meta-scriptAngélique Kidjo On The Staggering Diversity Of African Musical Styles, Collaborating With Burna Boy & Yo-Yo Ma And Elevating Her Continent On The World Stage | GRAMMY.com
2022 GRAMMY nominee and Burna Boy collaborator Angelique Kidjo posing for a photo
Angélique Kidjo

Photo: Fabrice Mabillot

interview

Angélique Kidjo On The Staggering Diversity Of African Musical Styles, Collaborating With Burna Boy & Yo-Yo Ma And Elevating Her Continent On The World Stage

Ahead of the 2022 GRAMMY Awards on April 3, Beninese singer/songwriter Angélique Kidjo discusses her triage of GRAMMY nominations, working with Burna Boy and Yo-Yo Ma, and how the Recording Academy is coming to grips with the intricacy of "global music."

GRAMMYs/Mar 29, 2022 - 08:33 pm

Consider this next time you get bored or think there's nothing to listen to: You could spend lifetimes upon lifetimes communing with Africa's extraordinary range of musical styles and never reach the bottom. Even the word "African" sometimes fails as a summarizing agent, says the Beninese singer/songwriter Angélique Kidjo.

"Our continent is huge. From one place to another, the language changes; the rhythm changes," the four-time GRAMMY winner and 12-time nominee tells GRAMMY.com. "The way the rhythm is danced and the way it's sung and carried is different. Even in my small country of 12 million people, man!"

Despite this boundless range of forms — and the recent proliferation of Afrobeats around the globe — try asking the average American who their five favorite African musicians are. You might be dismayed. But in narrowing this cultural gap, Afrobeats takes on added utility — Kidjo refers to it not only as a standalone style, but as a "vehicle" for traditional rhythms and melodies.

"If you take any music from any part of Africa and put it in Afrobeats, it gives you a different flavor of Afrobeats," Kidjo says. "Because you have the pulse of Afrobeats in it, you can consume and discover music from north to south, east to west, and central Africa in a way that we haven't [before]."

For those interested in establishing a foothold in this musical multiverse, Kidjo is something of a hub for emerging talent; her ability to inhabit any style she wishes makes her an excellent jumping-off point for exploring the breadth of African sounds. Just look at the range of contexts that garnered her GRAMMY nominations at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards.

In the Best Global Music Album category, her multifarious album Mother Nature got a nod. And in Best Global Music Performance, she's got collaborations with Afrobeats hero Burna Boy ("Do Yourself") and household-name cellist Yo-Yo Ma ("Blewu"). What's her attitude toward these global accolades? Kidjo feels magnanimity toward everyone nominated — and a desire to see her musical community elevated on the world stage.

Read More: Yo-Yo Ma On His Lifelong Friendships, Music's Connection To Nature & His New Audible Original Beginner's Mind

"Whoever wins, I will be happy to celebrate with the person. It's not about my win or your win. It's about my company winning in a way that has never been done before," she says. "And it's opening a new era. It's a new chapter in the Recording Academy and the world of music today."

Ahead of the 2022 GRAMMY Awards on April 3, GRAMMY.com gave Kidjo a ring on Whatsapp to discuss her GRAMMY-nominated collaborations, how Mother Nature came to be and why she believes the Recording Academy is coming to grips with the unbelievable complexity of "global music."

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Congratulations on three GRAMMY nominations. How are you feeling?

It is important for me to see the Global Music category opened up to my continent more. This Mother Nature nomination is really an honor and a pleasure. To see Wizkid, Femi and his son — it's been a long wait to see the continent of Africa forecast. I'm humbled and honored to be nominated three times.

How did you first cross paths with Burna Boy?

The first time we spoke, it was when he was doing his [2019] album African Giant. He was in London; I don't know [how] his mother got my number.

I received a call from someone who said, "Burna Boy's going to call you." I said "Me? OK!" And then he called, and he said "I can't believe I'm speaking to you.' I said, "Believe it. Everything happens for a reason, and I'm just a human being like anybody else, so let's speak." He said, "I would be really honored to have you on my album — on my song, 'Different,' with [Damian Marley]."

So, I said, "Oh, send the song! What do you want me to do?" He said, "Whatever you want." That's how our collaboration started — with that song, "Different." Now and then, I'd speak to his mother and him. I met him for the first time at the GRAMMYs in Los Angeles. I went to see him and had a conversation. I said to him, "The GRAMMYs are like any award — you don't know what's going to happen. If we know, it wouldn't be a GRAMMY anymore."

[I encouraged] him to keep on working — it would come with time. Meaning, my first nomination came in 1995. After that, many years passed before I would get nominated. I didn't win all the time, and that's the thing — being nominated means that your work has been acknowledged by the business and your fellow musicians. Nominations are as important as winning in the GRAMMYs.

