The cool kids of Nigeria’s ‘Alté’ scene are… crazy!
They're crazy because, in the land of Afrobeats, anyone who decides to revisit The Smiths in their own way is bound to be a bit weird. OK, I’m exaggerating with The Smiths. Although… the singers, rappers and producers of the so-called ‘Alté’ scene are a bunch of cool kids and digital natives, who, with their music, have given birth to a subculture and even a movement in Lagos, where their brand of fusion music is a bit bewildering. Disco, funk, hip-hop, dance-hall, trap, gospel, jazz (and not just brass!), indie pop (from Celestine Ukwu to The xx, DIY is the order of the day, right?!), etc. These are just a few influences that can be found – or rather, that I think I can find – in Cruel Santino, Odunsi (The Engine), Tay Iwar, AYLØ (him and his ultra-sexy RnB!), Lady Donli, Tems, Le Mav, Genio Bambino, Prettyboy D-O, and so on.
Alté? A term that owes its origins to the Nigerian trio, DRB Lasgidi, who’ve been around for more than ten years and are as much of a presence on the music scene as in fashion and the visual arts. One of the members is the founder of the trendy cultural magazine Native Mag, which is aimed at African millennials whe make up the vast majority of Alté music fans. It also reaches out to the Nigerian diaspora and, undoubtedly, in a broader sense, the African diaspora. Put simply, the Alté tribe of disruptors are not quite prophets in their own country, but neither are they ones to ignore the mainstream. They owe a lot to the magic of the Internet and, above all, Soundcloud.
The first thing I listened to from Cruel Santino (at the time he went by the name Santi but had to change it due to a rights issue) was the sound of his debut album Mandy and The Jungle, released in 2019 on Monster Boyz, his own label and collective. I didn't fully understand what I was hearing. I became immersed in such bliss! I was super excited because the guy is Nigerian but his music seems to have a kind of diplomatic passport. I dug and dug and I came across the album .rare and the EP Everything You Heard Is True by Odunsi (The Engine). And then I was totally bowled over! What was this disco-new-jack-RnB-gospel madness?! And then, at the end of the record, the track “Alté Cruise”, a declaration of faith. ‘To be altered is to be free to be yourself!’
Since then, Lady Donli has burst onto the scene with her album Enjoy Your Life and her ultra-hybrid pop. And then there's the Ghanaian Amaarae and her magnetic voice. You’ll hear her featuring on tracks across the Alté scene. The latter focuses on collaborations with artists who are just as independent and outspoken – whether they come from neighbouring countries or from much further afield (much talent comes from London thanks to its large Nigerian diaspora, as well as Dubai, where Cruel Santino lives when he is not in Lagos). So, I’ve found some music that represents who I am and which is made by music lovers who don’t limit themselves in any way.