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, it's Chicago-via-Nigeria rapper The GTW's "Cravings."
I'm on the tail end of a three-month tour, which took me from Los Angeles to Berlin. One of the highlights of this trip was playing at the Foreign Exchange party in Chicago. It was my second time there, and I was blown away—again—by how receptive the crowd was. While New York or London usually capture the image of a bubbling, diverse melting pot, Chicago is where I witnessed the most open-minded dancers. While I wish to give special props to the crew behind FEx, DJ Newlife, MC Zulu, Itzi Nallah and their backbone Daveed Lozano for creating such a great event, I was recently reminded that Chicago shows other very interesting symptoms of cultural integration via musical experimentation.
I received an email from The GTW, a Chicago-based artist with roots in Nigeria. "The GTW is short for Greater Than Wealth, which is stemmed off of my native name Akaninyene in the Ibibio language." Through his music, he introduced me to his concept of Chigeria, "the movement of progressive Chicago-based Nigerians I've been pushing." Through music, fashion and events, The GTW distills elements of his Nigerian heritage into the cultural life of Chicago.
Download: The GTW, "Cravings"
While The GTW's first project contained African samples and rhythms, references to Nigeria are more subtle on his new 4814 EP. "I wanted to make references that African people would connect with." In "Cravings," the song featured here, he asks: "Does jolof rice sound right tonight?"
"I really want to help push a progressive music scene in Nigeria similar to what's going on in the South African Music scene. I see South African artists like Spoek Mathambo and Petite Noir making the music they want to make with subtle African influences, and mixing them with other genres they listen to."
"Nigeria is a place I am currently seeing my music growing in. I have been making the extra push to get coverage out there. " The 4814 EP was reviewed in a number of Naija blogs, including the popular Bella Naija, which GTW jokes about saying it's "a website even my mom reads."
The GTW's Chigerian world goes beyond music, extending in particular to fashion. "My personal aesthetic contains mostly native kaftan material which I sow into pants, and dip them into western world influences, so that everyone can connect with [the look]. I am supported by successful Nigerian designer Emeka Alams, whose line Gold Coast Trading has been featured in Vogue Italy."
After the release of the EP, GTW is keeping busy making his own line of hats, preparing the first Chigeria art show next February and widening his musical spectrum: "I started my own indie music production label called Saturday Youth, which has a few events I've helped curate out here." "I want [Chigeria] to be something that everyone can identify to, especially Africans." Seems to be right on track.