You can often get a good idea of what an artist is all about from the title of their releases, and this is one of those times. Alkebulan roughly translates as Mother of Mankind or equates to something like Garden of Eden, and it is thought to be a name used for the continent of Africa before the colonial era.
So, it is no surprise that what you are presented with on this album is a deft blend of the traditional and modern sounds of places such as Namibia, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Nigeria. And whilst artists such as Fela Kuti and Ladysmith Black Mambazo perhaps were the initial bridges for African music reaching the West, there is a whole new raft of Afrobeat artists surfing a new wave. In the past, such music would have been relegated to the “world music” category, but now, thanks to artists such as Burna Boy, Rema and Matt B, those sounds have gone mainstream, mixing effortlessly with pop and hip-hop to make a new, broader and more representative sub-genre.
Even from the opening track, Buya Ekhaya, African music is writ large and lush, a gorgeous cascade of complex vocal interplays, evocative beats and dance-fuelled rhythms. From there, the album explores such music in all forms, blending age-old traditions with cutting-edge songwriting, the sounds of the past and the present joining in unison to create a sound for the future.
Gunjale is a perfect blend of Western pop and African vibes, hypnotic rhythms and smooth vocals, and Shining is a groove-heavy slice of shuffling beats, lush sonic invocations and rap inclusions. And if the recent single Gimme Love, a tremendous vocal dance between Matt and Ugandan music legend Eddy Kenzo, leans towards Western expectations, Ijo is the perfect representation of the modern homespun Afrobeat sound. It is a song as at home in the land that inspired it as it is in the place that raised Matt B, The USA. And everywhere in between.
Through albums such as Alkebulan and artists like Matt B, the delicious and dance-fuelled sounds of Africa will finally be appreciated for what they are. After all, aren’t the beats and rhythms that run through these songs the ancient echoes of the beats and rhythms that would eventually drive all music? Too long has such music remained a niche sound in the West, music to be played at middle-class dinner parties and appreciated only on an academic or anthropological level. Well, no more. It will finally get to where it always deserved to be, the global mainstream market.