DJ Juls is a young Ghanaian DJ, who, although he is based in England, clearly has his finger on the current digital pulse of Anglophone West Africa. The auto-tuned pidgin vocals, poppin’ digital snare beats, and synth stabs never stop for a moment on his new Afrobeats Mixtape Vol 2, which seamlessly blends the most current popular dance music from Accra, Lagos and London with a few older tunes.
Juls came up under the tutelage of E.L. (Elom Adablah), an artist and producer who has been topping Ghanaian street and Youtube charts for the past four years with his original tunes and productions of tunes for other artists. In this mix, Juls’ former dorm-mate appears both as an artist (“You dey mad, you dey craze,” “Egbee Mli” “Wey Tin Dey Hoppen”) and a producer (Gemini-“Sweetie”). Juls includes a few tunes which he produced himself, including one with E.L. (E.L Ft Dex Kwasi and Stargo- “Wawolo Remix”), as well as the most recent hits of requisite Nigerian artists P-Square and Wizkid and Ghanaian stars R2Bees, 4×4, Atumpan, D-Black, etc. But, like little hidden gems, Juls includes a few old-school tunes which might be seen as pre-Afrobeats, like the one real Femi Kuti hit, “Beng Beng Beng,” from 2000, which is thematically appropriate to this mix, because, unlike Femi’s other attempts to follow in his father’s footsteps, this tune uses a digital dance beat and speaks of easy winter love-making.
What Juls and other DJs are calling “Afrobeats” is sometimes called “Naija beat” if it is produced in Nigeria, “hiplife” if it’s from Ghana (although this apparently now refers to music which primarily features rapping and hip-hop beats) and is generally inseparable from the Azonto dance craze which is now reaching far beyond West Africa into the European diaspora. Of all this lingo, “Afrobeats” is arguably the most appropriate tag used to describe these trends because the rhythmic underpinning of this music is based on older dance rhythms from West Africa and the Caribbean. Fela Anikulapo Kuti, who coined the term “Afrobeat” to describe his live, big-band, political jazz/highlife/funk/trad hybrid style, would likely be turning in his grave if he could hear the themes of these dance-floor hits: sex, love, money, dancing, and (of course) promotional bragging. But, despite the general lack of social critique, political themes, or live musicians in the Afrobeats scene, this music continues Fela’s tendency to celebrate “Africanness” by using local languages or pidgin English and local dance rhythms, while simultaneously absorbing diasporic influences. Afrobeats producers and artists meld local flavors with Jamaican Dancehall and US hip-hop and R n’ B to make dance music that is cosmopolitan and current, which helps it reach the Anglophone African Diaspora in Europe and the curious ears of music lovers around the world.
This is where DJs like Juls fit into the equation: they are links between the artists in Ghana and fans in the diaspora, and they serve as agents who connect this music to a network of new listeners via the internet. Juls’ position is also an example of the breadth of the Afrobeats scene: because of his contacts and the access enabled by the internet, he is perhaps as connected to what is happening musically in Accra as he would be if he still lived there, but because of his location, he is involved in different networks of production and distribution. Another example is the one-hit wonder Fuse ODG, a Ghanaian artist who is also based in England. He used a very creative marketing strategy to promote his hit, “Antenna” (Produced by KillBeatz): a global azonto dance contest for the song, in which contestants, mainly Ghanaians and Nigerians living in Europe, uploaded their entries to Youtube. Check out the winners, from Manchester, England:
This tune fits seamlessly into DJ Juls 90 minute mixtape because Afrobeats is being produced and shaped as much from the European diaspora as it is in Africa. Thanks to DJs like Juls, it is likely that this music will gain a wider global audience, including perhaps even the US mainstream, where Nigerian artists such as DBanj and P-Square have already begun to lay groundwork. This mix is worth bumping wherever waists need shaking.