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Courtesy of The Flight Club

Views From The Studio: Producer P2J Discusses 'The Lion King: The Gift' Album

P2J discusses "Brown Skin Girl," the sonic marriage between dancehall and Afrobeats, and making music definitive of the Diaspora.

When P2J was 14 years old, he had an insightful moment that solidified his career. In school, he realized that spending his time with his head in a textbook was not the path for him. After his history teacher noticed his aloofness, the instructor recommended that P2J transfer to a music course to nurture his creativity. As an adolescent, the South London native never entertained a career in music but the class opened up his senses to a new form of expression that would lead him to work with today's leading artists.

“It’s crazy because there was a loud voice in my head that said ‘this is your calling, this is what you need to do,’” he says. “It was weird how everything happened. It was meant to be and I feel like God put me there for a reason. I always knew I wanted to make music from when I made my first beat and when I saw people’s reaction to it, I think that’s what drove me to really want to do this because the reaction gave me a buzz, a feeling like, ‘Wow, my sound is making people feel this way.’”

Paying homage to his Nigerian roots, P2J looked to pioneering musicians like Fela Kuti and Sunny Ade to order his steps behind the soundboards. He went from curating his “Hands In The Air” project with local kids to producing Stormzy’s “Bad Boys” off of the grime rapper’s debut album Gang Signs & Prayer. P2J’s production eventually landed him stateside where he worked on Chris Brown’s Heartbreak on a Full Moon soundscape and later traveled back overseas to produce for Burna Boy’s studio third album, Outside. Now, P2J can hang his hat on another momentous album: the Beyonce-executive-produced The Lion King: The Gift soundtrack.

For VIBE’s “Views From The Studio” series, P2J discusses his melodic contribution to The Lion King: The Gift, the sonic marriage between dancehall and Afrobeats, and making music definitive of the Diaspora.

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Recently you responded to a tweet by someone who mentioned you went from making “Hands In The Air” to working with Beyonce, which must’ve been a major milestone. Explain that feeling from 2007 to now being an in-demand producer?
It’s been a very long journey. Where I started I was working with kids in the area. From there I moved into the Afrobeat world. When I started making Afrobeat music that’s when I realized the world needs to hear this sound. That was my goal for years, to cross genres and anywhere I could fit in an Afrobeat rhythm or a vibe or an artist I would try to cross it in my production and give it that feel. That’s always been my goal.

When I worked on The Gift, it was a big moment for me because everything I was working toward felt like it was for this moment right here. I felt like this could be the door to open up everything for this genre of music. Coming from where I come from, South London, to where it is now, it’s a big moment especially for producers over here as well. There are a lot of producers that are crazy talented over here that make Afrobeats or Afro-infused music. This could be a chance for the door to be open for everyone to flood through and show their talent. This is a big moment for me personally and a big thing for African music. My aim is to be one of the producers that opened the door for a lot of Nigerian producers or young producers that are coming through to do what you do. Don’t feel like you have to conform to anything. Do what you do and the world will hear. I’m just grateful and happy that it’s on this project. It’s not just a normal project. It’s the soundtrack for a huge film and a huge artist. It’s a great moment.

What have you noticed about your talent and craft from that point on?
Sonically my sound has definitely changed and evolved. It’s a cleaner sound now, but I still feel like I kept my rawness, but it has a polished sound to it. I call it my groove, which for me is what drives my production. My style of playing, my melody and my chords compliment my grooves quite well. My groove is one thing I worked hard at my whole career and tried to master.

Your production is bright and makes you want to dance but can get gritty like Stormzy’s “Bad Boys.” Explain that diversity?
I’m a feels person. I go off of feels and energy. With Stormzy I produced that with my boy E.Y. The mood I had was very dark and sinister. I thought this could be something crazy. I feel like a lot of my feels and the way I play has a lot to do with the artist as well. The energy from the artist when I’m in the room, if I feel like this moment needs this kind of energy, then I’ll try to make that to be mellow, vibrant, dark. I don’t have a specific way of working but I know when I do create, especially when I make my Afrobeat stuff, I try to make a groove that people can move to whether it’s dark or vibrant. That’s my goal.

