Cultural Transformation: The Americanisation of African Musicians

Written by: Core Wreckah

I was asked by the Have Plenty Music team to contribute some thoughts on the ‘Americanisation of Afrikan
‘, partly as a result – I hope – of the social relevance of my songs, and my desire to constantly
tackle issues which are most pertinent not only to myself, but to Afrikans in Afrika and the Diaspora.

Apart from rapping, I conduct interviews with other artists on a regular basis; it is always their thoughts
I convey on paper whenever I attempt to write, so I had a bit of difficulty in putting my own viewpoint
across regarding the issue. Much of the time was spent wondering whether the opposite is true: could
there be some Afrikanisation of American music brewing?

We have, in the past six months, seen instances where pop culture has blatantly bitten off Afrikan
compositions in order to create fodder for their vehicle of manufactured pop; Beyonce’sRun the world’,

as does the song’s producer Diplo’s other creations. Vestiges of traditional Afrikan music can be heard in Madlib’s excursions as The Beatkonducta in Afrika, or even more commercially-accessible sounds of the Distant Relatives
,who made the Afrikan continent a central theme of their album, to varying degrees of success.
To further validate my analysis, Jay-Z and Kanye West’s recent outing – released to much fanfare under
the ‘Watch The Throne‘ moniker – contains a song which borrows heavily from a Caiphus
composition. Shakirah’s theme song for the 2010 soccer world cup is another instance. I digress.

The topic demands a more detailed inspection than can fit in the space I have been allotted. A cursory listen to some Nigerian seventies funk reveals a generation highly influenced by the musical styling and vocal intonations of James Brown, perhaps more so than Fela’s Afrobeat or King Sunny Ade’sJuju music.

Pre-and-post-Mobutu nationalism, Zaire (now-DRC) had a plethora of bands who – inadvertently or not – took elements of Brazillian calypso and American blues and fused these into their music. Could this have been the consequence of re-claiming one’s musical heritage instead? After all, doesn’t conventional wisdom dictate that all music has its origins in Afrika?

In his 2004 autobiography ‘Still Grazing‘, South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela provides many
instances where the American way of life filtered into South African society. Bioscopes exposed black South Africa to the vertigo of American jazz and the American way of life; the style of dress on these movies was replicated by aspirant township youth – perhaps as a need to vocalise their own existence, subsequently defying and re-defining what it meant to be Afrikan.

Earlier Afrikan hip-hop excursions courtesy of groups such as South Afrika’s Prophets Of da City and Senegal’s Positive Black Soul

indicate rappers more accustomed to rap as done by influential groups such as the Wu-Tang Clan as opposed to formations which wanted to necessarily stamp their musical identity on the world. Case in point: POC’s Shaheen took his cue from RZA’s razor-sharp, almost-double-time delivery. Musical influences aside, these earlier groups – and I stand corrected – were more interested in issues which directly affected their communities; they were a reflection of the state of affairs in their society.

While there still are instances of socially-conscious rap coming out of the continent, there also seems to
be a drift toward self-indulgent songs more concerned with opulence than addressing how, for instance,
street vendors can unionise in order to avoid exploitation and intimidation by the city council. My song Reverb, incidentally initially
an attempt to take a jibe at commercially-accessible hip-hop, ended up being a tale of how hip-hop is
concerned more about materialism than social activism.

It is not my place to dictate what people can/cannot talk about in their songs, but I have a choice to not
listen to rap that fails to address mine and so many other people’s living conditions.

In the end, I suppose the penetration of American-styled music comes as a result of the filter-down effect brought about by globalisation. Incidentally it is not endemic to our continent, but is a phenomenon that has spread to distant reaches. Ghana’s Wanlov the Kubolor put in all in perspective in a chat I had with him recently: ‘Most of the programs we see on TV are American; the children growing up now are learning to speak like the people they are exposed to on television‘. Does this then mean that we are victims of circumstance?

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