The (Afro) beat goes on

African and proud: May7ven, described as the African Beyoncé, and revellers at an Afrobeats Sunday African and proud: revellers at an Afrobeats Sunda

Sunday nights aren't supposed to be like this. At an hour when most of the city is adjusting its alarms and whingeing about back-to-work blues, pockets of nattily dressed youth start assembling outside clubs in Kensington, Mayfair and Noho.

Queues snake around the block while inside champagne flows and the music is a vivid cocktail of rap, funky house and African beats. Then, at 2.30am, the entire club - a thousand-odd people - launches into a dance best described as the kind of move a crippled giraffe might make if doused in itching powder. The sickie calls tomorrow are inevitable.

These Sundays are the spiritual home for fans of Afrobeats: the new musical genre reworking African pop for the grime/dubstep generation. Since launching last summer, the weekly shindigs have mushroomed from 400-capacity clubs to 5,000 devotees pouring into HMV Hammersmith Apollo and the O2's Proud2.

A sound previously confined to family weddings and specialist radio shows is seeping fast into the mainstream. It's a musical mish-mash: Ghanaian and Nigerian pop, Western hip hop, funky house and Afrobeat - the groundbreaking melange of jazz, funk and African chanting pioneered by Fela Kuti in the 1970s.

The biggest facilitator of the UK Afrobeats scene has been DJ Abrantee, who popularised the genre via his Saturday-night Choice FM Afrobeats radio show.

"In the last eight months, it's suddenly gone woomph! People told me I could never fill Proud2 with 3,000 people on a Sunday. But we've done it," says Abrantee, who was born to Ghanaian parents and flies to Africa almost weekly to DJ.

The scene's biggest stars are Africans such as Nigerian rappers D'Banj (recently signed to Kanye West's record label) and Wizkid, and Ghanaian hip hop artist Sarkodie. However, home-grown acts such as Vibe Squad, Mr Silva, Donae'o and Olu Banks are also breaking through. Then there's May7ven.

Described as the "African Beyoncé" (despite having grown up in Wembley), the Nigerian-born 27-year-old regularly plays to the African diaspora across the globe.

"I want to show I'm African so I go overboard on the beads and have fire-eaters in my performance," she explains.

Some revellers show up at events wearing customised versions of traditional African attire.
Afrobeats fan Shade Alegbeleye, who founded Afrobeats In Da City blog (, says clubbers are showing solidarity with their parental culture.

"It's a way of saying you're proud of where you're from," she says.

One unmistakably African hallmark of Afrobeats nights is the Azonto dance - the hip-gyrating hustle which emerged in Ghana during the early Noughties. Mimicking household chores such as ironing and washing, the dance is frequently performed by Ghanaian striker Asamoah Gyan as a goal-scoring celebration.

Another favoured step is the "Yahoozee" (named after "Yahoo Boyz", Nigeria's notorious internet scamsters), which involves pretending to hold a gun and swaying it over your head. It was popularised by Nigerian rapper Olu Maintain, while former US secretary of state Colin Powell caused controversy when he joined in the dance onstage with Maintain during the Africa Rising festival at the Royal Albert Hall in 2008.

Meanwhile, the economy in some parts of West Africa is booming (with Nigeria's "Nollywood" film industry now the second largest in the world) and DJ Abrantee believes this is responsible for the patriotic pride of London's second/third-generation Africans.

"A lot of people are realising that some of the stuff portrayed on TV about Africa being poor is wrong," he says. "People are now standing up and saying: 'I'm African and proud!'"

However, Afrobeats still lacks one important thing: an overground hit single. But with D'Banj's infernally catchy Oliver Twist released next month, this could change. Even if it doesn't, the impact of Afrobeats on West African pride has been invaluable.

As May7ven says: "When I was younger, I hid the fact I was Nigerian. Back then, everybody wanted to be Jamaican. But now everybody wants to be African. It's great!"
Afrobeats will be part of the Camden Crawl, May 4-6

Dance to Azonto!

A step-by-step tutorial from Afrobeats act Vibe Squad on how to perform the dance ...

1. Lean to one side, both arms out.
2. Cross the arms back in and then out again.
3. Point one arm to the sky, while shuffling the leg on the same side of the raised hand.
4. Point to your opponent and display various hand, shoulder and face movements (this is where the mimicking ironing and washing stuff comes from) while stepping left to right.
5. Throw air punches at your opponent while continuing to move left to right.
6. Finish by throwing your hands down, stepping forward and shuffling one leg.


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