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Friday, June 21, 2024

African Music to the World

WorldAfrican Music to the World

This week, The Times published a profile of Tems, a 28-year-old Nigerian singer-songwriter who, in recent years, has: become the first African artist to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, appeared on the Beyoncé album “Renaissance” and earned an Oscar nomination for co-writing “Lift Me Up” for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” She will release her debut album next month.

To me, Tems’s music — which straddles R&B and Afrobeats — has an honesty: Her tone is earthy and her lyrics are direct, often set to production that isn’t particularly ornate. Her hooks, though, are the killer; they are seemingly crafted to be hummed around the house or screamed over speakers. These elements come together to vividly capture a feeling — whether it be heartbreak (“Damages”), defiance (“Crazy Tings”) or piety (“Me & U”).

It was unsurprising, then, to learn about her vibes-based songwriting process from the piece. “I just have a sensation, I have signals,” she told the Times reporter Reggie Ugwu. “You’re just the vessel, it’s just coming out of your mouth.”

Tems is one of several artists from nations in Africa who have crossed into the Western mainstream. Burna Boy sold out Citi Field in New York last year; in February, the inaugural Grammy for Best African Music Performance went to the South African singer Tyla for “Water.” And Western artists — including Beyoncé, Drake, Usher, Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez — have featured African artists in their music or appeared on remixes of already-popular songs.

Last year, for Old World, Young Africa, a Times project about Africa’s youth population boom, I spoke with the Nigerian artist Mr Eazi. He told me that one benefit of the growing popularity of music from Africa was that Africans had been able to wrest some control over narratives about their continent. “People are discovering Africa first, not through the lens of CNN or The New York Times,” he said, but “through the lens of the music.”

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