How did this attitude manifest in your recent work and subsequent GRAMMY nominations?

Mother Nature happened during the confinement — the lockdown. I had started [that album] in 2019. And it became obvious with the virus that our world was going to change. And if you want to talk about the world we live in, we have to give a platform to the youth for us to listen to them.

We don't listen to the youth enough. When you give them the opportunity to speak, they come up with things that are amazing that we underestimate.

So, that's how it started. Burna sent [me a song] in the evening in the studio, making me listen to it through WhatsApp Video. I said, "This is torture! Send that damn song, boy!" [Laughs.] And then he sent the song right before I went to bed. I was like "Ah, man!" The next morning, we started working on it.

It was absolutely amazing to see how we worked together because he sent me all the files and everything. I was being very respectful of his song, and then he sent me one of my voice that I did. He said, "I like it, but I want more of you!" I said "OK," did another one, sent it to him, and he said, "I still want more of you!"

I put in more of my voice, layered the voice, and did more stuff — call-and-answer. When I sent it to him, I was saying to myself, "He's going to cut some stuff out." No — he sent me it uncut. And that's how we started.

You're nominated for GRAMMYs alongside Arooj Aftab, Femi Kuti, Wizkid, Rocky Dawuni and Daniel Ho. Anyone you're rooting for in particular?

All of those people you named are worthy of the GRAMMY. That's what I have to say. They are masters in their own rights, in their own music. So it happens that we are in the same category together because their craft got the attention of everybody. You don't get there just because it's pretty. It's because your music has significance.

Read More: Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Arooj Aftab On Her Latest Album Vulture Prince, The Multiplicity Of Pakistani Musics And Why We Should Listen With Nuance & Care

I can tell it's far less of a competition to you than an opportunity to uplift a global community of musicians.

Yeah, that's it. That's what I've said from the beginning: open up your ears. Africa has so much surprise in store for you. That continent — we can't see the bottom of it. Even us Africans can't see the bottom of it! Much less the rest of the world.

With all the strides made to bring African music to a wider audience, I imagine we have a long way to go. One could spend lifetimes poring over the cultural heritages of various African countries.

**Even for us, "African" is a challenge. Our continent is huge. From one place to another, the language changes; the rhythm changes. The way the rhythm is danced and the way it's sung and carried is different. Even in my small country of 12 million people, man!**

I come from the south part of Benin, and every time I go from one village to the other — my husband is French, and he goes, "Do you speak the language?" I say "Yes, I understand this language." And sometimes I go, "No, I don't." He's like, "It's your country!" I'm like, "Yeah! Every village has their own music — their own language." I can only speak four major languages out of Benin.

And the music is like that. It never stops! Every time, you go "I didn't know this instrument can sound like this!" It's crazy!

How can we continue to foster understanding and nuance in our appreciation of music from various African countries and regions?

I think the GRAMMYs are the best place to start. I've talked about and criticized the term "world music" for pretty much my whole career. I say, let's work on it. Let's bring many artists from Africa — and it's not just me and the Academy. We need to reach out to producers and new artists from Africa.

I think the Academy has, for the first time, a grip on the complexity of the music that's out there. Today, we have a vehicle, and it's Afrobeats. Because if you take any music from any part of Africa and put it in Afrobeats, it gives you a different flavor of Afrobeats.

The music that we do can make people say, "Oh, this language is different, or this aesthetic." But because you have the pulse of Afrobeats in it, you can consume and discover music from north to south, east to west, and central Africa in a way that we haven't [before]. The Afrobeats is underlining all those traditional rhythms.

I've been doing my career and living in France for many years, and they have the French GRAMMYs [Victoires de la Musique]. The GRAMMYs have opened to so many contemporaries in the world. It's not only the African continent; you have all the continents. Every artist is welcome at the GRAMMYs. If you're going to celebrate music, you have to celebrate it globally.

In your estimation, why is Afrobeats creating such a splash globally? To me, it's because it's more often than not very soothing and beautiful, which anybody can connect with.

It's just a matter of timing. In Afrobeat, you have blues; you have rock 'n' roll; you have funk. You have everything in there. That's why it speaks to people's ears here — because whatever music you like, you put Afrobeat on it and it speaks.

That's the greatness of Afrobeat, that Fela [Kuti] started playing a long time ago. Because Fela was a music lover. Beyond the music from Nigeria, he used to listen to all the [artists from] the R&B world. What was clear for him was that all of that had roots back in Africa. And Afrobeat is a conjunction of all that in the rhythm. That's why I say that in Afrobeat, there's no music that you can't do.

No matter which part of the continent they're from, what African artists are you enjoying lately?

I'm a curator for the Holland Festival, and I want to give a platform to women in rap in Africa. Let's face it: the music world is dominated by males. There are great, great female artists out there. I tell you, it's not easy when you're born a girl in Africa and want to do music. It's not easy at all!