How’d you come on board for The Gift?
It started with “Brown Skin Girl.” It started as an idea with SAINt JHN. They heard it on their side and they liked it. They heard some of my other productions and called me to come and work on the project. From there it was creating, vibing, trying to hit the pocket of the film, making sure the themes were interlocked with the music and just trying to get the vibe and energy right. “Brown Skin Girl” was the first song that probably put me in the rooms and got me working on the project.

Beyonce said it’s like a love letter to Africa. Where did you pull your inspiration from to speak to her statement?
I just listened to a lot of the music that was out at the time. A lot of music that was an inspiration to me was Fela’s music. I listened to a lot of music that makes people dance, Wizkid’s songs, Burna Boy’s songs, Tekno’s songs. I studied dance videos on YouTube to see what pocket they move and dance to. For me, I wanted to make people move and dance. That’s one thing I know Beyonce wanted, a lot of energy. She wanted people to have that feeling that it’s from Africa like the dance moves were from Africa. A lot of inspiration came from there, and sonically and production-wise my inspiration came from there.

Do you believe this album has the power to open up doors for listeners to research different artists from Africa’s many regions? There's an article on Okayplayer that outlined how East African musicians could've benefited from being featured on this album?
I think this is a big stepping-stone for people that don’t know about certain artists on this project to research their music. There’s a whole variety of Afrobeats that they never heard before. That person will link to another person and that person will link to another person and open up more doors. This is why this is a big project because the people that are on the project are going to open doors for other artists from Africa. Even Beyonce putting artists from Africa on this project is going to open up doors for listeners to then take in these artists. The other way around as well, being on a project with Beyonce is going to open up doors for other younger artists coming through to say, “These artists have done it so that we can come through and shine. We can put our sound out there and people are going to listen to our music because it’s growing.”

For this section of questions, I want you to give the background on the songs you produced on The Gift, starting with “Ja Ara E.”
I made the beat and I had Burna Boy in mind before I showed it to him. I met him in London and we had a melody idea but we didn’t work on it. I was like, “We’re going to come back to it because we have some time.” We linked up in L.A. He was working on something else. I remembered it and I played it. I said, “Remember this song we had from London?” I played it and he was like “This is crazy!” He wrote it in the session. The team heard it and was like, “This is crazy!”

You’ve worked with Burna Boy in the past, specifically on his track “Anybody.” What’s the process behind that melody?
Whenever I make a beat for him, I always have a feeling this one should be for Burna. I always make it and then hold it. When I play it for him he feels the same energy. Every time I make the beat, I put Burna’s name on it without him even hearing it. It’s a spiritual thing and we make what we make. It always comes out feeling amazing. The first song I’ve done with him is called “Koni Bajer” which is on his last project Outside. I was in session engineering for him. It was the first time I ever met him. He was like, “You got new beats?” I said, “Yes, I made a beat two years ago and I had you in mind.” I played it for him, he loved it, and then he recorded it and it ended up being “Koni Baje.” Ever since then it’s been the same process. I play him a beat and he connects with it. If he likes it, he lays it.

Also “Devil In California” possesses a different sound from previous songs.
I produced that one with Ari PenSmith. That was a different vibe. I felt like we wanted to experiment with different vibes, sounds, energy. That’s the good thing about working with Burna Boy, he has raw vibes.

Next on The Gift album is “Don’t Jealous Me.”
We started watching dance videos and looking at different energetic songs, songs that make you want to dance instantly. We started making the idea with who is featured on the song as well. We had a vibe and we did “Water” in the same day. We went in there and started jamming out with the energy.

“Water”
It started that same way. I listened to a lot of Congolese music and got the guitar rhythm that felt vibrant. I got my guy to play guitar and he sent it over to me. I got a vibe straight away from it, the drums, the idea down and the rest follows.

“Keys To The Kingdom”
That song was a co-production. Producer Northboi [Oracle] started it and I came and added my sauce where it was needed, where things could be enhanced, I added extra drums, extra melodies. That was a cool collaborative process because the song was growing.

“Scar”
That was a collaboration as well. I started it with Ari. He started playing some keys and I was like “this is nice.” I just put a little percussion beat on top of it and had an idea with 070 Shake. She came in and did this crazy idea on it. From there my production was added on top of it and it was a good process.

