#AfroNation: The House That Africa Built

“It’s all House music really…but I see it as music which comes from Africa.”

Quit stalling! Afro House is not the elephant in the club anymore. The sound has paid dividends over the years to the overall landscape of House music. When the foundations that Frankie and Larry had built within the walls of Paradise and The Garage, had been cheapened and pimped out by large corporate entities and pseudo-pop stars exhibiting intentions which could only be described as nefarious by the House faithful, Afro House has remained loyal and diligent to the underlying ethos. Its stripes as a sub-genre have not (disclaimer: at the time of writing this) been called into disrepute.

Other sub-genres of House HAVE fallen foul to landing within the cross hairs of “the market place”. Deep House in recent times was caught in a tug of war, more to the detriment of the lovers and dedicated practitioners of the sound. Exploitation is a sadly inevitable aspect of a music scene “breaking through”, the issue is that the creation that comes from this new re-birth is unrecognisable to the staunch and devoted.

Afro House, similar to AfroBeats, is at a tipping point. It’s achievements within the continent are without a doubt under no question. Durban, South Africa should definitely join the ranks of Chicago and New York as another geographical home of House music. Its widely known that House (of the Afro variety) IS popular music in South Africa. To the extent that there has been a migration of producers and artists to SA to further their career aspirations. Similar to what Berlin experienced when the city began to redefine itself as a likely successor to Detroit as a home of Techno. South Africa’s most notable star and arguably the most prominent House DJ from the continent is Black Coffee. His meteoric rise is bolstered by a blossoming domestic scene in key with what Black Coffee was building through Soulistic Music (his independent record label). Homegrown acts like Culoe De Song and Black Motion alongside other South African artists, have created a viable eco-system which has transcended their respective townships.

My own foray into Afro House began initially in 2009 with ‘Streets of Africa’ featuring Akatriel, a release on Phil Asher’s London imprint Restless Soul. It was my own interpretation on Ghanaian inspired House, which seemed to be a favourite amongst those who craved more ambience and nature within their House music. Fast forward some 8 years and I talk to one of the main practitioners of Afro House here in the UK, Sef Kombo. Sef has ardently supported Afro House from the terms earliest inception. AfroBeats was already a main stay with DJ Edu on BBC 1Xtra and Abrantee on Capital Xtra (formerly Choice FM). The Afro House universe on BBC Radio was collectively plugged through Sef’s guest appearances for DJ Edu. The union was perfect! Edu, currently the longest serving DJ on BBC 1Xtra, could cover the length and breadth of African music whilst Sef Kombo would explore the burgeoning world of Afro House.

“It’s all House music really…but I see it as [House] music which comes from Africa.” – Sef Kombo

I caught up with Sef earlier this week. Our calls are mostly sporadic over the time we have known each other, but nevertheless thought provoking. Who better to ask for a better insight to a sub-genre which at times confused myself. I asked Sef a very basic and possibly tedious question but one just to reaffirm my positioning. What is Afro House? His response was notably diplomatic factoring the agents which have brought about this current wave of interest. “It’s all House music really…but I see it as [House] music which comes from Africa.” 

I thought about the response carefully and agreed that there had to be at some stage a cut-off point. House Dynasties had to be broken up, partitioned, for ease of comprehension. The era of Afro House is best defined as the period of African inspired music from the continent. The momentum can be sourced there, so it is only right. Importantly, practitioners and contributors outside of South Africa like Boddhi Satva, AtJazz, Zepherin Saint, D-Malice, Osunlade to name a few should in no way be discredited. But I believe it would be healthy to draw a distinction between the energies that brought about compilations like Africanism by DJ Gregory and the Afro House movement observed in the past 7-8 years.

D-Malice, Sef Kombo, Zepherin Saint, Aluku Rebels are merely a few of the UK’s support of the Afro House movement radio shows, music and club nights. Independent record labels like Zepherin Saint’s Tribe and Peter Adarkwah and Ben Jolly’s BBE and Phil Asher’s Restless Soul are just three of the prominent UK based imprints distributing and championing Afro House within their already extensive discography. I told Sef about the title of the piece I was currently writing for Nation Of Billions. He agreed as a sub-genre in a very competitive and flashy industry, Afro House has held its proverbial corner. It can never suffer the peerage snorts and guffaws more customary to the forums of Resident Advisor. It’s esteem is in an all round good and respected place.

But the cynic in me probes further. I question him, is this a problem? The bespoke sound alienating itself through no fault of its own ingenuity? “Good music hasn’t been celebrated from that region when it comes to house music.” Sef Kombo is ultimately in agreeance that opportunities have been missed but also highlights something very important to the topic “the country has its own scene…it doesn’t really need to blow.” A self-sustaining domestic music economy is nothing new. South Korean genre K-Pop has pretty much done the same thing before the world was exposed to the effervescent Psy and his breakout record ‘Gangnam Style’.

“Africa is the home for House music, the way they live, breathe and appreciate House music is unbelievable…” D-Malice

Bedfordshire based Afro House producer, D-Malice has had a long history with the genre. Approaching the 50th release on his own imprint DM Recordings May 2017. The 50th release ‘Reflections’ even has Black Coffee alongside DJ Merlon and Khaya Mthethwa. “So many frustrations with Afro House recognition. It’s that as soon as you say Afro House or music from Africa people instantly think of the jungle or tribal chanting music which it isn’t, for me Africa is the home for House music, the way they live breathe and appreciate house music is unbelievable…” D-Malice

The conversation was duly positive despite Malice’s annoyance. 2017 was a good year for Afro House and a great year for Black Coffee. The Canadian House producer Nick Holder who’s DNH Recordings imprint has released material from future SA talent Da Capo, joins another Canadian, Drake, who can also lay claim to Afro House exposure. Drake’s collaboration with Coffee on ‘Get It Together’ [ft. Jorja Smith] a cover of Black Coffee’s ‘Superman’ previously vocalled by Bucie set the tone for a whole new wave of commercial interest in Afro House as a genre.

“I do think the scene is growing for sure, for example look at Black Coffee and how he has had exposure playing world wide featuring on Drake’s album, working on remixes for Alicia Keys etc, which has had a great impact BUT that’s just one person.” D-Malice

It remains to be seen whether the liquid nitrogen effect of Drake on Black Coffee’s career will replicate that of a vehicle in the Fast and Furious franchise. Black Coffee is without a shadow of a doubt the flag-bearer of the genre as its most recognisable commodity. His Ibiza residency this year in 2017 at Hï (formerly Space), will be an prized opportunity for Coffee to bridge the mainstream Ibiza sensibilities to the wider world of Afro House. A lot of this banks on the line-up Black Coffee chooses to surround himself with from June 3 to September 30 2017.

What does this mean for the future of the Afro House?

It’s commonly referred in industry circles that someone has to sell their soul to achieve unimaginable greatness. It could be argued by this definition that the reason Afro House has not reached its deserved heights of global success and recognition is because it has been unwilling to sell that aspect to the highest bidder. A prerequisite of most music in the modern era.

Afro House has managed to retain its soul, but further plaudits could be on the cards if Doctor Faust is open to negotiations!