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Afro Trap: a “generational phenomenon” to the conquest of the globe

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In the 1970s, a few hundred years after the arrival of black communities in the United States, hip hop culture and rap were born in the slums of the Bronx in New York – the principle was not the verb. In the beginning it was the break and reinvention of so-called black American music, a vast culture originating in Africa and broad manifestations ranging from jazz and funk to soul and reggae or the Latin hybrids that in the Big Apple were dubbed “salsa,” all languages and sounds that were later adapted and transformed for the creation of hip hop beats.

What we can consider European black music – and it is always a very debatable concept – is a much more recent phenomenon, not least because mass immigration from Africa to Europe (at least with visible and tangible results today) is also more recent. It takes time to cement bases, to mix African tradition with European tradition (or Western global culture) and to originate the fusion of both to result in something new. If hip hop didn’t take so many years to cross the Atlantic and invade Europe, it always takes some time to gain new aesthetics and identities in the regions to which it moves: in Portugal, for example, local artists made hip hop more in Portuguese when they used samples of fado or national popular music.

Another phenomenon that adds to all this, and more recently, is the trend of African sounds in Europe. Many of these languages could not be born in Europe without African communities, but neither could they be born in Africa without all the influences of Western society. And with this we can see an increasing rapprochement between rap and Africa in Europe. Curious, since rap can be considered black American music, and it is necessary to get to Europe to meet with Africa.

It is also impossible not to notice the increasing success of the hot sounds of dancehall – Jamaica’s export with global impact thanks to the career of stars such as Shaggy, Sean Paul or, more recently and among many others, Popcaan – that have spread to the highest level of the top of the pyramid: just listen to tracks by Drake as the mega hit “One Dance”. In the UK, we can talk about the example of J Hus, who combines rap with dancehall, and has had a strong impact.

The afro trap phenomenon

One of those clear examples of the greatest Africanity of rap in Europe is the Afro Trap phenomenon – a term created by the French rapper MHD, son of Guinea Conakry’s father and Senegal’s mother, only 23 years old. From the suburbs of Paris, he gave rise to a whole movement and sonority: the combination of accelerated Afro beats with aggressive sounds of trap with verses and rhymes on top. If grime is born in London with its origin in local electronic music, and one feels the anguish and young anger of excluded communities and their urban problems, in sound and rhymes, in the case of Afro Trap one feels more a spirit of celebration and also manifests itself with a very own universe.

“The afro movement is already well underway, in recent years the afro scene has occupied a greater place on the world music scene, with artists who export: like Wizkid, Drake or P-Square,” tells Rimas e Batidas what has been called as the prince of afro trap, MHD. “In France, there are more and more afro, especially in hip hop. It’s a generational phenomenon and a mixture of cultures and sounds that are very pleasant.”

At the beginning of 2016, Mohamed Sylla, better known as MHD, was a simple courier who delivered pizzas in Paris. After 18 months, he performed for 65,000 people in Guinea Conakry, where he was welcomed at the airport as a star by thousands of fans. In the summer of 2016, he was hired to make an ad for Adidas and Real Madrid. He currently has more than 700 million views on YouTube, more than two million subscribers, and in April he performed at the iconic Coachella festival. Major Lazer recently remixed the theme “Afro Trap Part. 7 (La Puissance)”.

Instead of being inspired by American rap, like so many previous generations of French hip hop, he focused on the sounds of African music genres such as coupe decale, among other styles, which he had always heard at home. In his famous Afro Trap singles series, he started with “Afro Trap Part 1 (La Moula)”, with an instrumental that had a sample of the theme “Shekini”, from the Nigerian group P-Square.

This video – and many of those that followed – is filmed in the area where he lives, in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, and shows the people of the neighborhood dancing in the street, dressed in training suits and football club sweaters. The link between Afro Trap and Europe’s top sport is unequivocal. MHD himself wanted to be a footballer, now he pays homage to his idols on the pitch – and vice versa. The British newspaper The Guardian wrote in June 2017 that Adrien Rabiot, Serge Aurier, Alexandre Lacazette and Samuel Umtiti were some of the French national team players who were fans of MHD. The rapper also became friends with Paul Pogba and his characteristic dance movement, which he simply calls “le mouv”, became a popular way to celebrate goals on the Paris Saint-Germain field. MHD has also participated in a project with the Cameroon football team and honoured legendary striker Roger Milla in one song.

“Of course I’m flattered when the football stars listen to my music, and perhaps they’ve participated in this export, but I think it’s, above all, the universal side of Afro Trap, its sounds and the environment that it can create. It’s the magic of music. There are no borders anymore and everyone can be touched by a track that was produced in a neighbouring or even distant country”.

