Crowd at Naija Corner, 2010
For the past three years, more and more fans of urban African music who happen to be in the UK during the last weekend of August have become aware of Notting Hill Carnival's Nigerian Corner, aka Naija Corner. Never heard of it? Well, that might be because prior to 2009, the Naija Corner would have been more accurately described as Poseur's Corner.
The Notting Hill Carnival is the second largest street festival in the world after Brazil's Rio Carnival. It's a West Indian-led affair, but it attracts people of all stripes who want to party. For Nigerians in the UK, though, it has had little to do with partying or celebrating the diversity of British life (at least until recently). Nigerians love to pose, i.e., to strut like peacocks and be admired - as the poster of this video rightly has it, only Nigerians would pose in front of someone else's million-Dollar car - and, from the late 80s through to the mid-90s, the opportunity to pose presented each year by the gathering of thousands of Nigerians on one street (Cambridge Gardens) in Notting Hill was too good to be missed. Even if the rest of your life sucked, Naija Corner was the chance to pretend like you were on top of the world, while everybody around you, dressed in their finest baffs, was doing the same. Eventually, even the vainest of Nigerians began to acknowledge was a sham that was. Nobody was fooling anyone else, so what was the point of just standing around looking fabulous?
Nigerians finally got the point of the carnival, and if you turn up at Naija Corner nowadays (now situated at Adela Street, off Kensal Street) and you will find around 40,000 people partying to live music from artists you'd gladly pay to see, e.g. eLDee, 9ice, Banky W, etc. There's even a Nigerian float, something that Nigerians would have considered very uncool twenty years ago. Performers are still being confirmed for this year's carnival, but so far the line-up includes DJ Abass, Comedian Buchi, Wale Gates, Nigerian DJs UK, Muna, Reminisce, Olamide and the legend Sir Shina Peters. This year, though, Naija Corner is facing some stiff competition. Fans of African urban music, here's what else is on offer that weekend:
Love Afrobeats Festival (Sunday 26th August)
The first day of the carnival is also the day of the Love Afrobeats Festival at the London HMV Hammersmith Apollo. Afrobeats, as most of you probably know already, is the collective name given to new school urban music from Nigeria and Ghana (mostly). People like DJ Abrantee and BBC 1Xtra's DJ Edu have been plugging this music in the UK for years, but was only last year that the sound really burst into the mainstream. This year's line-up for Love Afrobeats includes some of the big names in afrobeats, Nigeria's P-Square, Wande Coal, MayD, Ghana's finest E.L and Azonto sensation Fuse ODG as well as two of the most promising upcoming UK-based Afrobeat artist DL and Ezi Emela.
The Notting Hill Carnival (and Naija Corner) doesn't really come into its own until the second day, so Love Afrobeats vs Notting Hill Carnival is a no-brainer. Get your tickets for Love Afrobeats HERE. The real either/or happens on the following day.
Africa Unplugged: 20 Acts 15 Nations 1 Mic! (Monday 27th August)
Africa Unplugged is being billed as the biggest African concert in Europe ever, and looking at the line-up we're not going to argue with that. Scheduled for bank holiday Monday the 27th of August 2012, at Wembley Arena, this is going to be a huge celebration of the spirit of Africa through music, comedy and dance.
Besides the star power and scale of this event (line-up below), Africa Unplugged is a further indication of the gradual shift in the idea of Africa, and indeed, of Africa itself, in the UK. For the last couple of decades, African music festivals in the UK (and elsewhere in Europe and America) have basically been old guard affairs, by which we mean the type of artists that people had in mind when used that troublesome term "World music" - Youssou N'Dour, Thomas Mapfumo, Habib Koite, Salif Keita. Toumani Diabate, etc. The term is troublesome because it's a parochial, ethnocentric way of lumping all kinds of non-Western genres together as if they're all just one big, confusing "other", in contrast to Western music which gets the honour of nuanced categories. No reason why the old guard and the new school can't co-exist - in fact, they have to - but it's important for large-scale festivals like Africa Unplugged to exist and do well, because, for many casual music fans, Africa is represented by what they see at festivals and on the news. The more traction afrobeats gets by way of festivals like Africa Unplugged, the broader and more nuanced the idea of Africa and African music becomes, at least in theory. It'll be interesting, nevertheless, to see how festivals like WOMAD evolve to incorporate more of the new.
Africa Unplugged line-up includes 2Face Idibia (Nigeria), Zahara (South Africa), Cabo Snoop (Angola), Fally Ipupa (Congo), R2bees (Ghana), Femi Kuti (Nigeria), Sarkodie (Ghana), Flavour (Nigeria), DJ Arafat (Ivory Coast), Iyanya (Nigeria), Zakes Bantwini (South Africa), Chameleone (Uganda), Mad Traxx (Kenya), Winky D (Zimbabwe), Mc Inity (Zimbabwe), DJ Edu (Kenya), Mista Silva (Ghana), and Noeva (Zambia). In addition to the entertainment factor, the show is also about shedding light on some of the issues facing the continent, such as poverty, corruption, war, HIV, water shortage and Malaria. Not yet sure exactly how those issue are going to be addressed, but you will most definitely have a good time if you decide to forego Naija Corner for Africa Unplugged.
Buy your tickets HERE.
D'Banj Live! (Monday, 27th August)
Thanks to the success of Oliver Twist, even those with zero interest in afrobeats have probably heard of D'banj, aka Koko Master. The single debuted at #9 in the UK Singles chart, but also made the charts in Belgium, Germany and Ireland. Even US music fans - who have been slow to pick up on afrobeats - have now heard of D'banj, if not for Oliver Twist, then for the remix of his single Mr Endowed which featured Snoop Dogg, or for the fact that he signed with Kanye West's G.O.O.D Music record label. The eagle-eyed ones may even have spotted him in Kanye's video for Mercy
D'banj already performed last year at the Hammersmith Apollo, but this time around he is a much bigger star, so we don't expect tickets for this year's show on Monday the 27th to last much longer.
The Koko Master will be joined on stage by fast-rising Island Def Jam Africa signee Davido and his HKN brothers – Shina Rambo and B-Red. Get your tickets HERE.
So, your problem now, UK-based afrobeats fans, is where to be that Monday, Naija Corner, Wembley Arena (Africa Unsigned) or Hammersmith Apollo (D'banj). The misery of choice, eh? While Africa Unsigned kicks off at 5.30pm, D'banj's show doesn't start till 7, so I suppose you could do Naija Corner in the afternoon and make a quick getaway to catch D'banj, but there's no way you can do all three. Good luck choosing.