In the West, alternative music is often associated with the rough, anti-pop movement that emerged during the late 1980s. Alternative musicians were characterized by their unconventional and raw approach to music, as well as their dark and distinct anti-establishment aesthetic. Since then, the term has expanded to mean any sub-genre of an established sound whether in rock, hip-hop, pop, etc.
Since music streaming platforms like Soundcloud have democratized the process of making and sharing music, it has become much easier for norm-breaking musicians to garner a following for themselves. One such genre that partially owes its popularity to the internet is Nigerian “Alté” (shortened from “alternative”) music.
Although the artists belonging to this subgroup differ greatly in style, it generally fuses a variety of genres including, R&B, rap, indie, and dancehall. Alté refutes the notion that African music can be boiled down to a single monolithic genre title, as it so often is by outsiders. Its artists are concerned with both African culture and nostalgia, often drawing on a vintage lo-fi VHS style aesthetic for their music videos.
Several artists are attributed with its inception including DRB Lasgidi members Teezee and BOJ, and members of the group, LOS (Loud on Sound). However, artists like Santi, Odunsi, and Lady Donli have become synonymous with the genre.
Below, the Folklore highlights popular Nigerian Alté artists who are breaking the mold and creating their own distinct sounds.
Lagos based artist Santi, is perhaps the most famous member of this movement. The artist’s sound is derived from an eclectic range of influences including everything from Drake and Lil Wayne to Vampire Weekend. Santi got his start acting and freestyle rapping before releasing his first mixtape in 2011 entitled Diaries of a Loner. Since then, he has released several studio albums and compelling music videos that demonstrate his knack for visual storytelling. Santi is also known to rap in pridgen-english, as he hopes to make it easier for people of a similar background to make it in the industry.
Odunsi The Engine
Odunsi rose to fame in 2016 after he released his debut EP Time of Our Lives. He comes from a challenging background having been kicked out of high school and dropping out of college, although he always found solace in making music. Odunsi has come to define his sound as afro-fusion, which takes elements from R&B, reggae, EDM, and Soul. Like his fellow Alté stars, Odunsi was able to find a fanbase by publishing his work on Soundcloud. Within his music, he talks a lot about feeling like an outsider in the Nigerian music industry— a fact that has made his emergence more difficult, but that also he takes pride in.
Lady Donli’s global upbringing, having lived in Ohio, Ajuba, and London, manifests itself in the range of her musical influences. She pulls from African-American neo-soul, Fela Kuti’s afro beats, alternative jazz, and many more genres. She debuted her album Enjoy Your Life in 2019, where all these influences were combined to produce a unique sound. She describes the album as being decidedly “Nigerian,” although she strove to set herself apart from the Afropop typically associated with the country. She is also a frequent collaborator with other renowned Alté musicians like Santi and Odunsi.
Wavy the Creator
This artist is well aware of how much she stands out from the crowd. From her eccentric, story-driven music to her quirky fashion sense, Wavy the Creator or “alien” as she often refers to herself as truly marches to the beat of her own drum. She is quite the renaissance woman having done work in photography, film-making, and fashion design, in addition to music. Music was actually a late addition to the artist’s long list of talents, as she recorded her first song while working as a personal photographer to another musician. Her aesthetic consists mostly of afro-futurism and retro references. This is apparent in the singles "Shaku" (2018) and "Body Deep" (2019), as well as in their accompanying music videos.
Ghanian singer-songwriter, Ama Rae is known for delving into taboo subjects like sex and gender fluidity within her music. She has built her image with the help of powerhouse women of the past such as Billie Holliday and Stevie Nicks. Her genre-bending music has been recognized by Apple music, while in addition, Vogue Magazine lauded her for her distinct fashion sense and signature buzzcut. She has also received praise for challenging cultural norms, such as featuring drag queens and exotic dancers in her music video for “Like It” (2019).
Written by Natalie Jarrett