Ghana-based Benjamin Lebrave speaks fluent French and English, and can schmooze in Spanish and Portuguese. He’ll report on new African music every other week. This week, he shares Ajebutter22's "Senrenre.”
Last weekend, I hopped on a train in the Netherlands, where a couple of guys were blasting jams out of their Blackberrys. A lot of people were getting annoyed, but it made me bob my head, listening to their dope dancehall, a little kuduro and, inevitably, D'Banj’s “Oliver Twist.” I was so excited to hear exactly the kind of stuff I play in my DJ sets in such a random, everyday setting. The scene also reminded me of how connected music can be today, within limits: Oliver Twist doesn't really play anymore in Accra, and I doubt it still plays much in Nigeria. But in Europe, within certain scenes, it's still very much unavoidable.
I'm always curious about the shrinking boundaries between African music at home and abroad. Lately I assumed the gap had disappeared, and that current hits in Accra played in London, for instance. But a couple of months ago I had an interesting conversation with Ace from BBC 1xtra, after which I also visited London and realized I was wrong. There is still a delay, and more importantly, a filter: some Ghanaian hits make it in the UK, usually with a few months delay. But many top songs never make it, and I'm still not sure why.
This is not an exclusively Ghanaian phenomenon of course, and the same goes with Nigerian music. However an interesting reverse phenomenon is songs breaking in the UK first, then spreading at home in Lagos. This is the case with a song I heard just a couple of weeks ago, that instantly blew me away, "Senrenre," by Ajebutter22:
Download: Ajebutter22 f. Taymi B, "Senrenre"
"Senrenre" is slang for unnecessary stuff, something over the top. The cool thing here is the song is bringing a very different flavor to the Nigerian pop scene. I spoke to Ajebutter22 and beatmaker Platinum Toxx, of production crew Studio Magic, who said: "Compared to what afrobeats normally is, we took the production in a different direction, we tried to fuse different things. We've been outside of Nigeria for a while, so [the music] reflects what we are exposed to. It's not typical afrobeat music, it has a dubstep influence, which is something we picked up here."
I asked them about the connection between London and Lagos. Platinum Toxx told me "the blog community brings everybody together within the Lagos afrobeat/afropop scene. The London scene is spill-overs; not everything makes it here. Also in London, there is stuff from Ghana. We get the same music, but not everything." As I tried to understand why London is, in a way, behind, he adds: "In Nigeria, DJs might break a song, whereas in London they mostly follow."
It makes sense. It also explains why "Senrenre" is breaking in Nigeria. "Thanks to the internet, everything goes together, I haven't been to Lagos since the release, but I heard the song plays on the radio and on TV. Still, we can only take it to a certain level. We have to go to Nigeria to bring it up further". And they are going in the next few days.
The song came out in January, but the video is only a few weeks old. After an initial buzz earlier this year, the video is giving Ajebutter22 a serious boost. The extra time since January has enabled him to prepare a full, diverse album. He wants to show range and surprise people at a time when he feels everything is sounding the same: "In Nigeria, people just want to make money. It's not about projects anymore, it's just about hit songs." He adds: "80 percent of the industry is pop, even artists who were rappers two years ago now want to be pop artists." It's either pop, or "you are put in a box as different, like Asa."
Not satisfied with this situation, Ajebutter22 took a bit more time to focus on his debut album, which is in its final stages before an imminent release. It ranges from this dubstep tinged afrobeat banger to much more traditional sounds. A lot more senrenre to look forward to.