'Afrobeats' Offers A Sensual Blend Of Electronics, Vocals And Rhythms
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Music critic Milo Miles has a review of "Afrobeats Hot Hits." The collection introduces a type of African fusion that melds electronics, voices and rhythms.
MILO MILES, BYLINE: I became a music obsessive in part because the parade of new sounds seemed endless. So I'm always thrilled when an album establishes a new music twist. With "Afrobeats Hot Hits," I'm also excited because it proves collections can make the case for a style not just by confirming your affections but by overturning your objections. "Afrobeats" is a new mash-up of Jamaican dancehall, soca, hip-hop and polyrhythms from Ghana and Nigeria.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ILEKE")
TIWA SAVAGE: (Singing) It's Tiwa Savage - gospel on the beat. All right, let's go. He's liking my pretty face and everything else from my waist down. Like Iyanya says, all the boys are just loving my waist down. I know what to do. I do - don't care what they do. (Vocalizing).
MILES: One of my objections about the music cannot be overturned. "Afrobeats" is a terrible name, almost identical to Nigerian superstar Fela Anikulapo Kuti's "Afrobeat" but nothing like it in sound. This may not be a fatal problem, but people will pick up "Afrobeats Hot Hits" expecting Fela-like music and be disappointed.
The 14 tracks on the album blow away all other hesitations. Nowadays it often seems like there's no escape from the world of earbud lo-fi. Electronic fusion songs not unlike those on "Afrobeats" had been around for a good while, but the electronics seemed tacked on, and you missed sonic richness and interplay of full bands - not so here - right from the opening tracks, DaVido's "Skelewu" as integrated and interactive as anyone could want.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SKELEWU")
DAVIDO: (Singing) All the girls - them they dance, galala. But this new dance done cause casala. For this dance, you need no shakara. Oya whine your hips like this, like a that, like this, like that, to your right, to your front, and your yansh to the back - Skelewu, Skelewu, Skelewu, Skelewu, Skelewu, Skelewu, Skelewu, Skelewu. Oh, girl, what is the plan? We are planning to love your demands. Say you want to dance, dance. You want collect money from my bank. Oya scatter the town. Na the baddest wey dey in the town. When they see me around, them they scatter the dance like clown. (Foreign language spoken).
MILES: It seems to me that in all sorts of low-budget styles these days, electronics and voices with a bare minimum of other instruments can flatten personalities and encourage a feel of samey (ph) songs. "Afrobeats" performers concentrate on the usual love and lust and shake your smoking body. But time and again on "Afrobeats Hot Hits," a standout singer like Rayce overcomes the problems by proving a voice is a personality.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WETIN DAY REMIX")
RAYCE: (Singing) It's Jebon. Yo, yo, yo, it's Jebon, baby. They call me Rayce, baby. Hello, baby. What's your name? And how they go, and how do you do? Na wetin day girl, anything for me. Shay e sure for me ni. Abi na blood for me ni. Omoge duro na. Who cover you? Omoge duro na. I want to know you better.
MILES: Fusion styles usually have a dominant culture source or take off from a specific region. On "Afrobeats Hot Hits," some performers feel like they're floating in from no place in particular, but maybe the style is just getting ready to take over everywhere. "Afrobeats Hot Hits" includes a number by neo-soul eclectic Anthony David, which the notes claim may be the first straight "Afrobeats" track recorded by an American artist. More important, this song is a teasing hoot.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I DON'T MIND")
ANTHONY DAVID: (Singing) I don't mind. Look at my baby, oh. She's all mine. You know that's my lady, oh. I don't mind. Look at my baby, oh. She's all mine. You know that's my lady, oh. You can look at her. No, I'm not bothered. You can admire, but you better not touch her. You can just watch her.
MILES: The final reasons "Afrobeats Hot Hits" wins you over are old and simple. It's sensual to hear and offers a seductive invitation to dance. This is where selection and programming and diverse performers come into play. Remember; no less a music institution in Motown took off by getting people on the floor with collections of singles, not albums. Getting the party started is always in style.
GROSS: Milo Miles reviewed "Afrobeats Hot Hits" on the Shanachie label. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we'll feature the interview about Muhammad Ali that we'd postponed today in order to rebroadcast our interview with Tom Petty. We'll hear from Jonathan Eig, the author of a new biography of Ali that draws on previously unreleased FBI and Justice Department files. I hope you'll join us.
(SOUNDBITE OF MILES DAVIS' "MILESTONES")
GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Mooj Zadie and Thea Chaloner. I'm Terry Gross.
(SOUNDBITE OF MILES DAVIS' "MILESTONES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.