“Brown Skin Girl”
I had a groove that started prior to that day and I had the snare and drums. Then I pulled out a piano but I wanted it to feel a certain way. I wanted it to feel like it was outside, chilling on a porch, a playground or the park, that’s why it’s very minimal. I wanted it to feel very intimate. The piano rift came to me instantly. I didn’t think about it. I just put my hands on the keys and God just guided me. That’s exactly what you guys are hearing. I didn’t want it to sound too clean. I wanted it to have a real rawness to it, to feel extremely intimate but have a vibe to it also. As soon as the idea was done I felt like it was very special. It was a crazy moment. I felt like this could be a beautiful story and I’m glad about the timing. I can’t explain how I feel about it right now, but it’s a beautiful moment. I can’t put it into words. The day we made it I felt that it was special.

So it was a conscious decision to produce with minimal instruments?
Yes, I didn’t want to add a lot of production to it at all. I wanted to keep it as minimal as possible because the message is so beautiful and strong that I want it to cut through. Sometimes when you hear ballads it’s just keys and it’s just a moment. You don’t need anything. You might have a string here or there but it’s just a moment. I want it to have that same feel but I still want it to have a groove to it, have people dance to it, and it still have a message. You can cry to it, you can dance to it, you can do whatever you want with this song but it’s still a moment that’s why I wanted to keep it as minimal as possible. I didn’t want to overproduce it. I felt like it would’ve taken away and I did try a few things, but I felt like it was taking away from what I originally had in my head. On this song, less was definitely more. It’s funny because somebody tweeted me saying, “I’m upset that P2J didn’t add to the production at the end but I’m so happy that he didn’t.” That’s the feeling I want you to have, to feel like should it have more but, “No, I love it the way it is.” Feel the song’s energy, you know what it’s supposed to be doing.

Were you aware that Blue Ivy Carter was going to be on the song?
Me and my friend spoke about it and we thought it would be cool, I didn’t know she was actually going to be on it. Maybe the idea trickled up and trickled down and put her on it. That was a huge moment in itself.

Out of all the labels associated with Afrobeat, like Afropop, Afrofusion, Afrohouse, what purpose does the music seek to amplify despite the subgenres?
The purpose of it is a wide scope. Even with certain artists like artists from Ghana that do a genre that’s like afro-reggae, there are artists that cross genres with reggae or R&B and house music as well, which is a big scene in South Africa dance music. It’s a thing where all these genres are coming to light now. The purpose it’s serving is big because there’s a lot of collaborations happening now. Chris Brown and Davido, those are two artists from two different worlds that have done a song together. That’s the R&B, Afrobeat fusion. It’s all for the greater good. Wizkid, Beyonce, another big collaboration there. I feel like we’re in the age of collaboration and this sound is carrying onto the world. People are taking to it and want to learn about and soak in and be a part of.

That’s interesting you mentioned the overlap with certain artists. I know you worked with GoldLink on his Diaspora album which is a blend of genres. One song you produced, “Yard,” is reminiscent of that blurred line between Afrobeats and dancehall. How do you think the genres can overlap?
In London, those genres are very intertwined. It’s growing out of London as well and getting exposed to where a Jamaican artist or a Nigerian artist come together to do a collaboration. Sonically as well, the rhythms and the vibes are very close and connected. That’s an amazing thing because it’s almost like a genre that’s not there, it hasn’t been created. That’s a beautiful thing about music because you can express yourself and not be pigeonholed. Even if it’s intertwined and one mash of everything, I think that’s amazing.

What was it like working with GoldLink?
It was an amazing and beautiful learning process for me. One thing that I got a lot of feedback from was that it felt energetic, that you want to have a good time. That’s exactly what we felt in the studio. It was enjoyable. We were trying to figure out which songs would fit this moment but everything played its part, everything happened for a reason. This project will stand out for years to come and people can enjoy it in years to come as well.

“Zulu Screams” is a standout on the album. How’d that song come to be?
I started that beat in 2014. I was working on my own project at the time. I had a guitar riff and percussion idea on top of it. When I met GoldLink he showed me a song he wanted to try a flow with. It was an Afrobeat. I said, “I think I might have something for you.” We went to the studio the next day, I showed him the idea and he was like, “This is crazy!” That session was like a party. GoldLink was writing, going in bar for bar as the beat was playing. Ari came in and wrote the hook and it felt amazing.