I was lucky enough to have a supportive family. My father produced my first concert and did all kinds of stuff that allowed me to be who I am today. Many young girls in Africa don't have that. So, every opportunity I'm given to curate festivals and concerts, I always try to reach out to young women.

I have Sho Madjozi as a headliner. Tonight, I'm bringing a singer from Benin called Zeynab Abib — and other young girls from Senegal and Kenya. So, I try to open up roads and give people the chance to be known and start doing what they want to do with it.

Because I know how hard it is when you're in Africa and you want to be a musician. I can't even start talking to you about it!

What else have you got percolating, Angélique?

I did an album with a trumpet player from Lebanon called Ibrahim Maalouf. I performed with him recently at my Carnegie Hall show in November [2021]. And everybody was there — what the hell! He plays a quarter-tone trumpet. All the harmony will just take you to travel with what he's playing.

Also, I have a musical theatre work [Yamandja] with my daughter [Naïma] that we premiered at Mass MoCA at the beginning of March. We're going to do it also in Los Angeles on April 12, 13 and 14. And then we're going to go to UC Berkeley.

It is absolutely amazing — the story of the gods and goddesses of our religion. So, we go back in time, back and forth. The music is also pretty good, because we worked on it.

Anything you want to add before we get out of here?

I think that music can be the vehicle — more than ever today — for people to find meaning in this world. The song I did with Yo-Yo Ma, "Blewu," which is nominated, is the song I sang for the centennial of the First World War, in front of all the heads of state, including Putin.

That song's a song of peace, and it's relevant more than ever. Because we need peace. Even that day, when I was singing, I felt the division of the world between autocracy and democracy. When we believe in democracy, we can sit and say "I don't like this; I don't like that."

No one is perfect. The only thing that matters to me is how we protect our democracy. How do we perfect it? How do all of us together as citizens work with leaders for us to make sure that never again will our democracy be so much in danger?

That song, "Blewu," was the message that I wanted this world to understand. Our leaders, we put in power, but all we ask of them is to make sure that we have peace at any cost. So, music, for me, is the first and easiest thing that can penetrate and finally change things.

For The Record: How Wizkid Elevated Nigeria & Propelled The Ascent Of Afrobeats With His Star-Studded Album Made In Lagos

Usher Collaborator Pheelz Talks New EP
Pheelz

Photo: Williams Peters

interview

Meet Usher Collaborator Pheelz, The Nigerian Producer & Singer Who Wants You To 'Pheelz Good'

After working with Usher on two tracks for his latest album, 'Coming Home,' Lagos' Pheelz is looking inward. His new EP, 'Pheelz Good II' drops May 10 and promises to be an embrace of the artist's unabashed self.

GRAMMYs/May 9, 2024 - 01:15 pm

If you were online during the summer of 2022, chances are you’ve heard Pheelz’s viral hit single "Finesse." The swanky Afro-fusion track (featuring fellow Nigerian artist Bnxn) ushered in a world of crossover success for Pheelz, who began his career as a producer for the likes of Omah Lay, Davido, and Fireboy DML.

Born Phillip Kayode Moses, Pheelz’s religious upbringing in Lagos state contributed to his development as a musician. He manned the choir at his father’s church while actively working on his solo music. Those solo efforts garnered praise from his peers and music executives, culminating in Pheelz's debut EP in 2021. Hear Me Out saw Pheelz fully embrace his talent as a vocalist, songwriter, and producer. 

"I feel important, like I’m just molding clay, and I have control over each decision," Pheelz tells GRAMMY.com about creating his own music. 

2022 saw the release of the first two tapes in his Pheelz Good trilogy: Pheelz Good I and Pheelz Good (Triibe Tape), which was almost entirely self-produced. The 29-year-old's consistency has paid off: he produced and sang on Usher’s "Ruin," the lead single from his latest album Coming Home, and also produced the album's title track featuring Burna Boy. But Pheelz isn't only about racking up big-name collaborators; the self-proclaimed African rockstar's forthcoming projects will center on profound vulnerability and interpersonal honesty. First up: Pheelz Good II EP, out May 10, followed by a studio album in late summer.

Both releases will see the multi-hyphenate "being unapologetically myself," Pheelz tells GRAMMY.com. "It will also be me being as vulnerable as I can be. And it’s going to be me embracing my "crayge" [crazy rage]...being myself, and allowing my people to gravitate towards me."

Ahead of his new project, Pheelz spoke with GRAMMY.com about his transition from producer artist, designing all his own 3D cover art, his rockstar aesthetic, and what listeners can expect from Pheelz Good II.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

What sparked your transition from singing in church to realizing your passion for creating music?

