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In a beautiful homage to Africa, Tuma Basa, the Director of Urban Music at Youtube, sat down for a thought-provoking and encouraging conversation with Nigerian-American music artist Jidenna about Afrobeat, and the acceptance of the genre in mainstream music, at the REVOLT Summit in Atlanta earlier in September.
Basa opened the conversation by highlighting to the audience that it was “culturally the most important panel” of the weekend and that the panel would serve more like a transparent dialogue between two African brothers. Similar to Jidenna, Basa and his family came to America at the age of 5 from the Republic of Congo, formerly known as Zaire.
Raised in the southeastern region of Nigeria until he was six years old, Jidenna credits growing up in cities like Boston and Brooklyn for molding his mind to focus on the diaspora of Africa. He expressed that having African-American, Caribbean-American, and first-generation Africans for neighbors truly helped him understand his experience as a black man in America. “My mind state was always like a diaspora African. I always felt like I equally parted all three and definitely as somebody that’s a first-generation African, I also know that we are simultaneously African-Americans.” Jidenna described.
As the two discussed their journeys in the music industry by way of African culture, Jidenna also praised Basa and declared him an ambassador for the culture. “What Tuma’s saying is he’s been the cultural ambassador for all of us from back in the day to nowadays with streaming,” the “Insecure” actor expressed. Basa has been a skilled director for programming hip hop music on many of our favorite platforms, including his tenure with REVOLT TV as the VP of Music Programming.
As streaming has developed over the last ten years and hip hop music continues to evolve, it is no secret that Afrobeat and similarly influential genres have been more accepted in our culture. Basa and Jidenna dive into the affects of Afrophobia over the past ten years and why it is so important to preserve this music right along with other black music genres. “We called this panel ‘Africa Got Something to Say’ because ‘the south got something to say’ is a very famous speech by Andre 3000. And at the time, the south was not getting the airplay opportunities, the retail distribution opportunities that east coast and west coast was, and it’s a very similar thing to an entire continent and diaspora,” Basa expressed.
Did you know that just ten years ago, the industry was not so accepting of Afrobeat? Hard to believe when one of the hottest songs of the summer, Afro B’s “Joanna” hit the Billboard “Emerging R&B & Hip-Hop Artist” charts. “Ten years ago, it wasn’t okay to create music with African riddims with African culture; speaking like in Nigeria, West Africa and Ghana we have pigeon English. We’ve evolved as a culture because of the internet and social media,” Jidenna echoed.
The acceptance of this cultural phenom is not new. The singer also discussed that many Afrobeat artists are heavily influenced by pioneers like Fela Kuti, Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba, who also once achieved global fame. “By redefining what we consider our music — and when I say redefining, I mean expanding —[it] is not having Afrophobia, Tuma expressed.
As the panel culminated by taking questions from the crowd, there was certainly a sense of pride and purpose within the room. As Jidenna and Basa continued to share their stories and share their continuous goals, the feedback from the audience turned into a mentorship most audience members will remember for a while. Just as Basa mentioned in the beginning, it was certainly, “Culturally the most important panel” of the weekend.