“Maniac” and “Coke White” don’t have those same vibes. Both melodies are more geared toward hip-hop rhythms. Can you explain that switch up?
Before I was making Afrobeats music I was making rap and grime, that heavy and gritty sound, stuff that people can do flows on. That’s something I’m very close to. This is another avenue that I can shine and show I can do it in a different way. OBR sent me a sample and then I took it, flipped it and made a beat around it. The same thing with the second half of “Coke White,” Goldlink’s part. It was a sample from Kurtis [Mckenzie] and [Sean] Momberger. I got the sample from there and flipped it again and made the beat around it. I went in my rap bag and tried to create something energetic and something people could go crazy over.

What does Diaspora mean to you and how do you translate that into your productions?
It’s drawing sounds from all around. We tried to hone in on black people and black music. Before that, every black person essentially is one but we draw from different energies and sounds. We try to do the same thing musically and draw from the Afrobeat world, the reggae world, the hip-hop world and merge it into one and make something that’s fun and cool and have a good time. We want it to have depth as well and hone in on the fact that this is a black album. That’s what it means for me in this project and that’s what we tried to do production-wise, sonically. For example the Wizkid song (“No Lie”), it’s not an Afrobeat song but he’s singing on a really mellow sound, trap-influenced beat. It’s a completely different vibe, different energy from a different world. It’s essentially one world.

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Afrochella Sets Sight On Connecting The African Diaspora, One Festival At A Time

African music and culture are going global.

There’s a concerted effort to create and connect on the continent and to the continent. In Ghana and Nigeria specifically, a number of events, festivals, concerts, and activations have grown to prominence over the past five years, attracting newcomers and serving locals. This year, December will harvest a crop of opportunities for those abroad and at home to tap into the music, art, food, and fashion of the new-wave vanguard.

“Ghana remains home to the global African family,” Ghana Tourism Authority CEO Akwasi Agyemang said in an interview earlier this year. "We are positioning Ghana as a gateway to the West African market," Agyemang added. As African cultural productions popularize abroad, Accra and Lagos have become the go-to grounds for people of the diaspora to initiate immersion into experiencing Africa. 

The Ghana Tourism Authority and the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture have lined up a slate of activities in an effort to boost the country’s tourism industry. The government has taken initiative to further pushing for mobilization, galvanizing both descendants and diasporans to visit, invest, and live in the country.

Certain factors make Ghana appealing for visitors. Along with it being one of the more stable nations in West Africa, according to a 2011 Forbes report, Ghana was ranked the 11th -most friendly country in the world, ranked higher than any other African country. But as of last year, according to the World Atlas, Ghana didn’t rank amongst the top 10 African countries to visit for tourism in 2018. There is already a history of diasporans permanently relocating to Ghana. The government attempted to facilitate this process when it waived some visa requirements and passed amendments to a 2002 law that permits people of African origin to apply to stay indefinitely in Ghana. 

But this year has been a particularly important one for visitors. This December marks the ending commemoration of the Year of Return. Ghana 2019 is an initiative of the government formally launched by the President of the Republic of Ghana in September 2019 in Washington, D.C. as a program for Africans in the diaspora to unite with Africans on the continent. The mission transcends a marketing strategy. The year 2019 commemorates 400 years since the first enslaved Africans were brought to Jamestown, Virginia. The program serves to recognize the surging people and the following generations of achievements, sacrifices since then. 

The past year has seen a steady influx to West Africa. According to a report in Quartz Africa, Ghana’s tourism sector contributed 5.5 percent to GDP in 2018, ranking in fourth place after gold, cocoa, and oil in terms of foreign exchange generation for the country. And the government is hoping for more growth. Ghana is reportedly projected to rake in an annual $8.3 billion from the tourism sector by the year 2027 in tandem with an estimated 4.3 million international tourist arrivals.

But with the opportunities for connection and investment comes a slate of new concerns attached to old ones. Tourism, for example, can be lucrative for local business, but also can have a broader disruptive impact on the nation’s economy. Then, there are the issues that programmers face to bring locals and visitors the sought-after idealized experiences of Ghana— a taxing and a challenging feat to execute in an environment that’s still developing its infrastructure in multiple sectors. Along with improper documentation of visitors, the 15-year development plan put in place to help push the numbers, in ways, has not been implemented in full force.

