Stevie G: Yemi’s ‘Empress’ will, well, impress

Yemi Alade has helped put Afropop and Afrobeat on the map worldwide, says Stevie G, in his weekly Downtown column
Stevie G: Yemi’s ‘Empress’ will, well, impress

Yemi Alade has helped put Afro-pop and Afrobeats on the map worldwide. Her new album ‘Empress’ is an Afro pop blast.

Yemi Alade is one of the most prolific artists in the world today. At only 31, she has already helped put Afro-pop and Afrobeats on the map worldwide with a string of brilliant albums, and her colourful, vibrant, style and swagger is the perfect personification of Africa in 2020. She is also an activist and advocate who has been very vocal on everything from sustainability, the corona-virus in Africa, women’s empowerment, global climate change and of course “End Sars”. She’s collaborated with Beyonce, and she is one of the leading faces of a music which is gaining traction outside of Africa and worldwide.

Her new album Empress is her fifth, and it’s another towering addition to one of the best pop catalogues in music today. Yemi calls in Patoranking, Dadju, Estelle, Rudeboy and the Mzansi Youth Choir to add a bit of spice to proceedings, but this is a no frills Afro pop blast that remains true to her own vision of making amazing music that represents a continent that is bringing out some of the most exciting music of the last 10 years. Yemi’s album is packed with potential hits, and every track could be a single. An artist as hardworking as Yemi will no doubt end up recording videos for plenty of these tracks, and the videos and subsequent viral interpretations from fans, will further push it into our consciousness as 2020 becomes 2021. Empress is a classic and I can’t wait to play these tracks in the clubs and festivals next year. My favourite tracks are “Dancina”, “Yoyoyo”, “Weekend”, “I Choose you” and “True Love”.

Nigerian artists are coming on strong in 2020 and so far Wizkid, Davido, Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage, Olamide, Fireboy DML, Adekunle Gold and many more are dropping goodness, but as usual Yemi Alade comes up with music as good as anything anywhere. This isn’t music that should be limited to some sort of sub-genre outside of Africa. Afrobeats and Afro-pop is pretty strong globally and even Drake and Beyonce are on board, but I can’t help but feeling the world outside Africa and the African diaspora needs to wake up to this sound more.

I co-run a music night in Cork city (Taboo) that is very heavily focused on Afrobeats, and over the years it has developed from being a largely Afro-Irish crowd to something that now attracts people from everywhere. Everybody is getting down to these Afro sounds, and it further backs my belief that this music is potentially a huge global force if it gets the support it deserves. Many music and radio and festival people outside Africa continue to believe that this is music that is limited to the African diaspora, and there is no doubt that these artists will always attract a huge audience in the big cities where african migrants now reside. But the music is more powerful and universal than this. As often occurs with African music, the western world seems to put it on limits.

This isn’t a passing fad. It’s young, accessible, colourful, catchy, soulful music with beautiful rhythms, lyrics and musicianship, and it’s bursting with vibrancy and exuberance. It doesn’t really need the western seal of approval, but much of the music infrastructure originates in the USA and even the UK, and they control the industry overall from there. Afrobeats/Afro-pop can be as powerful as any other music form around, and it’s potential is limitless.

It’s less gruff than the reggaeton sounds which have been embraced by the US market, and it’s less niche than the powerful original version of Afrobeat that came from the legendary Fela Kuti in Lagos back in the day. The new music still remains political at times, but doesn’t always include that incendiary political edge, though Yemi and others are never shy to speak up against injustice themselves.

For some reason, music in less traditionally recognised territories is often not promoted aswell worldwide, and even going back to Jamaica, it took years to market Bob Marley as a global star. Bob Marleys sound was purposely given a more live rock edge to appeal to a more mainstream audience, and even after Bob the hugely influential reggae and dancehall scene has sometimes struggled to develop stars abroad. The world loves reggae, but has a bit of a mental block sometimes to anything outside the obvious. With Afrobeats the empress Yemi Alade again provides an uncompromising and irresistible portal into an Africa that is providing some of the best music of 2020 and beyond!

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