Simply put, there are too many scenes, genres and movements to mention in one article. The shift in perspective is encouraging. Little over a decade ago, the only time music from Africa or Latin America was heard on western dancefloors was when a rare, overpriced record found its way into the bag of a middle-class European ‘selector’ – a troubling colonial hangover. Now it’s common for African DJs to headline clubs across the globe. It begs the question as to why it has taken this long.
“Access to information is democratising. We’re all much more connected than we were 30 years ago and so it’s easier to find music from Africa or elsewhere online, it’s easier for artists to connect with each other, to get their music out there and to travel,” explains Kampala-based DJ and writer Kampire Bahana. “But music from Africa has always been part of the DNA of electronic music. The fact that the West is only now starting to credit, book and pay electronic artists from the Global South does not negate the fact that this music has always been an essential contributor.”
Despite performing at some of the world’s most recognisable clubs and festivals over the past couple of years, it’s clear that nurturing the scene at local level and building a self-sustainable ecosystem are far more important to Kampire than garnering admiration from the West. She is a core member of Nyege Nyege, the East African festival and collective that has provided a platform for some of the region’s most innovative electronic artists. Unbound by the lineage of western dance music, the crew are slowly but surely convincing people that electronic music is a global phenomenon that reaches far beyond London, Berlin or Detroit.
Kampire is also critical of clumping all non-western club music together under one umbrella – comparing such a flagrant oversimplification to all intracontinental African pop music mistakenly being labelled as Afrobeats.
“Ugandan music alone (let alone East African music, let alone African music, let alone music from the Global South) is so incredibly diverse, drawing from over 70 ethnic groups with their own languages, history and contemporary struggles. Western audiences will miss all of that if we insist on oversimplifying,” she says. “Yes it’s all electronic but doesn’t it do the music a disservice to lump 180-BPM singeli in with Ethiopian EDM? I think African music is rarely afforded the same nuance.”
But how do these non-western sounds that forego the conventions of 4×4 house and techno go down in the club? “Really, really well,” says Tash LC, whose South London club night Club Yeke is dedicated to ‘exploring sounds from the African diaspora via South and Latin America, the Caribbean, the UK and beyond’. “People enjoy it but they’re kind of confused because it’s not something they’ve heard before. It’s so easy to build up a preconception of something and have your whole views changed.”
Rather than a trend that gets left behind in a few years, the idea of having club music from different parts of the world spoken about in the same way is hopefully the new normal. “House and techno are only a part of club music,” asserts Tash LC. “We’re now realising that it goes so far beyond that.”
Michael Lawson is a freelance writer, check out his Clippings
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