For me, it wasn’t really a transition. I just always loved making music so for me I felt like it was just wherever I go to make music, that’s where I wanna be. I would be in church and I was the choirmaster at some point in my life, so I would write songs for Sunday service as well. And then I would go to school as well and write in school, and people heard me and they would love it. And I would want to do more of that as well. 

A friend of my dad played some of my records for the biggest producers in Nigeria back then and took me on as an intern in his studio. I guess that’s the transition from church music into the industry. My brothers and sisters were in the choir, but that came with the job of being the children of the pastor, I guess. None of them really did music like me; I’m the only one who took music as a career and pursued it.

You made a name for yourself as a producer before ever releasing your music, earning Producer Of The Year at Nigeria’s Headies Awards numerous times. What finally pushed you to get into the booth?

I’ve always wanted to get into the booth. The reason why I actually started producing was to produce beats for songs that I had written. I’ve always been in the booth, but always had something holding me back. Like a kind of subconscious feeling over what my childhood has been. I wasn’t really outspoken as a child growing up, so I wouldn’t want people to really hear me and would shy away from the camera in a sense. I think that stuck with me and held me back. 

But then COVID happened and then I caught COVID and I’m like Oh my god and like that [snaps fingers] What I am doing? Why am I not going full steam? Like why do I have all this amazing awesomeness inside of me and no one gets to it because I’m scared of this or that?

There was this phrase that kept ringing in my head: You have to die empty. You can’t leave this earth with all of this gift that God has given you; you have to make sure you empty yourself. And since then, it’s just been back-to-back, which just gave me the courage.  

How did you react to " Finesse" in former President Barack Obama’s annual summer playlist in 2022?

Bro, I reacted crazy but my dad went bananas. [Laughs.] I was really grateful for that moment, but just watching my dad react like that to that experience was the highlight of that moment for me. He's such a fan of Barack Obama and to see that his son’s music is on the playlist, it just made his whole month. Literally. He still talks about it to this day. 

Experiences like that just make me feel very grateful to be here. Life has really been a movie, just watching a movie and just watching God work and being grateful for everything.

At first he [my dad] [didn’t support my career] because every parent wants their child to be a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer. But when he saw the hunger [I have], and I was stubborn with [wanting] to do music, he just had to let me do it. And now he’s my number one fan. 

Your latest single, "Go Low" arrived just in time for festival season. What was it like exploring the live elements of your art at SXSW and your headlining show in London at the end of April?

I have always wanted to perform live. I’ve always loved performing; Pheelz on stage is the best Pheelz. Coming from church every Sunday, I would perform, lead prayers and worship, so I’ve always wanted to experience that again.

Having to perform live with my band around the world is incredible man. And I’ll forever raise the flag of amazing Afro live music because there’s a difference, you know? [Laughs.] There are so many elements and so many rhythms and so many grooves

I’ve noticed that much of your recent cover art for your singles and EPs is animated or digitally crafted. What’s the significance, if any, of this stylistic choice?

It still goes back to my childhood because I wasn’t expressive as a child; I wouldn’t really talk or say how I felt. I’d rather write about it, write a song about it, write a poem about it, or draw about it. I’d draw this mask and then put how I’m feeling into that character, so if I was angry, the mask would be raging and just angry.

The angry ones were the best ones, so that stuck with me even after I started coming out of my shell and talking and being expressive; that act of drawing a mask still stuck with me. And then I got into 3D, and I made a 3D version of the mask and I made a 3D character of the mask. So I made that the main character, and then I just started making my lyric videos, again post-COVID, and making them [lyric videos] to the characters and making the actual video mine as well.

In the future, I’m gonna get into fashion with the characters, I’m gonna get into animation and cartoons and video games, but I just wanna take it one step at a time with the music first. So, in all of my lyric videos, you get to experience the characters. There’s a fight [scene] among them in one of the lyric videos called "Ewele"; there is the lover boy in the lyric video for "Stand by You"; there are the bad boys in the lyric video for "Balling." They all have their own different characters so hopefully in the near future, I will get to make a feature film with them and just tell their story [and] build a world with them. I make sure I put extra energy into that, make most of them myself so the imprint of my energy is gonna be on it as well because it’s very important to me.

You and Usher have a lengthy working relationship. You first performed together in 2022 at the Global Citizen Festival, then produced/co-wrote "Coming Home" and "Ruin." Take us through the journey of how you two began collaborating.

It started through a meeting with [Epic Records CEO] L.A. Reid; he was telling me about the album that they were working on for Usher and I’m like, "Get me into the studio and lemme see what I can cook up." And they got me into the studio, [with Warner Records A&R] Marc Byers, and I wrote and produced "Coming Home." I already had "Ruin" a year before that. 