But a rush to Ghana is still projected, and there’s a slew of events coinciding in the region at the same time this year aiming to accommodate this. One of the events slated for a return is Afrochella, the annual art, music, and food festival happening in Accra from December 20 to January 5. Separate from the official year of return events, each event also aims to fulfill a similar mission and market individual appeal amidst similar events. There’s AfroNation, the popular Europe music festival holding its first-ever edition on Ghana’s coastline at the same time as Afrochella, while Nativeland is planning a selection of panels and immersive activations with Melanin Unscripted focusing on music, art, and culture in Lagos right before it.

Afrochella was conceptualized by Abdul Karim Abdullah in 2015. Abdullah, along with co-founder Kenny Agyapong, and COO Edward Adjaye, launched the full-scope festival with the hopes of curating a connection to the continent this year, focused on increasing visibility to the rising talent on the continent. Their 2019 theme is “Diaspora Calling,” aiming to promote networking within the Ghanaian community and diaspora, ensure African youth value and celebrate their native cultures while connecting communities through education, fashion, art, music, and business in Africa. 

Community involvement representative Emmanual Ansa states they want the event to become “the impetus and mecca for the celebration of African music, culture, and art.” But amidst the many options on the ground this year to fulfill these missions, where does Afrochella stand, and how does it stand out?

VIBE sat down with the Afrochella co-founder Abdullah to talk about the structural challenges of executing this initiative while appeasing the demands of a growing consumer base, the cultural significance of the event, and envisioning Ghana as a premier frontier for a global black connection.

Can you talk about the origin of Afrochella? What inspired it?

I went to school in Ghana for about seven years, and then I came back to the US and I went to high school in the Bronx—  High School For Teaching And The Professions. I went to Syracuse University in 2006 and got my bachelor's in psychology and biology. And then I got my master's in 2016 at CUNY Hunter college in public health. I've been working in medical research for eight and a half years. But this has been a passion of mine that I've always done on the side, which is throwing African-inspired events.

That’s when my team came together. It started out with me wanting to do a festival here in New York called Native Tongue festival, and that was geared towards food. I just wanted to explain the culture and engage people within the diaspora. But then, on our yearly trip to Ghana, I found that we would gather and we would have a great time, but we couldn't really have that much of an effect once we left. I felt like we could have an effect; we could encourage more people to reach back home and do certain things by creating a space where we can engage each other. I thought there was so much talent coming in from all over the world that were from Ghanian descent or African descent and if we could create a place where we can galvanize all of that and the people that are doing amazing things within those industries, we would be able to create something pretty good. [In] 2017, we decided to do something like that.

How has it changed since 2017? Has it been easier to translate what you're trying to do in terms of this new interest in Africa — Ghana and Nigeria in particular? 

My team is battle-tested. We understand what we have to do in order to make the event successful. But, I wouldn't say it's been easier; each year presented different challenges for us. In year one, it was financial. Until this year, it was navigating bureaucracies. Last year, it was navigating governmental agencies. This year is navigating competition, navigating finding more funding.  One of the things that we noticed about events in Ghana specifically is that once it [nears] completion, people tend to not attend it anymore. What we want to make sure we do is every year we want to increase the amount of people that attend— and each year we have at least by 30 percent. Each year, we've been able to define our message more clearly. 

Talk a little bit about the government in Ghana. How has it been dealing with things on the bureaucracy level?

I would say our event is doing a big service to Ghana. Afrochella has definitely given people an opportunity to visit Ghana. The government should support us in a way that makes gaining access to certain government facilities easier. But that has not been the case. We've had to be very proactive about that with regards to certain policies that may exist that are not written on an online forum. Like in America, if I wanted to do a special event in the park, I'd be able to go to an online source. I'd be able to see all the things that need to do in order to get a specific permit for a specific venue. In Ghana, these things don't exist.

For instance, this year we received an email from some agency. Out of all of the years, we've never communicated with them and in the third year, they're reaching out to us about musician copyrights and, apparently, we have to pay a tax. Those are the kinds of things that we've faced. You can end up paying people that are not actually supposed to get paid. And there's no way of you knowing whether or not it exists or doesn't exist. 

