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The Influence of Alte on Ghana and Nigeria’s Art Space.

Written by: Nana Kojo Mula and Ato Kilson

The Story of Alté…

People regarded as either ‘cool kids’ or ‘weird’ within the alternative space in West Africa have come a long way, owing to a wind of change that blew in Ghana’s creative space circa 2016/17. At a point in time, many thought the wave of newness was not going to stand the test of time. But with the rise of acts like Worlasi, Ayat, B4bonah, Ria Boss, Adomaa, and La Meme Gang, whom many believed, were the front-runners of the Alté community in Ghana, and Joey B’s artistic reinvention, we had a taste of something out of the ordinary. The introduction of this alternative sound brought along several different lifestyles that trickled down to fashion, photography, videography, and other art forms. By 2019, Nigeria had also gotten its first actual overflow of what the alternative community had to offer. From something that a small group of people accepted, the mainstream art space began to be influenced by alternative creatives. Like when Wavy The Creator creative directed for Olamide, or when she momentarily styled WizKid.

Traces of this and other influences can be seen through collaborations between acts like Odunsi, Santi, Ashly Okoli, Tay Iwar, and others, with mainstream acts such as Runtown, Adekunle Gold, Davido, WizKid, and Maleek Berry among many others.

Growth Of The Alté Culture

During that same time, Ghana’s Alternative community, although much smaller, was seeing its influence rise through the cracks in the mainstream arts and media. Acts like M.anifest, Joey B, and Stonebwoy would be seen affiliating with the space through music or fashion; be it rapper M.anifest featuring acts like Worlasi, or Joey B being affiliated to acts like La Meme Gang and Kofi Mole, or Afro-Dancehall artiste Stonebwoy being styled by FREE THE YOUTH.

Image of Kelly FTY

Speaking to one of the founders of the Ghanaian streetwear brand FREE THE YOUTH about how important it is for the brand to support Ghana’s music artists, Kelly Kurlz said, “Alternative doesn’t have boundaries, it cuts across all the arts. We won’t say we support it, we are Alté. It is a lifestyle.”

The resurgence of the culture had a lot of young folks wanting to identify as ‘Alté.’ For a country resistant to change, Ghana has opened up to the alternative community even though it is at a snail’s pace. In other parts of the world like Nigeria, the mainstream industry has fully tapped into the community and has seen significant change over the years. This is evidenced by Davido’s affiliation with the Alté collective DRB Lasgidi, Runtown’s feature run with Odunsi, and WizKid’s recent two-album run with Tay Iwar.

Over there in Nigeria, there have been moments where the influence of Alté has birthed new sounds and trends across various disciplines in the art space. In recent times, some of the biggest Afrobeats songs from Africa have all had a touch on the community. ‘Essence’ and ‘Love Nwantiti’ are classic examples. In fashion, we continue to see a rise in street fashion with brands such as FREE THE YOUTH, Waffles and Cream, and Tribe Of God collaborating with some of the biggest acts and companies in the mainstream space.

[ image of Jude Dontoh]

Speaking about Tribe Of God’s recent collaboration with SONY Music, founder Jude Dontoh had this to say, “Thanks to the collaboration, other creatives and the community at large now know things like that can happen; to be able to design for such a huge brand. SONY is a big brand and you never know who is going to see it, so getting the opportunity to be in a place like that is great for the community as a whole and not just Tribe Of God.”

Call for collabration and unified growth..

For a community that has not seen much change in a while, it is very worrying that creatives are not collaborating in the space to generate fresh ideas that will appeal to today’s demographic. The gag is that the Alté community has always found a way to blend the past, now, and future into something diverse groups of people can relate to. So what is the difficulty now? The freedom with which the Alté community operates makes it the space which provides mainstream industry with the personnel and tools to stay up-to-date with the times. The constant experimentation that goes on in the community, will become a catalyst for the much-needed change we wish to see in our various creative disciplines when given the needed financial support.

 Agreeing with this fact, a fashion enthusiast and model Jude Mills talks about the “individuality” and “self-expression” promoted in the community. He then goes on to speak specifically about the Alté community here in Ghana saying, “It provides a supportive and inclusive environment for those who embrace the culture, and I feel proud to be a part of it. The Alté community gives me a sense of artistic freedom and individuality that brings comfort to my life.” 

[ image of Jude Mills]

Adding her voice to the conversation, fashion influencer Precious-Tina said “To be very honest, the growth of the culture has been different in the sense that now people that were termed as weird and individualistic can freely express themselves in a way that they can. As a content creator, it has given me the platform to create in ways that either conform to society’s standards or not.’’

[ image of Precious-Tina]

The reinvention of guys like Joey B during the peak of the ‘new wave’ in 2017/18 gave the music industry a refreshing facelift concerning sonics and aesthetics. Again, guys like Ghanaian rapper M.anifest; who has always been a strong affiliate of the space, are constantly reinventing the wheel. In today’s iteration, we see how acts like Fameye have been working with creative director Kwame Koda to evolve the creative direction for himself and his alter ego, Peter. This came as a breath of fresh air at a time when he was viewed as being repetitive.

Notes From Naija..

Also in Nigeria, the influence of Alté has grown so much that there is a wide range of sounds outside the generic Afrobeats sounds we are used to hearing; evidence of this is in Rema’s ‘Reason You.’ One group that has been championing highlife in Nigeria, The Cavemen, has found a balance between old Ghanaian Highlife rhythms and modern-day sounds to create something not so different from the highlife we grew up on. Nigerian music journalist Blossom, shed more light on the Alté community in Nigeria and some effects of its commercialization in the industry. According to her, “Alté culture has gone from being marginalized to being mainstream – lots of our biggest artists are adopting subversive sounds while some of our most central influencers draw from Alté or Y2K aesthetics. On the other hand, since the whole foundation of Alté is deviance, the culture becoming mainstream can be complex. Historically, once heavy commercialization enters movements, things tend to change. Certain people end up being excluded to make way for the widely-accepted ‘forebearers.’’

[ Image of Blossom]

Currently, the influence of the Alté culture on the Ghanaian music space has led to the rise of relatively new acts that offer a variety in sound. The likes of SuperJazzClub, Moily, Black Sherif, Baaba J, Marince Omario, etc have been intentional about inculcating various ‘experimental’ sounds in more commercial sounds to produce something fresh while maintaining the foundations of highlife and the growing afrobeats sound.

Conlcuding Thoughts…

In conclusion, the Alté community in West Africa is rapidly gaining recognition and popularity both locally and globally. With its unique blend of traditional and contemporary styles, it is providing a new perspective on African culture and identity. As it is already evident, the community is pushing the boundaries and challenging traditional norms, creating a new aesthetic garnering attention from audiences worldwide. This scene is not just about fashion, music, or any other art form, it is about a cultural movement that is celebrating diversity and promoting self-expression. As the Alté community continues to grow, it promises to have a significant impact on the African cultural landscape and inspire a new generation of creatives to explore their own identities and express themselves in new and innovative ways.

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