Music from the African continent is experiencing more mainstream UK popularity than it has in years. Nigerian artists like Burna Boy and Wizkid are chart regulars. The influence of pop from Nigeria, Ghana and Gambia on British talents like J Hus, Pa Salieu, Not3s and the entire afroswing scene has meant the UK is now one of the most exciting sources of Afrobeat in the world.
This sonic diaspora has been rewarding for artists and audiences on both sides, whilst pushing the broader Afrobeat genre even further. Homecoming is a digital platform and festival of cultural exchange in Lagos, which exists to recognise this incredible creativity of the African diaspora.
Tonight, the Manchester International Festival – which prides itself on uniting the world’s most exciting art and culture with the city of Manchester – is hosting Homecoming, for an event showcasing the most exciting music from Nigeria, the diaspora and beyond. In what will be for many attendees their first night of live music in a long time, the hangar-like venue of Manchester Central will be turned into a pop-up afrobeat club, bringing together sounds and people in a fashion we’ve been waiting over a year for.
Manchester’s star DJ, Anz, opens the event, spinning tracks from across the African continent and beyond, crossing over with UK bass to contextualise the afrobeat-inspired sound that has made the UK so unique and successful. She closes with Magic System’s classic ‘Premier Gaou’ to ensure the venue is well and truly warmed up.
Native Soundsystem enter their set with a nod to Nigerian star Rema, who’s forced to miss his headline slot due to illness. ‘Bounce’ and ‘Woman’ are the sort of frisky, energetic tracks that are keeping Rema and afrobeat on dancefloors around the world.
The first live act is South Londoner Midas the Jagaban. She takes the opportunity to remind us what we’ve been missing since the pandemic dismissed live music performances – expertly accompanied by two dancers, she takes over the stage to move, sing and hype her way through ‘Party with a Jagaban’, a song that’s assured her place in the afrobeat chart.
Midas gives way to DJ Obi, whose longer set enlists several guest artists impressive enough to claim their own slot, including Lojay and Teezee. Lojay’s summer hit ‘Monalisa’, written with renowned producer Sarz, will continue his trajectory to stardom; Teezee, whose work with DRB Lasgidi and beyond has inspired the alté movement taking over Nigeria. Obi himself mixes Nigeria’s biggest hitters, from Wizkid to Burna Boy, to complete the transformation of Manchester Central to a Lagos nightclub.
It says a lot that the MIF were able to replace a global star like Rema with NSG, the UK’s chart topping Afrobeat act, for the headline slot. The group’s sound and energy is too much for the room to resist – a selection of songs from new album ‘Roots’ gets everyone out their seats, stepping and smiling, all the words sung back to the group on stage. ‘Ourself’ and ‘Options’ stand out, making everyone stand up and suspend the reality of the pandemic, which has stopped us partying or travelling or viscerally experiencing culture like this for too long.
At times it feels a shame that this event has fallen on the wrong side of an arbitrary date determining when we’re allowed to dance with each other again. Because there are few better ways to bring people back to their feet than with several hours of afrobeat excellence from around the world.
Knowing this is the start of a longer relationship between two globally impressive festival events makes it even more exciting – MIF and Homecoming will be partnering on events leading up to the launch of and at The Factory, the groundbreaking new venue that will home MIF.
‘Homecoming’ at the Manchester International Festival has therefore excelled on two fronts. Not only is it a welcome reminder of what we’ve missed for the past year, it’s a promising look to a future of more quality performances and chances to capture global culture in such a vital, vibrant way.
Check out the MIF programme of current online events here.