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From Diaspora

Ghana’s Blaq Pages cops a Billboard interview; opens up on projecting African music!

He's one of the dopest DJ's out there pushing Ghanaian music!

Born Kwabena Anfo, L.A.-based Ghanaian DJ/producer talks about how he’s continuing to spread African music to the world while spinning back outside.

As clubs have been reopening and shows have been resuming across the country after a year-and-a-half-long COVID-19 pandemic pause on the live music industry, Billboard is asking club and touring DJs about their experience fading between spinning at home to performing back outside.

Blaq Pages has been putting African music on the map for years. Raised in Accra, Ghana, he found inspiration when he began following around three brothers who would DJ for everybody in their neighborhood during weekend parties, which Pages would help set up.

The then-16-year-old migrated from West Africa to the West Coast of the United States and settled in Los Angeles — where his parents were already living, and where the entertainment industry was teeming with opportunities for Pages to celebrate the sounds of the motherland, but abroad, as both a DJ and producer.

For the last few years, different parties promoting African music began cropping up all over South and East L.A., helmed by  Pages and a rotating crew of other DJs. He specifically curated his latest traveling gathering — dubbed Afrobeats to the World, which he launched over the weekend — to celebrate the kind of Afropop music breaking ground in the Western mainstream scene, like Billboard Hot 100 hits Wizkid and Tems’ “Essence” and CKay’s “Love Nwantiti (ah ah ah).” But he hopes to bring African music to bigger stages in the near future.

Billboard caught up with Pages to talk about his strategy in launching various parties to play the sounds from back home all over the globe, his vision for a multi-cultural music festival, and his thoughts on the bourgeoning Afrobeats movement in the U.S.

Pre-pandemic, where were you spinning usually?

Belasco in L.A., Station 1640, Los Globos, Catch One, El Cid. [I was] playing in Long Beach as well, and playing in key places in L.A. where I feel like most people that listen to this type of music [live]. You have a lot of Africans living in Inglewood, Hawthorne. I feel like more people started to know about [the parties] in L.A. when we started taking it to the big clubs. We wanted to spread the music to a diverse audience — so that’s why you have clubs like Station 1640, Belasco, Los Globos. Because those neighborhoods are very diverse.

What music were you listening to a lot during quarantine?

Man, I was listening to [the South African house genre] amapiano. Right now, I’m in Ghana, and it’s everywhere you go — it doesn’t matter where you are. You could get out of church, and then you hear somebody down the street playing it. You could go in somebody’s backyard and somebody is playing it. You go to the clubs, somebody’s playing it. The music’s everywhere right now in Africa and in the world. It’s amazing, it’s a very refreshing sound.

How have your roots/upbringing shaped the music you like to listen to and play live?

I grew up on [the Ghanaian jazz genre] highlife. I spent most time with my grandparents and they’d always play highlife in the house. It was just all around me. Being around music so much, it was a part of me. So I felt like it was my calling to do it because that came easily to me. When I was living in Ghana, before I moved to L.A., I was in the choir. I used to act as a child, and I used to dance as well. Being able to learn those things led me to this path.

Did you perform at any virtual events within the last year and a half?

Yeah, I did it on Club House Global. It’s an online streaming platform, it’s like a club that runs 24 hours. They’re on Twitch, so I played for them sometimes. They’re a group of friends of mine based in L.A. as well. That’s a huge platform.

What was the first live music event after quarantine that you attended as a fan?

Wizkid. It was in L.A. I was like, “I gotta go to this show.” It was so fire.

What was the first live music event after quarantine that you performed at as a DJ?

It was Afro Gogo on Juneteenth at Catch One. It was amazing. It was too packed. That specific event was sold out before the event.

Your mission has always been about playing African music all over the world, which you’ve been doing with your monthly Afro Gogo parties in L.A. that you started three years ago. How did you make that call to bring those back last summer? Do you fear that new COVID variants like Omicron will impact those parties moving forward in 2022?

For the safety of the people and even myself, I definitely got to make sure that I follow the guidelines and make sure people wear their face masks. I wouldn’t force anybody to wear it, but it’s a safety precaution. Like how you have your hand sanitizers. Now they’re talking about the vaccine cards, so you can party if you have the vaccine card. But it’s a party, you can’t stop people from having a good time. All I’m saying is that you give people the choice of what they want to do.

Right now, events are being moved. I just found out about [the Grammys’ postponement]. I feel like when we make a little bit of progress of coming back to normal, it just doesn’t feel normal anymore.

You host other African parties aside from Afro Gogo, like TRYBVL and now Afrobeats to the World, all under Afrika Gold. What makes these parties you host unique from one another?

Different vibes. Afro Gogo is any music from Africa and the diaspora. TRYBVL is only tribal house and Afro house music, like amapiano, the gqom music from South Africa. I’m definitely going to bring it back again because that’s where I’m able to connect more with people — when I played the tribal sounds. I just started a new party called Afrobeats to the World, that’s the new party I’m going to be traveling around the world.

