I started writing the article you are about to read last August, when Yemi Alade ended her Mama Africa World Tour with a concert at the Playstation Theatre in New York. Unfortunately, I was not able to publish the article until today because in mid-August, I was moving to Ghana and it took me some time to adapt myself to my new environment. Nonetheless, I thought it important to share with you my opinion on the Mama Africa World Tour before Yemi Alade drops her third studio album #BlackMagic.
During the month of March this year, I published an article titled ‘the 8 most powerful women in the African music industry’ to celebrate African female artistes for International Women’s Day. Yemi Alade was present on the list and was ranked (by me), second most powerful African female artiste, after Angelique Kidjo. Judge on The Voice Nigeria, with two albums, two MTV Awards (for Best African Female Artiste in 2015 and 2016), as well as BET nominations in the pocket, Yemi Alade is in my opinion the number one Afrobeats (and Afropop) female artist at the moment. After making the whole continent dance to her songs, the artist decided to go on a world tour this year with her band, the Ovasabi Band. Attending the kick off of the Mama Africa World Tour at Le Trianon in Paris on April 7th was already an experience, as I also got to meet her personally. But after actively following through social media her US tour (12 dates) which ended last Saturday (August 5th) with a concert at the Playstation Theatre in New York, I felt the need to write about the Mama Africa World Tour and why it is important to support African artistes with the same vision and approach to touring outside the continent as Yemi Alade.
If most people discovered her in 2015 with the hit song “Johnny”, Yemi Alade’s first step in the music industry as a professional singer dates back to 2009 when she won the popular contest ‘The Most Talented Nigerian’. Johnny, with its funny verses, catchy chorus, dancing beats and 73 million views on Youtube is the song that put her on the spotlights and revealed her to Africa and the rest of world. The artiste is so passionate about her music that every song she touches turns into a hit, sometimes making us forget about Johnny. “Tumbum”, “Na Gode”, “Africa”, “Kissing”, all her hits are played everywhere on the continent, from the East to the West and from the North to the South. After making the whole continent dance to her tunes, it was just natural to expect a world tour, especially at this time in history when most African artistes face less hardships to travel to the West.
During the Mama Africa World Tour, I was impressed by the way Yemi Alade’s promoters (Torpedo in France and Joy Tongo in the US) handled the press. In my opinion, it only did good to Afrobeats and the artiste’s image. On the continent, African artists usually have more access to the media and are able promote their events easily. Abroad nonetheless, it is a different story as most artistes do not always have venues adequate for concerts and are forced to perform in night clubs or inadequate venues. Although this practice is understandable for artistes with less exposure as it can be highly profitable (since it also leaves more manœuvre to managers for additional booking dates), I believe it undermines our industry when A-list artistes follow this path. If an artiste is able to move crowds and fill football stadiums at home (in Africa) , I don’t get why he/she is willing to do a world tour with thirty minutes to one hour performances at night clubs. This practice does more harm than any good to our industry and is one of the reasons why foreign media tend to overlook African music.
What made the Mama Africa World Tour was how neat and professional they handled the comm, making people see Yemi Alade for who she really is: The King of Queens and Mama Africa. She is the most streamed and top selling female artiste of our music industry. In Paris for instance, during the days preceding the show she had a media tour during which she gave interviews to major French press organs such as Trace Urban, BBlack, Jeune Afrique, Africa 24, France 24 etc. In the US, it was the same process as she held a press conference co-hosted by the New-York based Angolan super model Maria Borges when she arrived. Later on, she gave an interview to Beats Radio and was invited to other local shows like the TV show Great Day Houston. In total, she had twelve dates in the United States and was able to perform in front of more than 100, 000 people.
Thanks to her team’s professionalism, two major things occurred during the Mama Africa Tour. First, an African female artiste sold-out most of the dates on her tour. For a venue like Le Trianon in Paris for instance, the fact that she managed to sell out this mythic place where artists like Rihanna and Pharell Williams have performed is a big deal. The Trianon can hold up to 1500 people and quite frankly apart from Wizkid, I don’t know which other Afrobeats artiste can shut down a venue with this capacity in Paris. Secondly, if there were people who did not know anything about Yemi Alade or the Afrobeats music genre before she kicked off her world tour, I am sure that by August 5th a lot more people must have known about her and our music genre. This is essentially a consequence of the incredible media coverage her world tour received.
Yemi Alade through her Mama Africa World Tour changed the rules of the game by confirming that there is a market for African artistes out of Africa and that it is not always necessary to be signed with a major West-based music label to become a global artiste. But most importantly, through this tour she was capable of pushing even further our music in the West and making it seen for what is: Afrobeats and not just “world music”. Although I understand that not all artistes have the same visibility as Yemi Alade, artistes should look up to her (or to Wizkid) and try to copy the good aspects of her tour. What impressed me the most was seeing her moving along from city to city, hotel to hotel, venue to venue, with her whole crew (about 15 people) and shutting down those concerts. It made me so proud to be African at this time in history.
In July Yemi Alade released an EP titled Mama Afrique which is made up essentially of French, Swahili and Portuguese versions of some of her top hits from her second album Mama Africa. Before the end of this month she is expected to release her third album #BlackMagic, which I know for sure will be very groovy and representative of our diverse African cultures.