“I love this song and I don’t understand one thing he said.”
The above is a comment written underneath the YouTube video to Davido’s 2013 hit Skelewu, but it could easily have been appended to any online clip in support of the Nigerian afrobeats star’s singles over the past four years. It seems it’s one of genre’s biggest built-in advantages: you don’t have to be fluent in Yoruba or speak pidgin or even the Queen’s English to get into the groove – just let the cross rhythms and electronic effects wash over you and then head for the nearest dancefloor.
In a tiny, windowless room [described overenthusiastically by the doorplate as a ‘Business Centre’] within the bowels of a trendily barely-lit central London hotel, I sit opposite perhaps the biggest current star in African popular music. David Adedeji Adeleke, better known as Davido, could very likely still walk into the nearby McDonald’s and order himself a burger without hindrance, but back home in Lagos he’d be mobbed as soon as he’d set one foot in sunlight. He really is that hot…
Go major or stay indie? It’s a question that’s felt further nuanced every time it’s been asked of a new artist in these ever-changing, post-internet days of the music biz. The desire for artistic freedom and, in the end, to keep more of whatever profit you are able to make, set against having the clout to bring your music to the masses, to create sufficient interest in your best artistic endeavours and build a career. [And lately, how will exclusive deals on streaming affect those chances?]
Currently, in the UK, we’re in a place where Laura Mvula and Corinne Bailey Rae are happily established on major labels and accepted as British black artists who don’t always make soul music. Young acts like Samm Henshaw, Joe Fox and Michael Kiwanuka are also contracted to major labels and getting to mingle a natural penchant for soul music with their other interests. This is progress. On the other hand, there’s still a tendency for those same majors to reach for Adele, Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith when they’re looking for that crossover ‘soul’ Grammy winner.
Why bring this up here? Well, because in my opinion, Myles Sanko really deserves the support of a major label…
If Prince had a fault, it was that in his – albeit well-intentioned – constant quest to discover, produce and mould young female talent, his mark would often leave a career-long brand – the poisoned chalice of being a ‘Prince Protégée’, equivalent to getting a gig on EastEnders and subsequently typecast for eternity. However, with Chicago based indie soulstress Eryn Allen Kane, the virtuoso genius employed a different approach to his usual M.O.
Sure, upon hearing the a cappella Have Mercy he may have acted instinctively, summoning Eryn to his Paisley crib to come and lace the track Baltimore with backing vocals – a disarmingly buoyant protest song made in the wake of Freddie Gray’s murder by police – but his desire to work with her seemed fuelled by a wish to have her talent bless his record, rather than the other way around.
“I need your soul!” he declared, instigating a tragically brief mentorship that had the 57-year-old legend tell the 26-year-young starlet, “You’re the voice of your generation.”
Following the release of Kane’s frankly breathtaking first two soul music EPs – Aviary: Act I [Nov ’15] and Act II [Feb ’16] – Prince, the leading voice of his generation, is not alone in feeling there’s something a bit special about Ms. Kane.
Sean Paul is the biggest selling and most high profile Jamaican artist since Bob Marley, and he’s just signed a deal with Island Records UK, whose president Darcus Beese called him, “a cultural icon,” and told billboard.com, “I don’t think there’s anything more potent or authentic than Island Records sitting down with a reggae artiste of his calibre and having a conversation about signing them. It’s absolutely a natural fit.”
Label founder Chris Blackwell sold his interests in the label many years ago but there’s still a certain amount of symbolism involved in all of this. It means that Island is now a major player in the reggae and dancehall stakes once more, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens now a readymade superstar has joined their roster.
We spoke just after Sean had played Bestival, and the day before he was due to perform at Camden’s Electric Ballroom. Both shows received rave reviews. The media have once more rolled out the red carpet, but then why wouldn’t they? His and Sia’s Cheap Thrills went to No. 1 on the Billboard 100 last year – it was the fourth time he’d done that – whilst Trumpets, shared with Sak Noel & Salvi, was a massive club hit, just like that remix of Luv by Tory Lanez. Magic invited him aboard the follow-up single to their smash hit Rude, and he even popped up on a Little Mix track [Hair]. More to the point, Sean Paul is the world’s best-known dancehall artist, and godfather to both reggaeton and ‘tropical house’. His success played a key role in helping to establish dancehall at the heart of international club culture, and yet he remains refreshingly down-to-earth for a two-time Grammy winner.
“Island had a very good deal for me,” he begins. “They’re giving me a lot of creative space and that’s something I’m so appreciative of… ”