Artists like Santi and Odunsi are showcasing the different, experimental forms that Nigerian music can take
Afrobeats has fast become the dominant worldwide representation of contemporary Nigerian music. Over the past few years, the genre has transcended international borders to dominate the UK airwaves, and Afropop stars like Wizkid and Davido are now regularly puncturing the top tier of global music charts and collaborating with leading talents like Drake and Skepta. That’s due in large part to the growing diaspora of Nigerians worldwide, who’ve helped make Nigeria’s multimillion dollar music industry the fastest growing in Africa, with both Sony and Universal Music Group recently setting up headquarters in Lagos.
Afrobeats, however, is just one story going on in Nigeria right now. A new generation of Nigerian artists are creating a style of music that isn’t easy to define. Comprised of a small group of musicians who frequently work together, these artists are challenging ideas about what it means to be an artist from Nigeria today. This new movement has been labelled ‘Alté’, meaning ‘alternative’. In the same way that the term ‘Afrobeats’ is often used to summarise an artistic sensibility more than a specific sound, Alté comprises a diverse range of styles, sometimes drawing on dancehall, indie, R&B, and more. Uniting the artists is a mutual desire to experiment with genres and strong visual storytelling. It’s an amalgamation of global influences obtained through slow speed early-00s internet connections, the rise of MTV, and their own transcontinental experiences. The Alté name was first coined by DRB members Teezee and Boj in their 2014 track “Paper” (“The ladies like me because I’m an Alté guy,”), later used to discuss leftfield styles of music more broadly. It’s a name that the artists play on, evident in the saturated and glitchy music video for “Alté Cruise”, from the subculture’s spearheads Odunsi, Zamir, and Santi, although it’s also received some backlash over the past year, with locals on Twitter criticising a perceived desire to seem different for different’s sake.
You’ll notice familiar faces frequently appearing on Alté songs. Santi and Odunsi feature on a handful of tracks together, like “Jungle Fever” and “Gangsta Fear”; the latter track also features a brief verse from DJ FeMo, who plays a key role promoting the Alté crew, regularly sprinkling their tracks throughout her sets and mixes. Other artists associated with the scene include Zamir, Tay Iwar and L.O.S (Loud on Sound). Beyond the music, these artists place importance on their visual presentation, using music videos and personal style to solidify their artistic vision. Santi and Odunsi are at the forefront of this, with their often self-directed videos embracing natural hair and gender fluidity all through a DIY handycam aesthetic. The flamboyant videos illustrates their desire to challenge the status quo.
Although Alté artists like Odunsi have worked with major labels (he signed a publishing deal with Warner/Chappell last year), there’s a DIY mentality that runs through their work, with their platform built primarily through SoundCloud, YouTube, and other channels. Below, we highlight five Alté artists shaking up the music scene.
There’s no discussion of the Alté scene without mention of its head honcho, Santi. Genre-bending like “Rapid Fire” and “Freaky” demonstrate his experimental approach to music, weaving together sonic elements from a broad musical spectrum to create something new. Fans are especially drawn to his distinctive directorial style, exemplified in his latest music video “Sparky”, where stylish kids awash in cool-toned hues move amongst the vibrancy of West African landscapes, all while being involved in an ambiguous and violent plotline. His recognition of the strength of visual storytelling has played perhaps the largest role in developing the aesthetic identity of the movement.
Growing up as an artistic, middle class kid in Lagos, Odunsi – or Odunsi (the Engine), to give his full artist alias – was exposed to a wide range of musical influences and it shows in his musical output. Citing Prince, Sade, and 00s Nigerian musicians like Yinka Ayefele and Trybesmen as inspirations, Odunsi’s sound is hard to peg down, with he himself labeling it ‘Afro-fusion’. This definition is perfectly exhibited on his debut album, Rare, a sonic expedition that takes you through spoken word and synth pop right through to funk and R&B.
DJ FeMo was born in the UK, but having spent her formative teenage years in Nigeria, the DJ and producer’s mixes reflect the contrast and diversity of her musical experiences. Highlighting Afrobeats, Afrohouse, and more, she is, as her SoundCloud bio states, the “plug to ur west african vibes”. With her radio show So Rad broadcasting fortnightly on the UK’s Reprezent Radio, and as a resident at Barcelona’s progressive Voodoo Club, DJ FeMo is a champion of her scene, shedding light on the abundance of talent across Africa in a way that bears more honesty than what the western media often portrays.
“Na me you dey do / Play by my rules, I dey sabi, I talk true / Am addicted to cash,” Lady Donli croons in Pidgin English over a highlife-inspired beat on her latest solo single, “Cash”. The result is the perfect synthesis of Erykah Badu meets Fela Kuti. Lady Donli makes songs for “melancholic people”, bathed in hues of neo-soul and jazz atop afrocentric rhythms. She’s currently working with Lagos-born musician Tomi Thomas on a new project called The Forbidden, and is exploring more of a traditional live band sound, with the project’s debut track “Work” fully embodying the hustler, entrepreneurial spirit of Lagos.
WAVY THE CREATOR
Wavy the Creator is an alien, or so she says, due to her inability to blend in with the rest of the human population. With her bleached eyebrows and buzz cut of rotating neon colours, her unorthodox approach to life extends further than her appearance – she also refuses to let strict definitions stifle her career. From starting her own fashion line, to being the personal photographer to Nigerian hip hop star Olamide, to opening for Skepta and his BBK crew (she also appeared in Skepta and WizKid’s “Energy (Stay Far Away)” video last year alongside Odunsi, Santi, and more), Wavy the Creator is a multifaceted talent. Her highly danceable, euphoric tracks like “Shaku” and “H.I.G.H.”, demonstrate the different forms that Nigerian music can take.