Wings puts its ears to the ground in five cities with very different sounds and unique musical cultures, to bring you a cut-out-and-keep guide to where to go to hear great music in London, New York, Lagos, Johannesburg and Accra.
Words Rocky Casale, Helen Jennings, Rob Laing, Benjamin Lebrave and Nana Ocran
Can it still be said that a particular city has its own ‘sound’? We know that technology changes at a dizzyingly fast rate; and of all the art forms, it’s music that feels this pace of change most keenly.
With the entire world’s music suddenly streaming, seemingly for free, the world’s listening habits have rapidly changed; musicians and the small live-music venues they rely on are feeling the pinch, and as new musical genres globalise and cross-fertilise, it’s almost alienating: just what are ‘Crabcore’ and ‘Dubstazz’, exactly, and where would you go to hear them?
The soundtracks of our cities may be changing faster than ever, but checking out the music scene of an unfamiliar city will always be one of the most rewarding things you can do on your holiday. As we’ll show, every place you visit does still have a distinct musical identity and a scene built around it. No matter how modern or ‘underground’ it may appear from the outside, it’s still part of a long tradition – and still based on the music that came before it.
So, with that in mind, read on for a guide to help you seek out some of the best festivals, gig venues, record shops and other music-aficionado haunts in five Arik destinations: London, New York, Lagos, Johannesburg and Accra.
The UK’s ever-changing cultural hub is a musical melting pot – from the latest underground electronic genres, via indie and hip-hop through jazz and classical music, it’s playing at a venue near you.
Words Rob Laing
The UK’s capital city has grown into a leading global city for business, but has a richer history as one of the world’s great cultural centres; art, fashion, film… but most of all, its music. British blues, punk, Britpop, UK garage, grime, mod, glam, dubstep and New Romantic pop are just some of the influential scenes that have been born in London’s vibrant cultural melting pot in the last 50 years. And going back even further, classical music, jazz, opera and musical theatre continue to thrive in the capital.
London’s diversity as an increasingly cosmopolitan city is one of its greatest assets today, with a population of 8.6 million and a strong Indian, Nigerian, Polish, Turkish, Pakistani and Jamaican presence especially. Districts become mini epicentres for vibrant scenes and movements in the city; from Camden’s indie scene, South London’s underground hip-hop culture, Brixton’s reggae roots and the city’s ever-expanding network of world-music events to reflect its diversity, a visit to London is a rite of passage for any music fan who wants to discover talented new artists and walk in the footprints of the city’s musical heroes. David Bowie, Amy Winehouse, Jimmy Page, Marc Bolan, Damon Albarn and Adele are just some of the musicians who forged their musical identities in London before becoming globally acclaimed.
London’s music scene caters for everyone. In nightclubs to open-mic stages and the hallowed spaces of the Royal Albert Hall and Wembley; the city fosters new talent from street level and remains an essential stopping point for top touring acts. There’s so much rich history and current talent here, you might actually have a hard time choosing what to start with during your stay.
One Classic Venue
Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club
47 Frith Street, Soho
When the world’s finest jazz artists hit London, this is where you can find them. Founded in 1959, it moved to its current home in Soho five years later and now hosts shows seven days a week, on a stage that has witnessed greats such as Nina Simone, Prince, Ella Fitzgerald and even the last live performance by Jimi Hendrix.
One ‘Underground’ Venue
Compton Terrace, Islington
This late-19th Century Islington church is a place of worship and charity drop-in centre for the homeless, but also one of the city’s finest entertainment venues, hosting special intimate shows from a wide range of artists, including world-music talent. Built in the gothic revival style, its interior makes it one of London’s treasured live music venues.
During The Day
Handel & Hendrix In London
25 Brook Street
The neighbouring London buildings in exclusive Mayfair that were home to Jimi Hendrix, and 240 years before him, the celebrated 18th-Century composer George Frederick Handel, are now permanent exhibitions dedicated to the two legends. Visit the restored rooms where they lived and worked; including the dining room where Handel would give recitals to his friends and the flat where Hendrix wrote songs.
See The Sites
Gigs, musicals, nightclubs and where to eat, drink and enjoy the best that the city has to offer; if it’s happening, it’s here. There’s an app available, too.
The Forge in Camden is one of London’s best venues for showcasing a very wide range of musicians from around the world.
Bells and whistles are all very well, but this no-frills site is a fast and helpful way to peruse the gig and festival listings for the capital by month.
No other artist has personified London’s constant cultural evolution and influence as much as Bowie. Sonically and visually, he was an unparalleled innovator, interconnected with the city where he was born David Jones in Brixton, 1947. The city witnessed the young musician’s early gigs, when he would source his striking fashions from Carnaby Street’s clothes stalls. His landmark Ziggy Stardust… album was recorded at Soho’s Trident Studios.
