Meet the musicians who say Afrobeats is coming for Ottawa

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A man sitting on a chair raises his hands

A man sitting on a chair raises his handsMuse’s message to Ottawa promoters is to make space for Afrobeats artists. ‘Whenever there’s events happening, look around. There’s so many Afro-influenced artists within the city. Make sure you’re putting one at least on stage…. You can set the tone for what Ottawa sounds like.’ (Dreamland Studios)

Ottawa may have a growing reputation for its hip-hop artists, but Abdul Muse, who goes by the stage name KAR33M, says it’s time this city’s Afrobeats community is recognized.

Muse, who also runs a label to promote Afro-diverse artists, says the sound is becoming more popular around the world and here in Ottawa the Afrobeats and Afro-influenced music community is thriving — even if that doesn’t always translate to support from audiences.

“I feel like it needs a little bit more love. There are a lot of Afrobeat artists that are present, but they also double a bit because Ottawa vibes a bit more hip-hop,” said Muse.

“In Ottawa it just needs a bit more love in terms of the festivals … and the people that come out to shows.”

A singer performs on the stageWizKid performs during the Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 in South Africa in 2018. He’s one of a growing number of big names in the musical genre around the world. (Getty Images for Global Citizen )

 Dishing about Afrobeats

Muse sat down recently with a group of Afrobeats and Afrobeats-related musicians, to talk about the genre and what it could be, all over a plate of Nigeria’s national dish, jollof rice.

This creator network piece was directed by Muse’s manager Zainab, filmed by Quest (David Leclerc), edited by musician T. Chandy (Chandira Perera), who was also on-screen alongside musician Chyme (Ebubechukwu Michael Chime) and Banggz (Damilola Salaudeen).

For these artists, despite living far from Nigeria, their focus is telling that country’s sometimes difficult stories — even if their tracks often sound upbeat.

“[This music is] groovy, it’s fun. But then you listen and you’re like, ‘Oh, wait. This is what he said? This is true? OK, let me research this,” explained Muse.

“Afrobeat is always talking about the African people. It’s always talking about the reality that [African people] are currently facing.”

A musician playing pianoNigerian multi-instrumentalist, musician, composer, and pioneer of the Afrobeat music genre Fela Kuti (1938-1997) Getty Images

 Nigeria’s music around the world

Muse, who came to Canada from Nigeria when he was 13, said the Afrobeats sound wasn’t his first love. But after dabbling in R&B and Afrosoul, he found his voice with the music of his home country.

Afrobeat traces its roots to Nigerian artist and activist Fela Kuti who popularized the blend of blues, jazz, funk and traditional Yoruba sounds in the 1970s.

His music lives on in his children, many of whom are also musicians, and has been gaining in popularity as the diaspora spread, with such big names as WizKid and Burna Boy — said to be the first Afrobeats artist to sell out Madison Square Garden.

Muse explains that while the term Afrobeat is often used to describe Kuti’s music, it’s more precise to use the term Afrobeats (with an s) to describe more recent music inspired by that sound.

Muse’s frequent collaborator Damilola Salaudeen, aka Banggz, echoes his frustration.

“Myself and a lot of my friends in the Nigerian community, we make Afrobeats and, if we do say so ourselves it’s pretty good,” said the songwriter and producer.

“So it’s just interesting to have to run around and chase people and reach out, instead of people just trying to do the work to appreciate what’s already there.”

Salaudeen grew up in Nigeria and came to Ottawa in 2016 to study at Carleton. He said the lack of support is especially surprising given the growing number of Nigerians who live in this city.

“We do have a community that we’re trying to build and that keeps increasing. It just puzzles me…. It makes me ask, at what point is that going to change?”

A man wears green coat and dark sunglassesAbdul Muse, a.k.a. KAR33M, recently released his first LP and runs a label that supports emerging artists. He says he wants to help the community grow so all artists can thrive. (Dreamland Studios)

 Open your ears

For Muse, it’s time people in Ottawa started listening to something new.

“I want to walk around the city and hear Afrobeat,” he said.

“Because usually you walk around and it’s — I love Ed Sheeran, but it’s typically Ed Sheeran or Taylor Swift. Let’s open up, let’s listen to some new things. Let’s adapt. Because Africa is taking over the world.”

Muse’s message to this city?

“Afrobeat exists and we’re coming full force.”

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