["Ruin"] was inspired by a breakup I just went through. Some of the greatest art comes from pain, I guess. That record was gonna be for my album but after I came home I saw how L.A. Reid and Usher reacted and how they loved it. I told them, "I have this other song, and I think you guys would like it for this album." And I played "Ruin," and the rest was history.

Before your upcoming EP, you’ve worked with Pharrell Williams, Kail Uchis, and the Chainsmokers in the studio. What do you consider when selecting potential collaborators?

To be honest, I did not look for these collabs. It was like life just brought them my way, because for me I’m open to any experience. I’m open to life; I do it the best I can at any moment, you understand? 

Having worked with Pharrell now, Dr. Dre, Timbaland, and the Chainsmokers, I’m still shocked at the fact that this is happening. But ultimately, I am grateful for the fact that this is happening. I am proud of myself as well for how far I’ve come. Someone like Timbaland — they are literally the reason why I started producing music; I would literally copy their beats, and try to sound like them growing up. 

[Now] I have them in the same room talking, and we’re teaching and learning, making music and feeding off of each others’ energy. It’s a dream come true, literally.

What's it like working with am electro-pop group like the Chainsmokers? How’d you keep your musical authenticity on "PTSD"?

That experiment ["PTSD"] was actually something I would play with back home. But the crazy thing is, it’s gonna be on the album now, not the EP. I would play it back home, like just trying to get the EDM and Afrohouse world to connect, cause I get in my Albert Einstein bag sometimes and just try and experiment. So when I met the Chainsmokers and like. "Okay, this is an opportunity to actually do it now," and we had a very lengthy conversation. 

We bonded first as friends before we went into the studio. We had an amazing conversation talking about music, [them] talking about pop and electronic music, and me talking about African music. So it was just a bunch of producers geeking out on what they love to do. And then we just talk through how we think the sound would be like really technical terms. Then we get into the studio and just bang it out. Hopefully, we get to make some more music because I think we can create something for the world together.

I’ve noticed you dress a bit eccentrically. Have you always had this aesthetic?

I’ve always dabbled in fashion. Even growing up, I would sketch for my sister and make this little clothing, so like I would kick up my uniform as well, make it baggy, make it flare pants, make it fly. 

I think that stuck with me until now, trying different things with fashion. And now I have like stylists I can talk to and throw ideas off of and create something together. So yeah, I want to get into the fashion space and see what the world has in store for me. 

What can fans expect as you’re putting the finishing touches on your upcoming EP Pheelz Good II and your album?

Pheelz Good II, [will be] a close to the Pheelz Good trilogy of Pheelz Good I, Pheelz Good Triibe Tape and Pheelz Good II. The album is going to be me being unapologetically myself still. But it will also be me being as vulnerable as I can be. 

It’s going to be me embracing my crayge [crazy rage]. Like just embracing me unapologetically and being me, being myself, and allowing my people to gravitate towards me, you get me. But I’m working on some really amazing music that I am so proud of. I’m so proud of the EP and the album.

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Chike
Chike

Photo: Courtesy of Michael Jason Lloyd

video

Global Spin: Watch Chike Light Up The Stage With A Technicolor Performance Of “Egwu”

Nigerian Afrobeats singer Chike celebrates the joy that music brings to the spirit in this electrifying performance of his latest single, “Egwu.”

GRAMMYs/Apr 17, 2024 - 10:53 pm

Nigerian Afrobeats singer Chike recognizes music's ability to release inhibitions freely. Instantly, it'll improve your mood or make you want to dance — and his new track, "Egwu," is a celebration of that movement.

“Music need no permission to enter your spirit,” Chike declares in the chorus of the song. “Anywhere, anyhow, you know say you go feel/ Life is life, life is life.”

In this episode of Global Spin, watch Chike deliver a vibrant live performance of “Egwu,” made complete by his intricately patterned colorful suit and neon stage lighting.

The original version of “Egwu,” released on Dec. 15 via Brothers Records, features the late Nigerian rapper Mohbad: “I made a ton of music with a great guy, and I’m happy I can share the first one with the world,” Chike revealed on Instagram. On March 29, he dropped a remix of “Egwu” with DJ Call Me.

In another social media post, Chike announced that he will offer “an intimate musical experience as well tell stories of love, romance, and life” at his upcoming show, Apple of London’s Eye, in England this July.

Press play on the video above to watch Chike’s technicolor performance of “Egwu,” and don’t forget to keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Global Spin.

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Singer Tyla with her GRAMMY Award 2024
Tyla with her golden gramophone

Photo: Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

feature

South African Singer Tyla Won The Inaugural Best African Music Performance Category At The 2024 GRAMMYs. What Does It Mean For African Music On The Global Stage?

While Afrobeats and amapiano are certainly crossing over in America, Tyla’s win reflects how Western influence is often necessary for African music to transcend the continent. Is "Water" what African music needs to blossom?

