I went to Zambia recently, meaning about six months ago and was amazed at how African music has exploded. All kinds of African musicians are getting play all over the continent and like youngafrican pointed out

music is crossing cultural barriers and that Zambians are listening to Ugandan music and Ugandans are listening to Naija music and Nigerians are playing Zambian music as their ringtones!

I have a problem with it which is based on the fact that Afro-pop is kind of stagnant and lacks a genuine artistic identity.

It’s pop music at its most basic and diluted, its music is accessible and in being accessible sacrifices artistic identity. In simple English if it wasn’t for the variations in dialect afro-pop music sounds the same. In a lot of the music we are hearing coming out of Africa, I hear elements of Dancehall, Hip-Hop and R&B. This isn’t a new trend, but it’s a trend which finds the new afro-pop kings and queens replicating the watered down song structure and production values now common in popular music in the states.

Identity is important because the greatest musician’s legacies are all built on artistic identity.  Think about Lingala music, and how it exploded in the early to late nineties when a lot of the new music powerhouses didn’t exist.

Lingala and some South African music represented one of the few forms of afro pop music that you could hear anywhere on the continent. Yet how many of those artists do we still remember apart from Koffi Olomide and maybe Awilo. Yet even Awilo and Koffi had very questionable material because all their stuff sounded the same. I have nothing against them but I have a few Koffi songs and Awilo songs that I like.

Lingala also produced many legends like Pepe Kalle, Tabu Ley, Franco or Tshala Mwana. These legends aren’t legends because their old, their music has lasted because of its artistic identity. A Franco song is distinct for its very spare guitar playing and relaxed almost Hawaiian style sense of laid back timing. His singing always seemed conversational and never changed tempos drastically during a song. Franco’s music had a very evident musical identity that people gravitated to and described as his sound and his alone.

I can’t say I know any of the really new musicians by name. I can tell you what they sound like but I promise you based on what they sounded like alone I wouldn’t invest in a full-length album. I was DJ-ing an event in the states once and I was given a playlist of songs to play and a lot of them were of the new afro-pop movement. I was at best appalled by the horrible production quality of most of the music. As a DJ I’m used to playing music that hasn’t got the best production quality. This is because I play a lot of Dub reggae and a lot of early garage rock and punk records. Yet this afro-pop stuff is bad because even the fruity looped stuff just can’t sound good on quality equipment because the production is sloppy. The production being sloppy isn’t some attempt to capture Lee Scratch Perry’s sound but it because these musicians aren’t taking time to master studio engineering.

This is largely because the internet and computers has made music making a simple process. Yet this doesn’t mean one shouldn’t take the time to craft something sophisticated and relatively complex. New afro-pop is driven by the use of Auto-tune, simple drum patterns courtesy of fruity loops or a basic Casio keyboard drum beat, then they layer the music up with some preprogrammed synth cords courtesy of, again fruity loops. I can understand that one major hindrance is the lack of accessible equipment. Yet a distinct sound is built from mastering a craft and giving your craft time to evolve. It means trying to say something unique about yourself and the world around you through your art. I don’t know if it’s just me but that isn’t present in a large amount of the music that I hear on MTV Base Africa or on radio in Zambia. A lot of my friends say I’m just an elitist prick and maybe I am. But I think there is hope for afro-pop music in the form of some artists that embody the vanguard of the new afro-pop movement.


I can’t completely blame the young artists. Music production has become easier because of technology but also the best equipment is expensive. Afro-pop could sound much better if we had a few trained musicians or even session musicians doing interpolations instead of always relying on software. A lack of music education is also because of a lack of adequate music training and investment in the arts by naïve African governments. So it’s without saying I totally recommend these artists for at least filling the void. But I dare these guys to be groundbreaking, to try harder to break out of the mold.

submitted by: Hama

you can find more of his musings on music here

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  1. I think you have some very good points here, but I would also argue that pop music, is by definition accessible, broad-based and rarely very groundbreaking. A lot of the artists you mention under “hope” are Afro-jazz, or play other experimental, cross-genre music that the average African is not going to dance to in club.

    That being said, our pop music HAS to be more than a cheap imitation of western music. I am seeing more and more musicians that understand this and reflect it in their pop.

    I am quickly becoming a big fan of Just A Band 🙂

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