News

DJ Abrantee

AFROBEATS SPECIAL: MOBO meets DJ Abrantee

Here at MOBO we're all about recognizing new genres of black and urban music and helping them break into mainstream British culture. We think Afrobeats might just be the next big urban movement, and we recently headed down to the Indig02, the new home of Afrobeats Sundays, to meet with some of the scene's pioneering figures.  In our first instalment we speak to DJ Abrantee, the voice of Afrobeats on the airwaves and the man behind the club-night. Abrantee is a firm believer that the genre is ready to cross over from the underground to the mainstream, and he might just be the one to make it happen.  
 
Tell us a little bit about Afrobeats Sundays?
Afrobeats Sundays is a club-night that I started two years ago. I wanted to do an Afrobeats night and my radio show, when it first started, was from 12am to 2am, Sunday morning. So I thought why don’t I do it in association with the radio show, let it blend in with the radio show? And because it was on Sunday I thought we’ll call it Afrobeats Sundays. When I first started it was at a club called Mirror. Mirror’s such a plush club that I could never even get in there. The fact that I was able to do it there was amazing, it really hit off. And then we moved it to Proud 2.
 
How do you think Afrobeats competes with other genres? Do you think it’s going to take over UK music? 
It’s still got a long way to go, but I think there are going to be combinations and different collaborations- R2bees have teamed up with Tinchy Stryder, Tinie Tempah teamed up with Wizkid- and that’s what’s going to break the music from Africa to the UK. Also, UK artists are looking for new stuff. They’re thinking: ‘What can we do new? What’s fresh?’ Music’s always growing, the demographic’s always growing and artists are always looking for something fresh.
 
dj-abrantee-mobo-tv-interview-16-edit_0.jpg
 
Was it a challenge, getting Afrobeats on the radio? 
Imagine going to your boss, who doesn’t understand what someone is saying on a song, to tell him to play this music on the radio. They could be saying anything. 
 
Yes it was a challenge, but the thing about Choice is that they were open to new ideas and I presented it as I did the drive-time show. The only difference was the music. I think that’s what made them buy into it, because it was presented in a professional way. It was a case of ‘Boom, this can work, let’s see how it goes’. But when the first one went out it had Choice trending, it was going mad. 
 
What does Afrobeats mean for you? 
It’s music for happy faces. Everyone likes to have a good time when Afrobeats is playing. And the fact that it’s from Africa, where I’m from as well, means I’m very passionate about it. It’s very close to home. Afrobeats is the future.
 
Who have you championed on the radio, in terms of artists?
I’m not championing any artists; I champion good music. If I hear a song that I think can cross over, I push it. Some of the tunes will never cross over. It is what it is.
 
The official video for May7ven's "Ten Ten", one of many tracks which Abrantee has championed at Choice: 
 
 
Do you go through it yourself? Do you handpick songs?
Sometimes I’ll go to certain clubs and I’ll have a listen to what other DJs are playing. I get so much music it’s ridiculous, I can’t go through everything. So I’ll go out to clubs and then I’ll say ‘Right, cool let me take that and put it on the radio’. It’s the same with Choice for a song that’s being playlisted, the same method. If a song is being played on the underground and getting a good vibe in the clubs, it’s more than likely that it’ll be presented to radio, and it could get daytime playlisted. It’s the same thing with Afrobeats. If a song is doing real well underground then I will take that tune and get it on the radio, and start pumping it and push it. 
 
And what track on Choice in terms of Afrobeats had the most reaction for you?
“Oliver Twist”. That was the first one…that’s the groundbreaking tune. That’s the one that I think…everyone started to pay attention. They knew the raves were happening and that it was on the radio, but people still needed a little bit more convincing. Seeing D’Banj Top 10 of the iTunes chart was the icing on the cake.

Do you think we still need more convincing? 

We don’t. We here don’t. But the major record labels who are going to sign these artists, they still need a little bit more convincing.
 
How long do you think we need?
I don’t know. My CD, my ultimate Afrobeats CD, that went in at No.15 on the iTunes chart. That brought up a few ears. Ministry of Sound contacted me and said ‘What song do you think can crossover?’ and I immediately recommended “The Thing” by Atumpan. They signed that to their label and they’re going to do a major release on it, treat it like a Wretch 32 track or an Example tune. They’ve done a new video, a crazy video. They’ve got an international UK plugger on it. For me that’s great, because that’s what we need. If they get a Top 10 with it, everyone will come running. 
 