GRAMMYs/Feb 12, 2024 - 10:43 pm

As the first recipient of the inaugural Best African Music Performance GRAMMY Award, South African songstress Tyla has officially etched her name into history. At the 2024 GRAMMYs, the 22-year-old's amapiano-infused Afro pop hit "Water" beat out several long-established names in African music.

While Tyla's success on Music's Biggest Night stresses the Recording Academy's continued efforts to showcase diverse African music, her victory is more of a one-armed hug rather than a full, legs-off-the-ground embrace of African music. 

This is chiefly because "Water" was successful and marketable for its use of Western pop influences. While Afrobeats and amapiano are certainly crossing over in America, bestowing a golden gramophone upon an artist whose work reflects familiar sounds is a curious step forward for African music. Still, Tyla's win may foster a greater embrace of the African sound, and the virality and pervasiveness of "Water" propelled the Johannesburg-born singer/songwriter to unheard of heights. 

"Water" hit No. 1 on the Billboard U.S. Afrobeats Songs and Hip-Hop/R&B charts, and became the first African song to enter the Billboard Hot 100 since 1968. The track peaked at No. 7, making Tyla the highest-charting African female solo musician in Billboard history. The "Water" dance challenge on TikTok further pushed the track into the global sphere, and the song has been featured in over 1.5 million videos.

The widespread appeal of "Water" is a culmination of elements, notably a fusion of Western pop with subtler amapiano influences. The song melds sleek American R&B and pop compositions with the log drums and piano trails synonymous with the South African amapiano genre. 

Read more: 10 African GRAMMY Winners Through The Years: From Miriam Makeba To Angélique Kidjo & Burna Boy

Indeed, most musical genres (regardless of continent of origin) draw inspiration from and contribute back to each other. The resulting music transcends regional boundaries and appeals globally — and Tyla's "Water" is proof of this resonance. Yet it also reflects how a major Western influence is often necessary for African music to transcend the continent. 

The Recording Academy's new Category was designed to highlight "strong elements of African cultural significance," said Shawn Thwaites, Recording Academy Awards Project Manager and author of the Category. In describing eligibility for the Best African Music Performance Category, Thwaites noted that songs must feature "a stylistic intention, song structure, lyrical content and/or musical representation found in Africa and the African diaspora." 

Still, when it comes to recognizing lesser known genres — from South Africa's gqom to Tanzania’s singeli and Ghana’s asakaa — the global audience still has a long way to go.

"We need to go deeper and in more detail within different genres of music. We know there are multiple different types of music — hundreds of genres, in fact — coming from Africa and from all 54 countries on the continent," Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. told GRAMMY.com after his three trips to the vibrant continent. "I'd love to see us be able to honor even more music from Africa and other areas of the world."

Thwaites hopes that celebrating the diversity of African music will also lead to greater cultural exchange. Eventually, this could lead to "more collaborations between artists of different genres and more artist relations between labels and executives in America," he said. 

But for this progression to happen correctly, there has to be a cultural education about the music within the continent and it's something Ghazi Shami, CEO/Founder of Empire Records, Distribution and Publishing — who consulted with the Recording Academy on the new Category — is looking forward to watching develop. 

"I think we'll see expanded categories in African music in the years to come, but this is a great start toward recognizing the merits and impact of African music," he told GRAMMY.com prior to the ceremony. 

Tyla's GRAMMY win is an exceptional achievement — particularly so for a young African woman. Popular African music has often been skewed towards male artists. At the 2023 GRAMMYs, Tems became the only female solo artist currently living in Nigeria to win a GRAMMY. (Sade, who was born in Nigeria, has won four GRAMMYs but lives in the U.K.)

A similar trend is observed in South Africa, where Miriam Makeba was both Africa's first GRAMMY winner and the country's solo female vocalist to win prior to Tyla. 

Tyla's win is a beacon to other young female performers in Africa — including fellow Category nominee Ayra Starr and singer/songwriter and producer Bloody Civilian — proving that female artists can and will be recognized, regardless of their country of origin. It also demonstrates how the distance between African artists and international prestige has been shortened, thus furthering the likelihood of artistic innovation.

Her win is also notable in a Category stacked with Nigerian artists. Of the five nominated works, "Water" is the only one not created by an artist of Nigerian descent or currently living in Nigeria. (Though South African producer Musa Keys is featured on Davido's nominated "UNAVAILABLE.") Although South Africa has a lengthy history at the GRAMMY Awards, Tyla is proof the world is listening to what her country has to offer. 

While her fellow nominees — Starr, Burna Boy, Davido, ASAKE & Olamide  — and artists such as Wizkid have also shouldered the responsibility for the globalization of popular African music, there is still a long road ahead. 

