My last experience with Africa express turned out to be a grand conspiracy to have a freakish amount of fun. It was an intoxicating five-hour experience on a Spanish beach with 50,000 people and fifty plus brilliant musicians, losing our minds to raw hypnotic grooves. There were many moments of utter delightful chaos, and an all round unapologetic ode to the vibrancy of African music. As a Ghanaian Hip-Hop artist in the business of words I was left surprisingly speechless.
Two thoughts crossed my mind that August night: first, "I really don't know how we schemed to have this much fun but this is my kind of party," and Second, "yes indeed Africa is the future." I still think the former but I have willingly changed my tune on the latter. As far as I'm concerned the future is here and Africa is the now.
In a time where Increased media attention on Africa focuses on problematic politics and its growing economies -for whose benefit is obviously debatable- our music is traveling wildly and changing how we relate to the western world and vice versa. The Azonto - a street dance style from Ghana - is mashing up dance floors and popping up in dance classes worldwide; bonafide pop stars like Dbanj are charting in the UK; Nneka's progressive new sound is making waves in North America; and legends like Tony Allen are involved with some of the most forward-looking musical collaborations of our time (See Rocket Juice & the Moon).
I joined the Africa Express Train because I think its path forging; a representation of this much needed paradigm shift of how we're characterized by outsiders. But truthfully the most compelling reason for me to be there is that it would be plain silly to ignore how much fun this threatens to be. In a few days I'm going to be one of eighty passengers on a train filled with a mind-blowing list of musicians. Anything can happen. And indeed magical things will happen.
Still some challenges remain that I ought to make mention of. It can be an agonizing experience for artists trying to secure visas with an African Passport - rejections, delays, and a generally frustrating bureaucracy. My last week has been filled with scrambling to arrange numerous new travel plans including having to forfeit a trip to Minneapolis before heading to the UK. But as we say in Pidgin English in Ghana "nuttin spoil!" Meaning the enormity of what's about to go down has eclipsed all potential setbacks.
There are many things I'm eagerly anticipating personally. I'm looking forward to experiencing some folks I only recently got hip to: Rizzle Kicks, Jupiter & Okwess Band, Spoek Mathambo, Baloji, etc. It's part of what makes this project valuable; shining the spotlight on musicians in the you-need-to-hear-this category. I'm also looking forward to being inspired by collaborations with legends, rising stars I've been listening to, and other brilliant artists I've played with in the past: Baaba Maal, Damon Albarn, Toumani Diabate, Tony Allen, Nneka, M1 (Dead Prez), Amadou & Miriam, Fatoumata Diawarra, EL, Noisettes, Kano, Bashy, M3nsa & many more.
It's quite fitting we will be on a train because I believe now more than ever the African Music train is going places. Mutually beneficial exchanges as well as deepened ties with open-minded Western musicians are furthering the reach of African Music. We are no longer confined to World Music - a dubious term at best - or any static conceptions of what African Music is and where the train is going.
Last year after meeting Damon Albarn at Africa Express I was invited to London to feature on his project with Tony Allen and Flea from red Hot Chili Peppers - Rocket Juice & the Moon - which came out in March 2012. It was an awesome and gratifying experience that turned the attention of many to me, an emerging but relatively unknown Ghanaian Hip-Hop artist with ties to Minneapolis. I have no doubt this Africa Express is going to manifest (no pun intended) a myriad of fantastic but unexpected collaborations on and off stage.
One thing's for sure and two things are for certain. This train is going places, the surprises are many, and the music is an untamed and unchained nod to Africa.