The British/Ghanaian soul and R&B singer/songwriter gained attention through his YouTube cover versions and is now best known for his breakout hit Walk, which was followed by 2015 debut album, Love + War.
Ibibio Sound Machine
Fronted by London-born Nigerian singer Eno Williams, ISM’s dynamic blending of West African Highlife and funky disco rhythms is a potent mix, with Williams singing in her mother’s native Nigerian Ibibio.
Clementine has been dubbed the male Nina Simone, and has gone from busking on the streets of Paris to gaining worldwide attention with
his idiosyncratic and poetic debut album, At Least For Now.
London African Music Festival
Now in its 14th year, this festival began with the aim to present contemporary African music in the city. Running across several days, the September event attracts a wide array of talent from the continent with an eclectic showcase of jazz, gospel, folk and groove-influenced music. One of many festivals in the capital, the next London African Music Festival runs from 15 to 24 September.
Rough Trade Shop: 130 Talbot Road, Notting Hill
Rough Trade East: 91 Brick Lane, Tower Hamlets An independent record shop that became so popular it launched its own record label just two years after opening, and would later sign The Smiths, this year will see Rough Trade celebrate its 40-year anniversary of serving customers.
Ghanaian music today is an exciting fusion of styles, the result of decades of interaction between a rich and diverse local heritage, and successive waves of foreign influences.
Words Benjamin Lebrave
Ghana’s recent musical past saw local traditions intermingle with Western and Caribbean influences across the numerous dance halls which dotted the Gold Coast, where Highlife was born. This melting pot of a genre combines Akan melodies and storytelling, coastal rhythms, with elements of Cuban music, jazz, calypso and later on, soul and funk. Highlife was initially performed by big bands, then gradually also by guitar-driven acts known as Highlife dance bands. By the time Ghana reached its independence in 1957, Highlife was the unifying sound of a free, leading nation.
By the 1960s, Highlife was spilling over Ghana’s borders. Veteran band leader CK Mann recalls how a young keyboardist named Fela Kuti used to spend months at a time in Ghana, honing his skills with established Highlife dance bands. In the 1970s and 1980s, many Ghanaian bands relocated to Nigeria permanently, contributing to Nigeria’s own bubbling music scene.
The next major musical evolution was the incorporation of hip hop and digital music tools into Ghanaian music, giving birth to Hiplife in the 1990s. Since then, music production keeps increasing as new studios pop up, while the internet makes the music and Ghanaian trends more accessible and influential than ever.
Just recently, the Azonto craze swept YouTube and the internet. What started out as a specific dance within secondary schools in the Greater Accra region turned into a global phenomenon, which has reached African diasporas and helped to strengthen cultural ties among Africans all over the world, and has helped to establish Ghana as one of the current African music powerhouses.
One Classic Venue
If you want to hear Highlife in a typical outdoor bar setting, head over to Chez Afrique. Located on an otherwise quiet street in East Legon, Chez Afrique has been serving hearty doses of live music every weekend for years. It’s also a restaurant and bar with spacious outdoor seating spilling over onto the large sidewalk.
One Underground Venue
The Republic Bar & Grill
Three years ago, Accra nightlife experienced a shift when the Republic opened its doors. The bar quickly built a reputation for its impeccable DJ rotation on weekends, and its very influential Wednesday live music shows, where a myriad of up-and-coming – and sometimes established – voices entertain the Republic’s eclectic crowd
During The Day
Funerals in Ghana last several says, but Sundays are always the day to celebrate the life of the deceased, which is done through music and dancing. Funerals often block entire streets, so
ask any taxi driver about them; they are always aware of them, especially in the coastal Ga communities of Osu, Labadie or Teshie. To blend in, wear black and white.
See The Sites
Time Out Accra
The internationally trusted city guide has a great weekly calendar of things to do in Accra, as well as their permanent listing of venues.
One of the major news sites in Ghana, Pulse has an indulging amount of entertainment news and a good selection of mainstream events, in particular pop concerts in Accra.
Accra Dot Alt
These important cultural activists always have their finger on the pulse of Accra’s underground. Check their Twitter feed for last-minute events all over town.
Sarkodie never ceases to stay relevant. He has been Ghana’s favorite rapper for several years now, putting out countless hits, receiving all kinds of awards at home and abroad, but more importantly, giving advice and depth to the youth, which is why he remains so loved.
Wanlov The Kubolor
Often dismissed for his eccentric looks and media stunts, Wanlov is one of the most incisive voices in Ghana, tackling the country’s woes head on – but always with humour.
She became an instant favourite last year with a string of remarkable videos of jazzy live band covers of hit songs from Ghana and Nigeria.
This innovative producer is on a steady rise, as he develops his own take on trap music, infusing it with copious yet subtle elements of Ghanaian folklore.
Chale Wote Street Art Festival
This one-of-a-kind weekend event takes place late August in Jamestown, Accra’s historical centre. Chale Wote is a rare opportunity to experience the vibrant arts and cultural scene of the city, and is extremely fun people-watching, as everyone comes to flaunt their style through a colourful collage of wax patterns and cutting-edge designs.