Tyla’s win holds significant promise for African music as pop music. While "Water" certainly has noticeable South African elements, its Western appeal may partially lay in its use of familiar sounds. For Africa to truly win, the world has to embrace African music for what it is, and not for what it's trying to be. 

Big First Wins At The 2024 GRAMMYs: Karol G, Lainey Wilson, Victoria Monét & More

Dancehall Star Teejay
Teejay

Photo: Hakeem West

interview

Dancehall Artist Teejay Unveils His Most Honest Persona Yet On 'I Am Chippy'

On his debut EP with Warner Music, dancehall artist Teejay shares the chip on his shoulder along with "the story of where I came from and where I’m trying to go."

GRAMMYs/Feb 8, 2024 - 04:21 pm

Dancehall artist Teejay has long used alter egos in his breakout performances. Throughout his artistic journey, Teejay has developed a knack for reinventing his image.

First coming on the scene as wunderkind Timoy, Teejay later took on the moniker Buss Head General, a young adult gritty gunman persona, before evolving into joyful melodies as Uptop Boss and later embracing the sensuous realm as Teejay.  On I Am Chippy, his debut EP with Warner Music, Teejay sheds his previous layers and embraces yet another cycle of renewal with the alter ego Chippy. 

Released Feb. 2, the nine-track I Am Chippy is brimming with infectious melodies and impactful verses. Featuring collaborations with fellow dancehall artists Tommy Lee Sparta, and Bayka on five tracks, I Am Chippy also sees an infusion of Afrobeats with Davido. Throughout, Teejay showcases his vocal mastery against a backdrop of pulsating basslines, eerie synths, Latin guitars, gunshot sounds, and dance-worthy rhythms. 

Much like Teejay himself, each track adopts a distinct persona. Lead single "Dip" promises to get everyone moving, as Chippy enthusiastically declares, "Just like how the world did Drift," his 2023 breakout single that earned him TikTok success, a record deal, and over 78 million plays, everybody is gonna dip for sure."

Despite these successes — or perhaps because of them — Teejay's latest alias, Chippy, can't conceal the chip on his shoulder regarding life's stark realities. Timoy Janeyo Jones was born into a humble family in Montego Bay, Jamaica, and his musical talent was nurtured by his Christian revivalist mother and two brothers with production skills. By age 9, Teejay was already showcasing his musical prowess within the community, on television, and on the radio. While Teejay seemed destined to become an entertainer, reality took a different turn after he left school in the seventh grade.

"Some of us weren't meant to be brought up well, go to good schools, learn, and have a proper education. Some of us grew up in the streets and never had fathers," Teejay reflects. "The EP tells the story of where I'm coming from. Since I was a kid, I wanted to be a star. So that's the most important thing about it…people can actually listen to it and understand the story of where I came from and where I’m trying to go.

Teejay spoke with GRAMMY.com about his new musical chapter, the nuances of dancehall culture, and his efforts to elevate his dancehall peers into the mainstream.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. 

This album and era took a bit of a turn for you. I think some people were used to your songs for the ladies, like "Unfaithful Games," however, this EP is a bit darker with  "gunman chunes." It's like you've been holding your tongue for so long that now you are showing everyone just how bad you really are. 

Reggae music was about peace and love and then came dancehall — it's been happening since the 1990s with Shabaa Ranks, Bounty Killer, Beenie Man, and Mad Cobra. I was born in '94, I grew up listening to all these artists so by 2000, that’s all I knew. 

The clashing in music, STING  [a notorious Jamaican concert where artists lyrically clash], and everything is just culture. Artists go on stage and deejay against each other. This is how we build a fanbase in Jamaica. This is how people know that an artist is lyrically inclined, and to not be played with. 

We are not gonna see each other and fight, or anything like that. We're going to perform together and make some money. It’s all about the bread. It's just entertainment. 

You recently engaged in a clash with another dancehall artist, Valiant. Clashing is a part of dancehall culture; why was doing a clash important to you?

I mean it's a publicity stunt, right? Both good publicity and bad publicity work sometimes and it has engaged a lot of fans. 

I just know how to promote myself. I always wanna be in the front of the class because I wanna learn something so I always practice and know what’s my next move. It's like playing chess. 

Can you share the story behind the transition from your early days in the gritty dancehall scene to today, when you're blending more diverse styles?

Before "Drift" and "Unfaithful Games," when Teejay was coming up in Montego Bay, in 2013, it was only grimy dancehall hardcore music. My name was Buss Head General in the beginning and then I decided after some things happened in the past, to grow. 

Since I have six kids, I decided to do some good music they can grow up listening to. But I also realized that even the kids love hardcore dancehall songs. I just have to balance the scale.

What's something signature that every song on the EP has?

Every song on the EP has that new sound. It's like a new wave. Artists from Kingston and Jamaica always compete for the new sound. Everybody is saying that the Montegonians have the new sound right now, so I'm just trying to get that particular sound out. 

