The past few years have seen wave after wave of African music imprint on UK and worldwide shores. From the afrobeats of Nigeria to the gqom of South Africa, the rich musical landscape of the continent is finally being recognised more widely in the west. In the UK especially, artists adopting these sounds have been embraced wholeheartedly, giving birth to new forms of afro-inspired music.
Incorporating everything from R&B to rap music, the latest resurgence of afrobeat and the more recently-coined afroswing has seen artists merging West African influences with other musical elements, birthing new subgenres and sounds that have frequently charted and taken the UK music scene by storm. Artists such as J Hus, Kojo Funds and Afro B have been fighting the corner for afrobeat in the UK, fusing it with grime and other forms of UK rap and have helped take it to the top of the charts. However, there’s much more to the sounds of the West African diaspora than the prominence of afroswing may have you believe and now an exciting new take on this West African sound is on the rise with Peckham based artist Aadae.
Fusing together a medley of sounds that are closely related to her Nigerian-Christian background, Aadae’s music explores light and dark moments – often juxtaposing the vulnerability of pain with the uplifting power of Yoruba gospel. Her music has gained considerable traction in the past year, undoubtedly due to her distinctive sound that incorporates elements of UK house and pop with Nigerian music such as juju and highlife, and, of course, the gospel music from her church.
Since our last encounter with the talented South Londoner, she’s released a new single ‘Just Found Out’ and has been busy performing at various festivals and shows around the UK – all the while growing her audience with her unique sound. We caught up with Aadae to talk new music, her biggest influences, and what the rest of the year holds for her.
Congratulations on the release of your newest single ‘Just Found Out’. Can you talk to us about the story behind the song and what it means to you?
Thank you! I am really excited to share my music with the world. When I was working on this song, I wasn’t in the brightest of places. Everything literally felt like it was crumbling in on me and I wanted to make something that would both lift my spirits and capture my mood. I always found juxtapositions interesting, and this song is just that – its the sweet with the sour.
Your music has really garnered an audience in the past year and gained a lot of recognition – particularly for how your songs simultaneously express feelings of melancholy and melodic sounds of celebration. Can you explain to us how you merged these elements to develop such a distinctive sound?
Yeah, the response to what I do has been awesome. I think its really important to own who you are. My songs are a reflection of who I am. I am a ball of mixed emotions and this, along with my Nigerian British upbringing feed really heavily into my music. Growing up, the struggle was something I saw a lot of, but on the flip side, my mum was constantly optimistic because of her faith in God.
In your own words, how would you describe your music and how you’d like your audience to feel when listening to your music?
I would describe my music as a multicultural tapestry of sound. Its pop, afrobeat, soul, African gospel and everything in-between. The nuance between spirituality and culture have always played a massive part in my life so its no surprise this is a huge part of what I do in music. I want my audience to feel all these parts to who I am. I want them to hear the bittersweet undertone of my sound, but feel spiritually enlightened at the same time.
Culture and the music industry can change so quickly, and a sound that wasn’t as well recognised or understood before can later flourish. Did you know that the UK would be ready for your style of music and that you would gain the recognition you have so far?
I can’t say I knew 100% I’d receive such positive feedback from the UK. But for a while now, I think the UK has slowly become more open to African music and culture… Recently there has been a resurgence in the traditional Afrobeat sound. I feel funky and tribal house were the precursor for afrobeats and afroswing – its these types of music that have somewhat laid the groundwork for what I do. I felt this was the right time to introduce my story of what being British African mean to me.
Who were your greatest musical influences growing up and why?
My greatest musical influences are very mixed, everything from UK garage, 90’s bashment and R&B, even classical pieces from composers like Debussy have influenced me. I have ears for almost everything.
Growing up I listened to a lot of Fela Kuti – my dad was a huge fan. For me, Fela was the first artist that encapsulated the bittersweet feeling I spoke about earlier. You could hear the pain in his music, but it made you feel so alive at the same time. Another west African artist that influenced me is Sir Shina Peters. He brought the fun back into music. In my mind, he was the Nigerian equivalent to MC Hammer. Lastly, I’d say Erykah Badu was also a massive influence. It was the first time I’d seen an artist on her level embrace her identity – this gave me so much confidence in who I am.
Polarities seem to play a big part in your artistry – from West African culture to British culture, and uplifting house beats to lyrics that express pain. Are these contrasts an important part of your identity as an artist born in Nigeria and raised in London?
Yes, most definitely. I’ve always been a bit of a contradiction me…but then aren’t we all? Sometimes times its seems easy to fake happy on Insta when we are really dying on the inside. I promise, I am not pessimistic but I think life sometimes teaches you how to smile through your pain. I guess I wanted to make music that could help you dance through your pain.
This summer’s already been a great start for you – we’ve seen you performing at festivals, growing your audience, and you’ll be headlining at Archspace in October – are there any more upcoming projects or things happening that you can share with us?
Yeah, I have quite a few things in the pipeline. I will be releasing more music towards the end of the year and I have teamed up with a few artists too on a couple of songs. I am looking forward to playing more shows and live sessions. It’s definitely an exciting time, it’s all building up towards an album.
West African music has gradually gained real recognition in the UK – even globally, and some great artists have entered the mainstream with others on the rise. Can you share any artists with us that you’re listening to now and who you’re excited about for the future?
Artists I am listening to at the moment include Moelogo and Adekunle Gold. I am especially excited about Adekunle Gold – he reminds me of some of the West African artists I grew up listening to. I really love how he gets real traditional on us.
Are there any particular artists or producers (in and outside of the UK) that you can see yourself collaborating with and that you’d like to work within the future?
I have always loved what Major Lazer do; I think they’d be a great to work with. Batida is an another artist I think we’d come up with something electrifying. UK wise, recently I met Benin City when I played All Points East back in May – it seems like we are kindred spirits, I’d love to work with them.
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