Last year, we had a very weird incident four days before the festival. We were told by the Ministry of Aviation that our stadium is right by the takeoff of the planes leaving Accra. I would think that the venue that we're renting out for this festival would be able to let us know, “hey, you need to do this with the Ministry of Aviation,”— they did not. The day before Christmas, we got a notification that we have to change venues because they feel our lights will interfere with flights taking off. It's, of course, an accident. So, we reached out to the Ministry of Aviation, sat down with the director and devised a plan in order to allow our event to continue. Those are the kinds of things we faced as an event that we are still trying to navigate. Hopefully, as we grow, it will get easier.

Do you think it'll get easier when some type of infrastructure is built to help those types of events move more smoothly?

I think that Ghana is going to have to look itself in the mirror. We all don't know what to expect in December. Because there are a lot of people going to Ghana in December, the anticipation is very high. All the major hotels in Accra are sold out. How Accra responds to the influx of people I think should inform the government on how they should prepare for events and things like this for the future. I do hope that there is an effort created to streamline policies. 

I would like for the government to encourage events. I think events is one of the major drivers of tourism. And if they're paying attention, they will notice that a lot of people are coming to Accra for Afrochella and the events that exist during that last week of Christmas. The double mission is to take a deeper look at this creative industry and figure out a way to encourage that positively in a way that it affects both the people on the ground and the people within the diaspora. 

The government has not been welcoming this with open arms or does it not have any type of structured initiative to help this run smoothly?

I'm not saying that. I just feel like in general, we do not know what changes in infrastructure or policy being made to accommodate the amount of people that are coming in. For instance, with Afrochella we understand that because there's going to be so many people—there was an excessive amount of traffic coming into the stadium last year—that we need to figure out a way to get people to the festival in shuttles. If we can get people that are shuttles, then we could reduce the amount of cars. We reached out to the Ministry of Roads to help us so we can avoid traffic in front of the stadium and that we can make sure that there's a safe way for people to enter. This is some of the planning that we have done. Until now, I personally have not seen any information come out, access [to] policies that exist. 

One of the major complaints that people from the diaspora face when they go to Africa during Christmas time is we feel that we should be having the same sort of customer service that we enjoy abroad. With the influx of people, I think that it's going to get worse.

We just wanna make sure that infrastructure exists to make sure that people that are coming do not disrupt the way of life in Accra.

There are a lot of other events happening around the same time as Afrochella. What is the concerted effort to kind of stand out from the rest?

Our goal is to highlight the thriving millennial talent from within the continent. So we take pride in making sure that we're highlighting people within various industries of food, fashion, music. With our Afrochella Talk series, we’ve been able to highlight people that have been doing amazing things within the creative industry. In December, we'll be doing one on music. And this is an opportunity to be able to educate people on opportunities that may exist within their field or create a platform for people to be able to discuss questions they may have. 

We're also involved heavily in charity. Last year, we supported Water Aid to help provide clean water to families in need. The year before that, we gave out school supplies to kids within Madina Zongo. This year, we're doing charity twofold. We're rebuilding an orphanage school, in Jamestown, Accra and also providing them with school supplies. We call this initiative Afrochella Reads]. We’re also doing Afrochella Feeds on December 26th. 

Our goal when we bring people to Ghana is not just to come and turn up, not just to have a good time, but also to give them a feel of the vibration of the country, what the culture is.For us, it's a holistic approach.

What does the full festival entail?

The festival itself is art, music, food, fashion and all of that culminates in our eyes what culture is. We believe that each part of these is equally as important. Not one part is more important than the other and that we should celebrate them together. In addition to people getting to go to our festival, we also give them the opportunity to be able to engage with the country through our tours, through our charity. The tours and the charity that we do is to make people understand that yes, Africa is a good time— you can go to all the clubs— but we want to make sure you leave and provide an impact at the same time. 

Talk a little bit about the Audiomack rising star challenge and that effort to kind of curate the connection with music and culture.

With the rise of afropop music in America, I feel these artists deserve a chance. Right now, the popular, mainstream artists are the ones that are getting the looks they deserve. But I think that there are a lot of talents that exist from the continent that deserve to showcase their talent.