Right now, you have a lot of Afrobeats songs that are becoming pop songs, so Afrobeats to the World is dedicated more to the pop world. The name even speaks for itself [because] I want to be able to do it in L.A., San Diego, Vegas, New York, Addis Ababa.

And all these parties are under one umbrella, which is Afrika Gold. There’s Goldenvoice, [which] has several music festivals. [Afrika Gold] is the brand I’m creating to facilitate this. The goal is to make it the hub for African and Caribbean events, concerts or festivals. Any major festival that’s going to happen around the world, we want to be able to help push the agenda of Africa to the world.

I have a festival that I do, which I was supposed to do again in 2020. But the pandemic happened, so now we postponed it to 2022. That’s going to happen in L.A and showcase a lot of Caribbean and African artists. It’s called Afro Bashment. I feel like Africans and Caribbeans need that, [because] the music is connecting us right now. I wish more Caribbeans will come to Africa and more Africans also visit the Caribbean and experience both sides of the world. I’m putting those two things together so people can get a taste of both worlds.

Are there any songs you were listening to/spinning at home that you were excited to play for a live audience?

I would say the song by Kabza [De Small], Burna Boy and Wizkid. It’s called “Sponono” [also featuring Cassper Nyovest and Madumane].

Did you have any worries that certain songs or albums might be considered “too old” because it came out during the pandemic?

I definitely get that a lot. But music is music. For me, I always like to play the songs at the right moment. I feel like playing music is taking people on a journey — that’s the most important part. And I feel like if you play a song at the right time, whether it’s old or new, it’s a vibe when you know how to create [one] for the night and read the crowd.

What are some of the newer songs or albums that came out after lockdown ended that you’ve been hyped to play?

I would say Juls album [Sounds of My World]. Juls’ album was very, very good. Yung D3mz. This kid is going to blow up. He’s definitely up next. We have a song coming up together in the spring. This kid right now is doing a lot of writing for a lot of A-list artists in Africa. He’s also a producer, a writer and a singer. He’s amazing.

What are you looking forward to during your future sets? Where do you want to perform next?

I’m looking to incorporate more live elements to my performances and making them more of a performance than just DJing. I’m looking to play at places like Afropunk, Coachella, I want to play again at Lost in Riddim. I want to play Governor’s Ball. I want to play at a lot of major festivals in the world, especially like Ultra Music Festival, Tomorrowland. I’ll be playing at Cali Vibes Festival, coming up in February. I want to be able to take the African sound to much bigger stages.

How did you become so well-versed in producing and playing a plethora of African genres like highlife from Ghana; Afrobeats from Nigeria; kuduro from Angola; and amapiano, gqom and Afro house from South Africa? As a self-proclaimed African music ambassador, do you struggle with exposing people outside of the diaspora to the variety of African sounds because they might get stuck on this misconception that Afrobeats is the only genre from the continent?

The goal is not just to promote one sound, because there’s so much music coming from Africa. And I feel like if I had the opportunity to push different sounds, why not? Africa is a huge continent. Afrobeats is coming from West Africa, but what about what’s coming from the east, central or north?

I play [African music] and I play it loud and I let them know that I’m promoting it. If you’re a tastemaker, then you will always [be] looking forward to what’s next. So if there’s a new sound or type of music that I like, I’m going to promote it regardless of which part of Africa it comes from. The goal is to promote any music coming from Africa — it doesn’t really matter where it comes from. As long as it’s good, then I’ll present it to the people. Right now, look at amapiano. I started playing it in 2016 and now, in L.A., a lot of people like amapiano because I’ve been playing it. And I didn’t care whether other DJs were playing it or not, whether people like it or not. But I knew that I liked it, and that’s part of the art of DJing. If, as a DJ, you can’t put the people onto new music, then the mission of being a DJ is not completed.

You blended a lot of those genres in your debut solo EP High Energy, which you released during the pandemic. Why did it feel like it was the right time to put out your first solo project during a period when there was a lot of low energy in the world?

My whole goal was to highlight the high energy. Guys, there’s a lot going on right now. But we shouldn’t let the low energy get to us. We should be on a higher frequency, or higher energy. And that’s why I titled it High Energy.

With the crossover success of Wizkid and Tems’ “Essence” and CKay’s “Love Nwantiti (ah ah ah),” how do you feel about the current state of Afrobeats music in the world as it migrates more west? What are your hopes for African genres moving forward?

It’s a great thing. But the best has yet to come. Now you have the generation coming after us, they’re going to evolve the sound. The sound is going to go to the next level. There’s a bunch of artists that’s coming up right now from Africa, and the world has yet to know them. They’re learning faster, they’re very hungry, they’re very determined. The music coming out of Africa is going to help bring more attention to the continent and help the continent grow and develop and bring more awareness as to what’s going on in Africa, whether it’s politics or tourism. It’s going to help the economy of Africa. The next generation is coming with greater melodies, the production is getting better as far as the sound goes. The best has yet to come.

Source: Billboard

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Emmanuel Ghansah, Ghana Music

Singer, Songwriter, scriptwriter, blogger, lover of the creative arts, brands and communications expert.

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