Major Lazer's "Get Free"?

And to those that say dancehall's dead, Mavado is signed to We The Best/YMCMB (and is promoted more by Khaled than Kanye promotes D'Banj), has Birdman cameo in his song "Suicidal" lifted from former dancehall DJ Khaled's compilation album, but nobody's that excited because it's so regular. He brings out Drake in places like France, Drake brings him out on his Club Paradise tour in America and it's not even shouted about because dancehall's been there done that.

Nicki Minaj has Beenie Man on her latest album and planned to bring him out at the controversial Hot 97 Summer Jam concert no-show - she rolled with Spragga Benz and tweeted they were listening to dancehall on the way. Drake bigs up Popcaan, bigs up UK rapper of Nigerian descent (or maybe born) Sneakbo for rapping over dancehall... Drake, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna tweet dancehall song lyrics and my Twitter timeline doesn't blow up about it. Snoop and No Doubt are making Jamaican music on their albums...

If the above were afrobeats or an African artist now... Why's that? Because afrobeats is the underdog, the new thing, so a little embrace is a big deal. Everyone loves the underdog. Beyonce released an afrobeat-sounding song ("End of Time") as her fourth or fifth single, a song which should have kicked the album off in my opinion and didn't even do a video for it. When she did a "Baby Boy" with Sean Paul it went number 1 in US, number 2 in UK and she still performs it to this day. That's the levels.

However, the future is bright if we all continue to support (good) afrobeats. Shows are selling well in London, British-Africans think they're cool and are determined to create what appears to be a new identity, but I call it showing a truer reflection of Africans as opposed to AIDS/HIV and starving kids narrative. This can only be good for brand Africa as a whole. Plus, economies in certain countries are booming.

All I ask is that you try to preserve and respect your own culture which means not being blinded by the lights of success in foreign, especially America. Please drop the American accents, music and bling/materialistic attitude right out. Be real to you and to real people. Trust me, pretending to be American (see Ice PrinceMay7ven etc.) is a comedy.

Also, to paraphrase my British-Ghanaian bredrin "The deepest afrobeats gets is a man talking about being deeply in love with his girl." Realest talk of 3rd quarter 2012. Soca is another genre providing high energy beats that no one really cares about apart from during carnival season. Just saying.

Your typical bashment set in 2012 contains tender love songs like "Hold You", f**k songs like most of Vybz Kartel's greatest hits, sexy girl party songs Konshens "Gal A Bubble", gospel songs like "I Am Blessed" by Mr. Vegas or Mavado "Hope and Pray", party songs like "Rum & Red Bull" and "Party Shot", badman tunes like Konshens "Do Sum'n" and Vybz Kartel "Touch A Button", odes to real friends like Khago "Nah Sell Out" or Demarco "True Friend" etc. Some aspects are focused on more than others (explicit song for the girl to whine up), but there is a variety.

To give another example; UK garage, bassline, UK funky, UK bass and dubstep all provide(d) a great soundtrack to memorable raving experiences, but only for an era. And with every now era comes new producers and mindsets. Grime's still about 10 years later though. What's the difference between grime and the others? A culture. A grime's been "dead" how many times?

So yeah, in conclusion, like what you like because you like it, not because you think it's gonna be the "new thing" and ones the "old thing", "this doesn't come from where I'm from" or because you feel it will be top 40 music. Leave that behaviour to pricks in Chino's, denim shirts and Jordan's that wore baggy clothes when that was in, Vans when those were in, Von Dutch, Evisu and Prada's when those were in...

Final point: I think it's an absolute disrespect for people to compare something which has been relevant for decades, spawned countless authentic and imitation hits (triple-disc compilation Now That's What I Call Reggae released this summer includes 15 UK number 1's) to a thus far one-hit wonder genre on the rise. Dancehall was arguably bigger than hip hop in the UK during the 90s. When afrobeats is the musical driving force of somewhere at some time then we can start the comparison game. Every new musical wave has been the new dancehall, but dancehall is still here. There is reggae music and there is world music in which African is in with Latin, Asian, Mediterranean and every other virtually insignificant sound/genre. Remember that.

There have been cries that every new sound is coming to dead ragga/dancehall/bashment, yet the beast is still here. It may not be as strong previous years as it goes through a transitional period, but it's bashment, it still has bangers and usually sorts itself out. Dancehall/bashment is a giant tree which bears fruit loads of people feed on; afrobeats is a branch. That isn't to disrespect it, it's just the truth.

And if you think I think everyone is great with bashment, I don't, but the truth is the truth. 

p.s. as I write this Popcaan - When We Party (A-list), Skrillex & Damian Marley  - Mek It Bun Dem (A-list), Gappy Ranks - Wine Pon Di Edge (B-list), Orange Hill Productions ft. Vybz Kartel - Pon Time (B-list), Wayne Marshall + mates - Go Hard (B-list) and Konshens "Stop Sign" (C-list) on 1Xtra playlist. No afrobeats songs. "Oliver Twist" was the second most played song on the station in second quarter. I think two songs - "Oliver Twist" and Atumpan "The Thing"  - have reached A-list ("Chop My Money" by P Square + Akon may have gone there too); bashment's had 5-10.

Choice FM has two afrobeats - D'Banj "Overload" and P Square + Akon "Chop My Money" - no bashment. But lol @ getting on Choice playlist without the right radio plugger. As good as I think it is P Square are only there because they have Akon on the track, D'Banj is signed to a Kanye.

p.p.s. this will make an interesting read three years down the line lol.


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