Do you not feel partly responsible for that success, for flying the flag?
I’m just passionate and proud to be African. The fact that I’m an African guy who’s doing a drive-time show on Choice and that I can now showcase my own music, for me that’s good enough. And if everybody loves it, I’m happy. I can just sit back. When I’m on stage there’s nothing else, I don’t care about nothing else at that particular time, I’m just lost in that moment. 
 
What’s next?
It’s just going to get bigger and bigger. 
 
There’s a few shows happening here. I’m glad Indig02 have opened up their doors to Afrobeats. Before- African events in here- never happened. Not in a million years. You had to go to Peckham. 
 
When they offered me my club-night first up they were offering me nights in Peckham but I said ‘No, I’m not interested’. It had to be at a certain standard. When I went to Proud 2, I had 3000 people in there... on a Sunday! On a normal day. And people had work the next day. That’s never been done before. And then everyone’s looking, starting to count the numbers, thinking that I’m making a whole heap of money, but it’s not about the money. I don’t even make that much money. At the end of the day it’s just the fact that I’m in a position where I can say I wanted to do something and I’ve tried it and it’s worked. 
 
Who do you think paved the way for Afrobeats in terms of artists? 
You’ve got to give credit to D’Banj. On a commercial market you’ve got to give credit to D’Banj. 
 
The reason why other artists may say somebody in Nigeria is because they’ve been doing it for a while; they’ve been influenced by somebody, maybe someone from their hometown. Just like I’ve been influenced by Reggie Rockstone. So we could take it all the way back to him. But if you’re going to take it on the commercial market where non-Africans have said, ‘You know what, what’s the first Afrobeats tune that actually comes to mind?’ You know what, it’s that guy there. I went to Ayia Napa for the first time to go and DJ and “Oliver Twist” was huge out there. I went to Egypt: “Oliver Twist”. Morocco: “Oliver Twist”. I went to Gambia: “Oliver Twist”. It’s massive.
 
D'Banj - "Oliver Twist" (Official Video)

 
Do you think it can crossover to stateside?
He’s working on it now. I think it can happen. The problem is, they need someone like me out there. Someone’s who’s passionate about it. It’s like I always give credit to Westwood over here. So passionate about it, just going in, living, breathing like that. They need an Abrantee or a Westwood to champion the music. That’s all they need. I went to go DJ in Washington [DC] (there were) 2000 people, playing African music, but it's still underground. It’s mad, massive. 
 
So speaking of MOBO, do you think we need an Afrobeats category? 
I think you need an Afrobeats category and I need to be giving away that Afrobeats award. Kanya King and your crew, holler at your boy. You need an Afrobeats section. You’ve got D’Banj, you’ve got Atumpan, you’ve got Fuse, you’ve got P Square, you’ve got Mista Silva, May7ven. There’s a whole category of Afrobeats artists.
 
We’re celebrating our 18th anniversary at MOBO. What’s been your highlight over the years?
To be honest, last year. I just want to thank MOBO, because they hosted me so well. They flew me out to Glasgow… I managed to DJ… Emeli Sande was doing the azonto… Last year for me was phenomenal. To actually be there was phenomenal, because I’m used to watching it on the TV…
 
I love MOBO. I love what MOBO is doing. It gives artists a level that the BRIT Awards is not going to give. Let’s hope MOBO does another 18 years. And long may it continue. You’re taking our thing to another level. We don’t want to be underground no more, why do we have to underground all the time? 
 
But we need a designated Afrobeats category. We really need that. 
 
Can you highlight, over the 18 years, maybe a performance that you loved? 
I think So Solid Crew. They broke down barriers. For them to be at the MOBOs, twenty man-strong, on stage…That’s what I want Afrobeats to be.
 
Can you describe the MOBOs in three words?
Phenomenal, amazing, fantastic.  
 

Next week we meet May7ven, the first lady of Afrobeats, and go back to the roots of the genre.

 

 

Author: Sam Gould and Valentina Etaghene