 In the only album he has in his record – which, it should be noted, doesn’t just have afrotrap songs – he collaborates with African musicians like Fally Ipupa and Angelique Kidjo, instead of having invited rappers. She took from her African roots what her parents heard at home, that inspiration – and it’s notorious her pride in incorporating Africa into her music and not sharing the indifference she says Africa always had in French rap. Journalist Betty Bensimon, in an interview on the Boiler Room platform, says he was responsible for taking rap hard to the country’s discos. But that, however, was never his intention. Everything was born from an innocent freestyle, over an afro trap beat, which became viral on Facebook. “It was the audience that was claiming afro sounds. For my part, it was the number of comments and sharing on my Facebook video that motivated me to go into the studio.”

Douk-Saga, Molare, or Magic System are some of the biggest references on the coupe decale, “I listen to African music every day. It’s really my base. In France, big names like Booba, Niska or Maître Dims also rap with African aesthetics present. They weren’t the first, of course: before, Bisso na Bisso already linked rap to Africa, even without the modern elements of trap. MHD has also been increasingly connected to the London scene of grime. “The London music scene is obviously very inspiring. I’ve often been to London to see artists and be in the studio.”

One of the producers of these beats, who has worked more with MHD, but who is also the author of the hit “Sapés Commes Jamais”, by Maître Dims, with the participation of Niska, who has almost 350 million views, is Dany Synthé – at 26, he is even part of the jury of the popular talent competition of Nouvelle Star television.

Afro Trap also arrived in Spain

Afro Trap is growing in the various African communities of Europe and in Spain it is no exception. Afrojuice 195 is a collective that has adopted this type of music, also using auto-tune, and its festive lyrics speak mainly of football, street life and simply having a good time. They were in Portugal recently to record the video clip of the single “José Mourinho”, which joins other football themes such as “Karim Benzema”, “Play Beautiful” or “Paulo Dybala”.

“We do this kind of music because it allows us to express and transmit our energy… basically we reflect our lives and allow us to tell our experiences”, the quartet tells Rimas e Batidas. “We love singing, dancing, jumping and making people do the same.

African sounds have always been present in their homes since they were little, and although they make afro trap, a term created by MHD, to whom they recognize legitimacy, they don’t say that they were exactly inspired by the French rapper. “It is true that he gave them their name and created the bases, but Afro Trap is really part of us, it is our way of life. Football is the street, the street has football, music, joy, it’s a culture. This gender represents what the street is today, the diversity of different cultures and the integration of immigrants in a foreign country”.

In Portugal

 Djoek

As we well know, Portugal is another of the European countries that is most connected to Africa, and this trend has not been ignored. The country has the particularity of having several thousand people who speak Creole and who take it to rap since the 1990s – but that was the closest point to hip hop to the African continent, not least because, in general, all the other aesthetics of rap, as would be natural, was inspired by what was done in America and was completely removed from Africa.

The first rapper in Creole in Portugal, with work to show for it, was Djoek, who released the album “Nada Mi Ka Teni” in 1996. And we can’t forget to mention the role of General D, considered one of the fathers of rap in Portugal and the first in the country to record tracks, who regularly wore traditional African costumes and explored the messages of afrocentrism that were also conveyed in America – by groups such as Public Enemy, for example. In the PALOP – in Cape Verde, for example -, there was already rap more or less connected to African music. In Portugal, we can’t help but mention the role of Karlon, a history of the Nigga Poison, who released at the end of 2016 Passaporti, an album that traces precisely this connection to the origins of the family, and links rap to funaná or the iron bagpipe.

Speaking of afrotrap, several Portuguese artists have dedicated themselves to the genre. One of them is Bad Tchiken, the other will be Mota Jr, and there is still Apollo G. After several loose tracks and songs with the GhettoSupastars group, the rapper launched his solo album with Robin Hood, released in November 2016, and then edited the EP Success After Struggle. The rapper maintains the tradition of Creole rap, with real descriptions of difficult experiences, but balances it and completes it with songs about loves and dislikes, egotrip rhymes and, of course, block party hymns.

It was these tracks, in which Apollo G mixes the rhythms of African beats (which are also an international trend) with trap sounds, that made the most impact: “Si K Sta”, with a video clip recorded in a courtyard on Monte Abraão, adds up to more than three million views on YouTube. In this work there are beats that sound like kizomba, but also auto-tune verses over trap percussions. The artist, who also takes part in Elji Beatzkilla’s hit “Kuale Ideia,” explained the mix we found in his repertoire.

