[Photo credit to Chris Kalinko / Seattle University]
AfroBeats is one of the most unique programs that KXSU 102.1 FM has to offer. Hosted by the leadership of the African Student Association (ASA), which includes President Kelvin and Vice Presidents Shika, Miracle, and Anab (the former two of which I got the chance to speak to), the show exclusively features African artists or otherwise African-influenced music. You can hear AfroBeats every Friday from 8:00 – 9:00 p.m. on KXSU 102.1FM, or online at kxsu.org.
The show started in fall of 2016 as an effort by the ASA leadership to make the presence of African students and culture more visible on Seattle University’s media. The four hosts were already close friends and accustomed to working together through the club, which made the process of creating a radio show relatively simple and easy. AfroBeats now functions as a welcome opportunity for the friends to hang out and unwind after a busy week, with some of their favorite music in the background.
As for the music you’ll hear on AfroBeats, a whole continent’s musical style is impossible to generalize. Aside from the hugely varied traditional styles found across all regions of Africa, you’ll also hear pop and other nontraditional styles. AfroBeats is primarily interested in the latter, focusing on the ways African folk informs dance, hip-hop, and other styles, both in Africa and elsewhere. People don’t often think of musical style as an African export as much as a Latin American or Korean one, for example, but there are African influences in the work of some of the biggest US artists: Drake, Rick Ross, and Ne-Yo have all collaborated with African producers or similar figures.
Most of what you’ll hear on AfroBeats will sound at least something like the above songs, but as I found out while listening live in the studio, African influences can be subtle to the untrained ear (me). Much of what I heard sounded mostly like club music, or similar. “African sounds can be varied and subtle,” Kelvin says, “and each region of Africa sounds different. Even within the same region, or even country or city, styles and motifs can vary widely, making defining ‘African influences’ a tricky task.” When I asked Kelvin what makes African music African (referring to beats, melodies, etc.), he said that there wasn’t anything he could pinpoint precisely. This answer now seems obvious to me—of course it’s impossible to generalize an entire continent’s music. What could you say if someone asked what “North American music” is like? It’s impossible to answer for most people who grew up hearing only western music, since there’s no point of reference.
The true value of AfroBeats lies not only in its musical style, however. AfroBeats creates a space for African culture and identities on campus, a group less talked-about than most. African culture is distinct from African American culture, just as African people have different identities than African American people, though these distinctions are often overlooked, and the people are often generalized. Histories and experiences of African and African American people are also drastically different, especially when looking at the impacts of systems of oppression. As someone who immigrated from Ghana when he was young, Kelvin described to me the experience of having a new label thrust upon him (African American), and with it, social expectations and norms, despite him being of Ghanaian culture and having no experience with black culture in the US.
The hosts of AfroBeats hope to ease this tension and dissonance in African people on and around campus. They already do this through their involvement with ASA, which seeks to welcome African students into the community, but AfroBeats is an extension of that. AfroBeats broadcasts familiar sounds from Africa to help people feel at home, as well as a sense of belonging.
Looking to the future, the hosts would “like to be more inclusive when it comes to the styles of music we play.” Of the four hosts, only Anab is from a region other than West Africa (she is East African), which Kelvin says creates “difficulties in diversity of music.” Similar to regional diversity, the hosts also expressed desire to play more old-school tunes; not just contemporary stuff. Watch for AfroBeats to grow in scope in the future!
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