The other aspect of it is, I feel that people in the continent are using all of these apps and all of these different services and they hardly get to connect with representatives from those services. One of our goals is to make sure that we partner with these companies and give them the opportunity to invest in the talent directly. With Audiomack, we're doing exactly that in that we're giving seven individuals an opportunity to perform at Afrochella. And the one with the most streams, we’re giving them $1,000 towards their career and we’re giving them an opportunity to for a studio session at our partners BBnZ Live. This is one model of the type of partnerships we want to, we look to create with companies in the future. 

Why is this year in particular so important for the reconnection of the diaspora in the context of the 400-year anniversary?

A lot of the conversation between the diaspora and the people from the continent is what makes us different, why we don't get along. What we want to do as a festival is take that conversation and change it into what can we learn from each other and how can we help each other. I think that it's very important that as you see the Chinese and the Japanese and the Americans and everyone reaching for Africa, that we engage the people in the diaspora to make them understand that there are opportunities that exist and there is amazing talent in Africa and they are interested in starting a business and you're interested in developing a space and you can engage with your counterparts on the continent and help build the continent yourself.

I think the more black people we get to invest in the continent, as a whole black will be helping each other. This year is absolutely important and I think that shoutout should go to Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana for declaring this year The Year of Return. Ghana is definitely a good site that people can visit, but we hope that as people enjoy themselves and have that experience that they use that as a platform to visit other African countries and see what opportunities are there for them to be able to leave a lasting impact on the continent.

This interview was lightly edited for clarity.

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Nick Rice

The 25 Best Latinx Albums Of 2019

As we inch closer to the end of another memorable chapter in music, the Spanish-language gap gets bigger by the day. To anyone who believed reggaeton's second coming or Latin trap was a trend were gravely mistaken as artists across the diaspora found success on the charts and in the streaming world. Artists like Bad Bunny, Rosalía and J Balvin continued to thrive off last year's releases while dropping memorable singles (and joint projects). Others like Sech broke the mold for the marriage of hip-hop and reggaeton with Panamanian pride. Legends like Mark Anthony and Ivy Queen reminded us of their magic while rising artists like Rico Nasty, DaniLeigh and Melii provided major star power and creative visuals for their tunes. Latinx music has continued to push boundaries and the same goes for our list.

Enjoy our ranking of the 25 best Latinx albums of 2019.

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Pictured (L-R): WurlD and Sarz
Courtesy of Management

Meet Sarz and WurlD: The Nigerian Producer-Singer Powerhouse Showing Africa’s Sonic Range

There’s a slow infiltration of sultry, soulful, lo-fi music in afrobeats—and the latest from Nigerian producer Sarz and his fellow countryman and singer-songwriter, WurlD, is just a taste of how the scene is evolving. Before landing at No. 1 on Nigeria’s iTunes Albums Chart, I Love Girls With Trobul was a long time coming. Backed by Sarz’ fresh instrumentals, WurlD flexes his songwriting chops to talk about all things love and lust in this eight-track EP. The project is a cohesive narrative of the ups and downs people face when grappling with relationships.

On the origin story of how this project came to be, the duo notes that a mutual friend of theirs made the initial connection for them to explore working together. Sarz, born Osaretin Osabuohien, then sent over a few beats, with WurlD delivering with 2018’s “Trobul” in less than 24 hours. Sarz says he was so in love with the song that this collaboration needed to go beyond one track. They both describe the foundation of the EP as “seamless,” and for WurlD, this was one of the few times he made a decision to work on a project with someone without overthinking it. It just felt right.

I Love Girls With Trobul is the duo’s take on balance while pushing the culture forward. WurlD comes with his relatable, minimal lyrics (he’s also worked with the likes of BOB, Trinidad James, Mario, Walshy Fire and more during his time in Atlanta) while Sarz (a chart-topping producer who’s had Niniola and Wizkid grace his beats) delivers trendsetting instrumentals. There’s a song on I Love Girls With Trobul for everybody—for those on the continent and in the diaspora alike.

“Mad” is the newest music video to drop from the EP. A continuation of the storyline that the collaborators showed us in their previous single “Ego: Nobody Wins,” we take a look at the dysfunctional insecurities of a relationship between WurlD, born Sadiq Onifade, and his love interest (played by Bolu Aduke Kanmi). The relatability of the visual and the song will surely get you in your feelings.