“It’s the music I’ve been listening to since I was a child at home, and with what I’ve been listening to these days. That’s why there were tracks with very African styles, but always with a touch of my own. It was like adding rap to various musical styles. Robin Hood was my first project and it was very good for me, I didn’t expect people to like it so much. It was a really good year”. The rapper started receiving more and more calls, looking at the full schedule, and giving international concerts through the circuit of Portuguese communities and PALOP abroad.

This aspect of combining and experimenting styles, which is only an authentic reflection of the multiculturalism of the artist’s life, is present in this new EP, which ends with a funaná-based track with the participation of Garry. One of the most Afro Trap themes that Apollo G has is with his group GhettoSupastars, which has a remix of the track “Manda Vir Mais Um Copo”, with a beat by Deejay Télio. In recent years, this producer and singer who grew up in Vale da Amoreira has truly established himself as one of the best-known creators of Portuguese popular music and, specifically, as one of those who contributed most to the success of African music in the country. There are rare discos that have never played some of their hits, such as “Não Atendo” or “Esfrega Esfrega”.

Your style? Another great fusion, of course, that could only have been born in a suburb of Greater Lisbon. “I call it karanganhada, it’s a word in Creole that was used a lot in the past and is no longer used, around 2006 or 2008”, says the producer to Rimas e Batidas. “And I, as a kid, grew up in a social neighbourhood, amidst Guineans, Cape Verdeans, Mozambicans, are from the State of Bahia, I’ve always liked that word. And I always said: I’m karanganhada. That means partying, partying, good vibe.

This party music that results from the mixture of all the African sounds present in Portugal is somewhere between the kizomba, the kuduro and the afrohouse, but it also came to rap, there it is. Deejay Télio works on his label and independent collective SAF (Somos a Família) with Deedz B and has already collaborated with the Wet Bet Gang and the Karetus – he may be coming soon, according to Télio, with the quartet of Vialonga.

“It’s important [to have these connections] and I support 100% of this scene. It’s good to open borders, for a kizomba singer not just to be kizomba, or rap not just to be rap, or beat – in this case, karanganhada, not just karanganhada. In this way it expands Portuguese music further, because we’re very closed in terms of musicalities”. Even so, Deejay Télio assumes that his music, and African sounds in general, have had more space and acceptance in Portugal in recent years. “I’ve noticed this expansion. Ever since I launched I’ve noticed that, not only with Portuguese artists but also with those from abroad, from Brazil, Angola, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau. It’s really opened up a lot”.

As for Afro Trap, Télio confesses to being a fan of MHD, a rapper who listens a lot. “I identify myself, so much so that I’m often inspired to create from there, mixing a bit from here, from there, a rap metric with a trap metric, some kizomba, funaná scenes, is a lot of stuff. I take a little bit from all sides and I think that’s how it’s done. I’m more on the trap side now, as I produce for Deedz.”

It’s also interesting to remember that Deejay Télio, who produces with Fruity Loops Studio – “when it’s good he doesn’t make it up” – may have this more popular side of his music, but he started working with producers who, despite not having as much commercial success, are great vanguard references in electronic music. Télio was part of the group Tia Maria Produções, associated with Príncipe Discos, before there was a SAF – Maboku, Firmeza, Lilocox, Nigga Fox or Lycox are some of his references and friends.

In Lusophony

The São Paulo rapper

Portugal seems to be more advanced in this mixture of rap and African beats, although in Brazil it is even more difficult to separate some waters – often not so necessary. Moreover, the country on the other side of the Atlantic has its own fusion of favela funk to create with rap. Still, it makes sense to mention the name Rincón Sapiência in this article.

The São Paulo rapper recently threw himself into “Drenas” by PEDRO to create “Na Quebrada,” where he glides easily through the beats of the Afrohouse of Amadora as if he had grown up in those alleys and arcades. “I feel at home”. This connection to Africa, a theme that is very present in the lyrics of MC, has also been noticed in her own repertoire. “Afro Rep” is really the appropriate title. In an interview with Rimas and Batidas in August, Rincon Sapiência said that, in order to trace the true origins of rap, we should even look more at Africa and less at the USA – an exercise similar to what MHD advocates.

“Rap is a sequel to that diaspora, to having left the African continent and spread throughout the Americas. So the questions and answers of the vocals is something that you already have in African music, before rap. Storytelling is already a part of African culture, the lance of versed singing, which was already present on the African continent before the United States built this format of rap. Sometimes I think it’s worth looking back even more, even more at the African continent than at the USA. It’s this concept of drinking from afro and afro-Brazilian music that I define as afro rap. Aesthetically, it’s the result of the songs ‘Meu Bloco’, ‘Ponta de Lança’, ‘A Coisa Tá Preta’, which is this energy of Afro music with the contemporaneity of rap”.

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