Why Afrobeats and Afro Nation Detroit Are Such a Big Deal

The Chicago Defender speaks to DJ El about the Afrobeats artists performing at Afro Nation Detroit. 

Afrobeats is defined as electronic and dance music elements set to African percussion, with hints of highlife, dancehall, hip-hop and R&B, says Rolling Stone. Its origins are traceable across the spectrum of Black expression, emerging out of West Africa. The tone of Afrobeats is often upbeat, digitally produced, and sung in English, West African and pidgin languages.

Now it’s a worldwide phenomenon. 

Over the years, this musical genre has exploded in popularity thanks to the global successes of Nigerian artists Burna Boy, Tems, Davido and Kizz Daniel and others. 

Amazingly, the genre’s biggest acts are set to perform August 19-20 at Afro Nation Detroit, the world’s most significant Afrobeats music festival. The fact that the fest is coming to the home of Motown is both symbolic and strategic. Afro Nation, featuring significant American R&B and Hip-hop artists, is coming to “The D” to further solidify its presence in the U.S.

With Chicago’s solid musical smorgasbord of House, Juke and Stepping, it’s only a matter of time before Afrobeats makes its mark. The Chicago Defender contacted Chicagoland’s Southside International DJ El the Conductor, whose favorite Afrobeats artists are playing at Afro Nation Detroit next weekend. 

With over 20 years of musical expertise, he is a well-sought-after aficionado on Afrobeats.

Chicago’s own DJ El The Conductor (Photo Provided).

Chicago Defender: What is the significance of Afrobeats Music?

DJ El The Conductor: For me, the significance is an important shift in the music scene and dance culture. Certain genres have a wave where they are super popular. For example, back in the early 2000s, we saw the Dancehall and Reggaeton scene get a huge boost with artists like Sean Paul and Daddy Yankee. 

It’s not to say that their music wasn’t big in their culture because it definitely was, but the global reach it had during that time was crazy. When you have artists like Beyoncé and Twista jumping on tracks with the likes of Sean Paul and Elephant Man, it showed how major that music was.

As far as the Afrobeats scene, it has grown thanks to artists like Drake pushing the envelope and giving those artists a bigger platform.

“Afrobeats is here and making an impact and will be around for years to come.” – DJ El The Conductor

Chicago Defender: How are the crowd reactions when it is played?

DJ El: Today, you can’t do a set without playing Afrobeats because it is a whole vibe. If you want to start the party calmly or start winding down or even just change the vibe, it can be placed wherever, and it just works. It takes me back to when people really went to parties to dance because it’s something about the music that makes the ladies dance and the fellas join them — every time.

Chicago Defender: As a DJ, do you think Afrobeats, Chicago Style Juke Music, or East Coast GoGo are similar?

DJ El: To be honest, the only similarities in these three is the energy that it presents, and that’s it. As a born and raised Chicagoan, there is no style like Chicago Juke. Baltimore is probably the closest to their style of dance music, but it doesn’t have the essence of Chicago in it. Our music has a bounce and is heavy on bass and drums.

East Coast GoGo is a slower vibe that is like a feel-good backyard vibes type of music that they just dance to, and it is definitely a good vibe.

Afrobeats is the same as far as a slower pace where you just move your hips, hit a two-step and go into a cool zone. All of these will still always give you what you need, which is a good level of energy.

Chicago Defender: Who are some of your favorite Afrobeats artists?

DJ El: My current favorites, in no particular order, are Davido, Wilkie, Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage, Tems and Olamide, just to name a few. But in general, I listen to it all.

Chicago Defender: Do you believe that Afrobeats have the longevity to be played in years to come?

DJ El: It definitely will have its place forever now that it has hit the mainstream. It will fizzle out as the go-to sound over the next few years, just like most genres. However, I feel like it will keep its popularity amongst partygoers and club patrons and most DJs because, just like Chicago House or Juke, Old School Hip Hop, Twerking Music and a list of other subgenres, it will always have a place and keep the memories of good times going. 

Good music doesn’t fade away because it’s not the popular song or genre anymore. If it’s good, it will last. We still dance to Dawn Penn’s “No, No, No” when it’s played. You can’t go to a BBQ and not hear “Before I Let Go” or “Summertime.” So, just like its predecessors, it will live with us forever.

Chicago Defender: How did you start playing Afrobeats? What was your introduction to the music?

DJ El: I am a DJ who happens to be a musician and a singer. So, I have always had an eclectic taste in music and never limited myself to certain genres. I give it all a chance, so I actually heard some early work by the originator Fela Kuti at a record store back in 2000. 

As a DJ, I heard something different at a club a little over ten years ago, and I asked the DJ what it was because he integrated it into his house music set, and it flowed so smoothly. But it wasn’t a House track. He told me it was Afrobeats. 

Now I had heard of the genre but wasn’t too familiar with the music. About six years later, around 2015-2016, as the music scene was changing, Drake came out with “One Dance” featuring Wizkid, and that vibe of the song was that sound I remembered, and I went digging.

And the rest is history. I would play that song as well as some others that matched that vibe and added some Reggae to it as well, and the crowd loved it. 

It’s been nonstop since that year, and I have gone deeper and added other genres to that mix as well, such as Amapiano. The vibes are always crazy good, and there is always someone swaying to the music.

Afrobeats is here and making an impact and will be around for years to come.

For More Information

What: Afro Nation Detroit, presented by Bedrock, Event Horizon, SMADE and Live Nation, featuring Burna Boy, Davido, Ari Lennox, P-Square, Coi Leray and Latto.

When: Saturday, August 19, and Sunday, August 20

Where: Bedrock’s Douglass Site, Detroit

What else: For more information on Afro Nation Detroit, including ticket info, visit this link. To keep up with Chicago’s DJ El, follow him on Facebook or Instagram


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