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VIBE: Sarz, what kind of sonic journey did you intend to take listeners through in this EP?

Sarz: I was trying to make something that suits WurlD’s sound, makes him comfortable enough to express himself, and also isn’t alien to the afrobeats space. I was also trying to push the narrative with the sound because that’s what I’m known for. I’ve always been that producer in Nigeria that doesn’t really follow trends and does stuff that other producers use as a template to make music. This is just one of those projects where it doesn’t sound like anything else in the afrobeats space right now. This time next year, you’ll hear so many songs that sound like songs off this project.

How would you describe the creative process of working with each other?

WurlD: We had to trust each other—I was very open. It was all about both of us meeting in the middle. There were times where Sarz would advise me to tweak the conversation in my lyrics. Another thing we focused on was bringing Africa along as much as possible. He’s Nigeria at its core. I learned how to create music in America, though I was born in Nigeria—so I know the culture. I lived there until I was a teenager. We understood each other and I was open to the idea; we were both determined to do whatever we needed to do to make the best project. One of our biggest challenges making this was that we were both in different places throughout the process, so the ongoing support we got from “Trobul” kept us alive. We recorded the first series of songs in L.A., the body of it in Atlanta and we then finished it in Lagos earlier this year.

Sarz: We had to go back and forth with ideas because his musical background and experiences are different than mine. There were certain songs that we had to go back and forth with to make it more relatable and right for the project.

Why is a project like I Love Girls With Trobul needed in the popular African music scene now?

Sarz: From my end, I feel like when you’re genuine with your art and speaking your truth, people will always gravitate to that—because there’s someone out there that feels the same way you feel. I don’t know who’s out there who feels the same way, but judging from the reviews and feedback we’ve been getting, there are so many people that we’re touching right now with this.

WurlD: I like the idea of collaboration. I wanted to shine a light on the importance of collaborating with producers. Living in the States for so many years, I saw this happen every day. I noticed how there are different ways to collaborate and how in general there’s not a lot of love for producers. I hope this inspires other producers to put more value in themselves.

Wurld, what inspired you to be so vulnerable with the stories you share in the EP?

WurlD: I feel like when I’m creating music is when I’m the most vulnerable. Music is communication—people go through things. I like the idea of empowering people through words where a sad song can actually lift you up. If it’s done in a happy space, you don’t feel so sad after all. I can’t really explain how I balance that but it’s a free, caring space. I care about the listener. I understand how difficult it is to empower yourself through a heartbreak. It’s being vulnerable, but it’s to be free and accept a loss. I understand the need for people to feel empowered to get up and keep going, so that makes it easy for me to tap into my vulnerability and to keep the audience lifted.

Sarz, what inspired you to conjure a sinister, dark sound with “Mad”?

Sarz: There’s nothing like that in the African space right now. That was the last record we made, and I felt like the project needed a little edge. After working on a few records, “Mad” was the standout one. We just knew this is what we’ve been looking for—it was just me trying to make a global soundtrack. I feel like anyone, anywhere in the world can relate to “Mad,” even though it’s afrobeats.

Walk me through its music video. What should viewers keep in mind while watching?

WurlD: We wanted to stay close to the conversation of the song. And “Mad” goes through different emotions with an afro-dance element. The key part in the record is how I’m dealing with my issues and I’m dealing with yours, but at the end of the day we get mad and we’ll make up. This is an everyday situation. We fight, we come together. And we wanted to highlight that in the video. With “Ego,” we were disconnected. With “Mad,” we give it a try when you break up to make up. The making up part is not easy, so there’s a lot of highlighting the highs and lows of those emotions to get past what made you mad. The dance elements highlight African culture and we wanted to keep it simple, stylish and straight to the point.

Sarz: With this project, we were really just trying to do things how we feel. And the project itself sounds like a story from the first song to the last. We wanted to try and keep that visually and interpret it as much as possible so people understand that journey with the visual.

What’s next from the project?

WurlD: I feel like this project we created is the first of its kind coming out of this region in Africa. We hope to inspire and show the rest of the world the necessity of range. Africa is not just one thing, and there’s so much more that we have to offer. We’re planning on doing more visuals because we feel strongly that these records deserve A1 narratives and visuals that push the culture forward and shines a light on African art.

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