East African Afro-Pop ensemble Sauti Sol kicked off the Jam Africa Superlounge at the 2019 ESSENCE Festival with their specialized brand of soul on Friday night.
As the opening act at the Festival’s first-ever African-dedicated performance lounge, the band members—which include vocalists Bien-Aimé Baraza, Willis Chimano, Savara Mudigi and guitarist Polycarp Otieno— recognized the impact that music from the motherland is leaving globally over the last few years. They also recognized what it means for African artists and the global audience at large.
While most jams coming from the continent are being classified as “Afrobeats” on our soil, Baraza noted that there are subtle differences to the regional sounds.
“In West Africa it’s Afro beats, in East Africa it’s Afro-Pop,” Baraza told press at the Superdome on Friday night. “In the south, it’s Afro-House and in the north, it’s just a bunch of our Arab brothers and sisters; something totally different.”
As far as why African vibes have surged in popularity in the states over the last few years, Baraza believes it’s due to technology allowing Africa to seize back her own voice.
“For a long time, what you’ve been seeing about the continent has been controlled,” he added. “Now, because of the Internet, it’s an open market, and you guys are now able to participate with the continent culture-wise and see what’s going on. For the first time, Africans are controlling our own narrative. So many times, our story has been told for us by other people. So when we control the narrative, that’s what happens. You guys take it to the next level.”
However, Chimano added that African music’s newfound popularity is only a side effect of the influence it’s had over pop culture all along.
“It’s not that African music is getting a lot of attention over the last two years, African music has had the attention since way, way, way back,” Chimano said. “African music defines the big genres in the world right now. When you look at Blues, when you look at Rock & Roll, R&B, Country music, how it started here from way back with the first Black artists who are actually the inventors of it all, it all started with us. So African music, it’s not that it’s poppin’, it’s always been poppin’.”
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