GuiltyBeatz Talks Rise of African Music

GuiltyBeatz in East London (Credit: Naija Boi)

The global pop scene has traditionally been dominated by American music. That’s changing though; both Latin music and Kpop are making waves across the world, including the US.

Historically, Africa has had a rich music history. Its rhythms and melodies have influenced genres around the world, most notably in the Americas and Caribbean. However, African genres have yet to impact the global pop scene. That is changing, too. With the help of Nigerian artists like WizKid, Mr Eazi, and Davido, Africa is poised to take the spotlight. Non-African artists like Drake and Major Lazer have also helped spread African music, collaborating with some of the continent’s biggest stars.

On the industry side, all three major labels have launched divisions and partnerships on the continent in recent years, indicating commercial potential.

To learn more about African music and where it’s going, we sat down with GuiltyBeatz, a rising DJ/producer from Accra, Ghana. We first met the 29-year-old at Mr Eazi’s recent sold-out show in Los Angeles. The event took place between the first and second weekends of the Coachella festival, which Guilty and Eazi also performed at. Guilty made the most of his visit to Los Angeles, hitting the studio with Diplo and launching an Afro house event series with Dallas’ Poizon Ivy the DJ. (Guilty recently formed a DJ/producer duo with Ivy called GuiltyPoizon.)

As a producer, Guilty has worked with some of Africa’s biggest stars, including WizKid and Mr Eazi. He’s also a rising solo artist, achieving global acclaim with his infectious anthem, “AKWAABA,” which features Mr Eazi, Pappy Kojo, and Patapaa. Guilty’s most recent single, “Pilolo,” also features Mr Eazi, along with Kwesi Arthur. “AKWAABA” means “welcome” in the Fante language, and with that, we welcome GuiltyBeatz…

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When non-Africans talk about modern African music, they often refer to it as Afrobeats, which originated in Nigeria. How would you describe your sound?

My sound is an eclectic mix of Ghanaian azonto, South African house, and electronic music. To be honest, I like to mix it up and not box myself in as a producer and DJ. I love making music, sharing it with the world, and spreading good vibes!

What is the DJ scene in Africa like?

I can’t comment on the whole of Africa. You have East, West, South, North, and Central Africa, and each region has its own scene. I can share my experience of places I have been to, such as Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Nigeria, and my own home, Ghana. These scenes are vibrant and differ from each other. For example, in West Africa, DJs host parties and shows and have artists come and perform. In East Africa, DJs host festivals. It’s clear from the countries that I have been that the DJs are really pushing boundaries and supporting the music, especially that of their local talent. What is really exciting me though is the fact the DJs are not afraid to push the boundaries and put out their own music, by working and collaborating with artists. DJs aren’t afraid to mix it up either, sourcing music from other regions and blending it with music from across the world. Most of the time, the DJ is taking the audiences and listeners on a trip, whether that be in the club or on the radio.

What influence has non-African music had on the scene?

We’ve had sprinkles of influence, but dancehall has played a big part in the scene, especially in Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, and Zambia. These countries have dancehall in most of their sets; you can’t escape it. In Ghana back in the day, let’s say in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, the music was influenced by funk. Between 1990 and 2003 or 2004, some of our songs were influenced by R&B. Some musicians at the time used to sample R&B hit songs and they would sing the same melodies but different lyrics on a very similar beat. It was a kind of trend at the time.

How did you connect with Mr Eazi?

That was many years ago. I saw his track “Pipi Dance” was blowing up and I watched the video. Eazi dropped me a DM on Twitter, around the same time, as a mutual friend recommended we connect. So I sent him beats, and we started going back and forth. That was back in 2014. Fast forward to 2019 and this year we are touring North America together. Never underestimate social media!

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What was it like performing with him at Coachella?

It has always been a dream. I literally spoke about performing at Coachella in 2017, and two years later, I got to join one of my best friends on the main stage. It really was incredible. The power of language: believe in it and anything is possible.

What was it like working with Diplo?

I have been watching Diplo for a while, and I think what he does as a DJ, producer, and artist is inspirational. He makes me want to go harder and take my music as far and as wide as possible. What is really dope, is that for a while, my fans have been tweeting me, asking when we would work together. Even during some radio interviews in Ghana, I have been asked about collaborating with Diplo, so to finally make it happen was amazing. It felt like it was a long time coming.

He and Major Lazer have done a lot to spread African music to non-African audiences. What is the perception of them there?

It is dope what Major Lazer has done, not only with the music, but with artists from across Africa, like collaborating with artists such as DJ Maphorisa, Nasty C, Mr Eazi, and Burna Boy to name a few. It has helped take sounds from across Africa to global stages. “Particula” is a big tune: it goes down well in any rave in Ghana.

You have performed around the world. Aside from the UK, which countries have been the most receptive to African music?

The US for sure. We just did part of a North American tour and seeing the crowd go crazy for sets that are two to three hours long and full of music from Africa, and the diaspora is brilliant. Also, Canada is always so receptive. Countries across Europe such as France and Sweden have great fans too. Europe is really receptive; they have their own dance crews, festivals, and parties. The scene is really healthy out there.

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Who are some up-and-coming artists from Africa that DJs should know about?

There are so many names to mention. Some of the artists that have caught my attention are J.Derobie, who’s one of the recipients of Mr Eazi’s Empawa program. His first single just got a remix featuring Popcaan. Another guy to watch out for is JoeBoy. He’s got a few jams, including “Baby.” The video just came out; I’m really feeling it. There are some names that are already big in Ghana and are making waves on the music scene, but I feel we should definitely be watching what they get up to this year. They are Kidi, Kuami Eugene, Kwesi Arthur, Joey B, King Promise, Pappy Kojo, Adina, and Teni. The list goes on. There is so much great talent coming out of Africa.

Latin music is now a major force in the global pop scene. Do you think African music can achieve a similar level of success?

Of course! African music is just touching the surface, and you’ve seen what the likes of Davido and Afro B are doing in the US at the moment. Look at Black Coffee; he’s touring the world, has a residency in Ibiza and is shutting down festivals all summer long. That is all music from Africa, and it’s really inspiring to see. We can definitely take it global. Just last year I was on the BBC Radio 1 Dance Stage at the Reading and Leeds Festivals. I played a short Afro house set, Naija Boi MC’d, and Mr Eazi performed a set. People were going wild. It was incredible to watch, and it just shows that this music can go as far as we wanna take it!

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