Everything has a vibe to it. The 808 is totally different. The melody and the dynamic of everything changed. We took out words from the songs so you can actually feel the melody more with the beat. That's the craft of it. It’s simple and easy to remember.

Didn’t your mentor Shaggy tell you something about making the words simpler and focusing on amplifying the beat?

Yeah, we went back to the drawing board and changed everything. One of the songs with my son is called "Star." That's my favorite song. Everybody is going to sing that song. It's so understanding! You can hear it clearly and you can understand everything that you sing. It has a melody. It has meaning to it.

You have a lot of features from dancehall artists on the EP; it feels like you're lighting the way for them. 

Yeah, because no man is an island. No man can stand alone. Each one helps the other. So if I can use my platform to enlighten other dancehall artists, at least people will remember that Teejay had his shine and he also brought somebody on the latter with him. 

United we stand divided we fall. And I can't do it alone. I swear I need help. I need other artists in the genre to understand that this is bigger than us. This is a big picture, and if we can just fill in somewhere on the bottom, the top, or in the middle, it would be good for the culture of dancehall and not just for Teejay. 

You got signed to Warner Music in 2023. Was getting signed to a U.S. label one of your dreams?

It was always one of my dreams because I'm a lover of music and I realized that people in Jamaica don't buy EPs — or albums, much less. It’s like time is evolving and people in Jamaica are not evolving with it. They will sit and wait for the YouTube link or something to stream it. 

We don't have proper A&R, we don't have proper lawyers, but now I have the opportunity to work with these wonderful people, these lovely people, so let’s just do it. Don't just sit and think about getting the No. 1 trending spot on YouTube in Jamaica. It's bigger than that. It's bigger than me. It's bigger than all of us. 

How did the Latin-infused "Twerk" on I Am Chippy come about?

Well, "Twerk" is for the ladies; it was inspired by Busta Rhymes' "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See." It has the same feeling along with [[Santana"Maria, Maria, you remind me of a Westside story." 

That song was produced by DJ Frass Records. Some producers have the experience and the wisdom to know what people want to hear. We were at the Airbnb chilling and he said, "Yo, I have a new rhythm I think you would like." I said "Run the rhythm, turn it up!" As soon as I heard it, I was like, "Yo this bad, this sick, this crazy! Load it up in the studio!" 

I don't write, I just smoke and drink sometimes and then I just get the inspiration [for a song] based on maybe seeing what a friend or family member is going through. I sing about it so it can feel real. 

You dropped out of school in seventh grade to pursue music. That is really young. What do you wish you knew then that you know now?

Honestly, I always wanna learn. Back then, music was the only thing for me. That's why, now, I make sure that all my kids go to good schools. I tell them that they need their education. 

Whenever I'm in a conversation, I try not to say much. I listen to what people say so I can learn or add up things. I read a lot. Most of the time if I'm not doing anything, I try to read a book just to learn something. 

I think that I’m far better off than most people who have subjects and degrees. I'm not saying this for kids to feel like, oh, you can do what Chippy did. No, not everybody has the same luck. I never had a father to even help my mom send me to school, so it was pressure for her to see Teejay leave school. But the fact that I didn't end up in prison or in violence or anything, and I did music and became a big star in the community is good. So I took the negative and turned it into a positive.

You decided to collaborate with Davido on "Drift," which was a great move. How do you feel about Afrobeats getting some of the mainstream attention that dancehall once had?

I mean, everybody has their time. The reason that dancehall music has taken a backseat, I think, has to do with the people, because music is evolving. [[To be recognized as a supporter of music] you have to have a credit card, a bank account, you have to file taxes, have Zelle, Amazon music, and everything. Nobody in Jamaica subscribes to that, so these are the things that are affecting dancehall music [on the charts]. I think that's why I am here as an artist promoting dancehall music, telling the people things, and talking to the government about  [putting programs in place to support Caribbean music]. 

For us to say that we feel a way that Afrobeats music has reached where it is, I don't think is fair. Africa has been putting in the work over the years. I mean, it's 200 million people in Nigeria alone; like we can't even compete. [But Afrobeats] was inspired by dancehall music. All these artists from Africa can tell you that they grew up listening to dancehall music: Burna Boy said on a show that he used to listen to Movado, Vybz Kartel, and all these great artists.

And based on the success of your 2023 what was your biggest lesson of the year?

"Drift" taught me a lesson about time. No matter what you do, you have to wait for your time. I swear you cannot beat time. That's nature.

There was a time when as you mentioned I thought I was a flop. There was a time when I felt nobody was paying Teejay attention. I was giving other people attention and all my time and nobody stopped and even asked me if I was good. So I would just say that's the most valuable lesson: Believe in yourself, and love yourself before you can love others.

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