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Last night, BBC Radio One premiered an hour-long documentary on the story of modern “African” music, hosted by UK-based Kenyan DJ Edu (whose weekly show, Destination Africa on Radio 1Xtra, I’ve been listening to for a few years now).

An hour obviously isn’t a lot of time, but Edu manages to cover a fair amount of ground, starting with such standard bearers as Fela and Miriam Makeba and ending with newcomers like Nigerian-German Nneka. In between those are interviews with a veritable list of big name artists from the continent, including the obvious ones, K’naan and Akon. Also making appearances are Kenyan singer Amani, Sudanese rapper Emmanuel Jal, UK rapper Sway, Nigerian singer D’banj, Ghanian singer Samini, South African rapper HHP and house DJ/producer Black Coffee, and Angolan/Portuguese outfit Buraka Som Sistema. For good measure, Edu also throws in interviews with Mos Def and Wyclef.

He covers even more ground when it comes to the different styles on music now coming out of the continent. Beyond the rock, hip hop/rap, and house that can be found across Africa, Edu highlights other forms, including genge in Kenya, kuduro in Angola and coupé decalé in Côte D’Ivoire. Unfortunately, besides passing references to Sénégal and the Congo, this is as far as his focus on Francophone Africa goes (unless I overlooked something). Also missing is an engagement with North Africa, which is odd considering Edu routinely plays songs from that region on his weekly show.

Nevertheless, this is a great introduction for those unfamiliar with contemporary popular music across various parts of Africa. There are some interesting questions and issues raised, including an extended discussion about money (according to D’banj, everyone is coming to Africa now because that’s where the money is), thoughts on the lack of a regional regulatory mechanism to control music piracy, and the role of the internet (which of course brings up the Kenyan viral sensation that none of us could get enough of recently) and mobile phones (currently everyone’s favorite buzzword in Africa).

Other highlights include mentions of Get Mziki (another great music site) and Africa Express, as well as more interviews with DJs, producers and radio and other personalities, including Afripopmag‘s Phiona Okumu who ends the documentary by considering what exactly is meant by “African” music—right before K’naan starts singing over a sample of Vampire Weekend. Worth a listen.

Further Reading