The sounds of West Africa are everywhere at the moment. At Stoke Newington’s Total Refreshment Centre a new generation is taking up the legacy of Fela Kuti and afrobeat, pioneering an energetic modern take on jazz, elsewhere artists like J Hus and Kojo Funds are combining the similarly named, but very different sounding, afrobeats with grime and road rap and across the world the West African diaspora is reclaiming the music of Nigeria and Ghana as their own, creating innumerable new mutations on the sound.
Of this new generation, one of the most compelling artists is Peckham’s Aadae. Growing up in South London with strict Christian West African parents, Aadae’s take on afrobeat is unique, informed in equal parts by the bustle of life in Peckham and the gospel music of her church. The result is a nuanced fusion of jazz, pop, soul and various kinds of Nigerian music, including, but not limited to, afrobeat and juju. Last time we heard from her we were premiering the RYD Remix of her first song ‘River Of Tears’ and last month she came through with her first official single ‘Die Happy.’ To find out more about her take on afrobeat, and where she fits into Peckham’s vibrant scene, we sat down with Aadae to talk new music, her approach to genre and how her West African background shaped her into the artist she is today.
What have you been up to since ‘River of Tears’?
“Where do I start?! So many cool things have come my way since the release of ‘River of Tears.’ I have been writing and collaborating with some really cool producers/artists, recording and finishing new material for my own projects, performing, curating playlists… It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, but I am enjoying every second of it.”
What do you think of the growing influence of African music in the UK and beyond?
“I really love how people are embracing the culture, I think it’s beautiful how it’s becoming more accessible. Growing up; coming from a West African background was actually really difficult. I was teased a lot in school… it was never cool to be African. I think people had a perception that was quite different to my own experiences, so it is really great to see the culture wave grow.”
Your mum encouraged you to get into music at an early age – which instruments did you first pick up?
“Yeah, she was super encouraging. Besides singing with my friends in church, I actually started on classical clarinet when I was nine years old and played till I was 16. I also played Steel Pans, tried my hand and the piano, and eventually moved onto guitar and acoustic drums (but I am no Tony Allen).”
How does your upbringing influence the music you make?
“Growing up in Peckham with my family had a huge impact on me. Music and church were definitely distractions from gangs and drugs. I spent time mostly listening to my dad’s massive record collection that included everything from juju and afrobeat to lovers rock and Scandinavian pop.
Outside of that, I was heavily into 90s r’n’b, neo soul, and two step UK garage. Also, spending time in our local Nigerian church taught me even more about my heritage. The entire service was in the Nigerian Yoruba language, so it was there I really started to grasp the culture as a whole.
My music directly reflects my upbringing. My sound has some religious undertones in its lyrical themes and also touches on the dynamics between pop and polyrhythmic West African music. I feel its very London and very Nigerian at the same time… it is a culmination of all my childhood influences.”
Both ‘Die Happy’ and ‘River of Tears’ seem to fuse dark subjects/ lyrics with uplifting musical elements – where do these competing elements come from?
“I’ve always been up for juxtapositions. I guess growing up some of my life experiences have been somewhat melancholic, this might be where the darkness comes from… but saying that, I am the kind of person that finds a way to make light of the dark – I think I get this from my mum and maybe church. Thinking about it, I guess we are all just looking for something to lift our spirits. The whole antagonistic thing kind of reminds me of the sentiment in the Fela Kuti song ‘Shuffering and Shmiling.’”
There’s a lot of new music coming out of Peckham at the moment do you feel connected to what’s going on around you? Who do you rate?
“Yeah that is true, Peckham has such a vibe about it now. I actually record the majority of my music there and most of my friends are from there (they are all creative) so yeah; I feel really connected to the local scene.
It’s really amazing to be part of this new wave of music and to see artists like Rina Mushonga, and Nira Marley doing their thing. I am really also really excited about Cosima – her sound just draws you in. I think they artists to watch, they are definitely putting Peckham on the map.”
Do you classify your music by genre? If yes, which?
“I think music and genres have started to meet and cross the same intersections, the only differences are the paths we take to get there. Because of this, I think it’s really difficult to classify music by one specific genre. Music for me is fluid. Maybe we should classify music by how it makes us feel. Thinking about my sound, I’d describe it as melancholic afrobeat that you can sing along to that makes you feel like dancing.”
Who/what is on your playlist right now?
“I think I have very eclectic taste. I’ve been listening to a lot of Sampha recently; I especially love ‘Kora Sings’ it’s one of my favourite songs. Toumani Diabate make’s really cool music too. The albums I’ve been really into are Keria by Susso, and Godfather by Wiley.”