Finding CDs, let alone vinyl records, is increasingly difficult in Accra. Luckily, Despite, on the edge of central Accra’s Kantamanto market, still has a very large selection of releases old and new.
Forever associated with the internationally adored musical titan that was the late Fela Kuti, Lagos’s current music scene is diverse, globally minded… and thriving.
Words Nana Ocran
Lagos is a city that really does move and jump to its own beat. If we’re thinking literally, there’s no getting around the fact that musician, activist and Afrobeat pioneer Fela Ransome Kuti – despite his parting in 1997 – is still the city’s most unshakeable musical icon. His spiritual vibe is felt in venues such as The New Afrika Shrine and the Kalakuta Museum, as well in untold images and album covers that are available in and beyond Lagos, Nigeria or Africa. Even in the often copycat swagger, attitude and demeanour of many established or up-and-coming Hiplife artists, the Fela shadow looms large. However, the lyrical scene in the city has continued to evolve. Over the last decade or so, Lagos’s musical heritage has been added to by names including singer-songwriters Asa, Bez, 2Face Idibia, Tiwa Savage, Olamide and many others – some of whom have gone super global, showcased by the wider commercial world in music-fused campaigns.
Trans- or pan-African collaborations and new collectives are confidently changing the rhythm of things, with youthful ambassadors as well as older pioneers looking backwards or forwards to Nigeria’s traditions, or exercising their freedom of speech with changing political concerns and digital influences coming through their music.
Diasporic fusions means that the Lagos (or Nigerian) vibe is striking a note further afield. Think Beyonce’s feminist sampling of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in Flawless and what now seems like ancient history in the 2011 D’Banj’s and Snoop Dogg’s Mr Endowed. Essentially, Lagos has been moving to a ‘glocal’ beat for some time now, so it’ll be exciting to see how its sense of grassroots internationalism keeps growing.
The New Afrika Shrine
The New Afrika Shrine is undoubtedly the music venue that is most synonymous with Lagos. Founded in the 1970s by Nigeria’s main musical icon, Fela Kuti, it has over the years been burnt down, re-established and inspired legions of national and international musicians, including Paul McCartney, Bono and Damon Albarn. The venue hosts big-night music events, mainly steered by Fela’s daughter, Yeni Anikulapo-Kuti. See the New Afrika Shrine Facebook page for details of events.
Not so much ‘underground’, but intimate. Bogobiri is a less flashy (in a good way) choice for snug music and spoken-word nights, which are well curated by the staff and founders of the guesthouse and gallery. A perfect spot for experimental artists, many of who might be showcasing for the first time, it pulls in a loyal crowd of Lagos residents and international visitors from all backgrounds, which can still feel unique in this cosmopolitan city.
The Kalakuta Museum
It’s divine irony that the same government that gave Fela Kuti so much strife in his lifetime saw fit in 2012 to open a museum to the life and works of its most famous musical son. The Kalakuta Museum, which showcases Fela’s life through photographs, illustrations and personal objects is in essence an exhibition and music attraction rolled into one.
Though not exclusively about music – fashion, events, poetry and lifestyle all get a look in – the music menu is worth checking out for album news, mix tapes, videos and 360downloads.
Music news, reviews, features, videos and events with an African and international slant. Find out about new collaborations, signings and even superstar beefs from Lagos to just about anywhere else on the map.
Demola Ogundele is the man behind this sharp and comprehensive blog that provides cutting-edge Nigerian music-industry news, as well as streaming the latest releases from new or up-and-coming artists.
Perhaps other powerhouse Lagosian musical icons will emerge in time, but the main one still has to be Fela. So potent is his musical legacy that still to this day, new compilations keep hitting the market. The latest such is Fela Ransome Kuti & His Koola Lobitos – Highlife-Jazz And Afro-Soul (1963-1969), a Knitting Factory Records production featuring a historic collection of 39 tracks, recorded live at the Afro-Spot in Lagos in the mid-1960s.
An eight-strong group of independent musicians and producers are spearheading a movement in new musical sensibility of likeminded but free-spirited artists. Their same-titled album fuses soul, rock, rap, ragga and influences that range from Amy Winehouse and Destiny’s Child to James Brown and Meshell Ndegeocello.
Pictured left: Not an entirely brand-new artist, but new enough for his present and future movements to be tracked by those who are keen on the Nigerian dancehall singer’s musical plans. Relatively unique, the Make Am singer’s reggae input should see him continue to fill a bit of a gap in Nigeria’s musical arena.
‘Urban Highlife’ is how singer, songwriter and graphic artist Adekunle Gold describes his sound. Scoring a big 2014 hit with the single Sade
(a take on One Direction’s Story Of My Life), this fresh-faced musician is unquestionably set up for good things in 2016.
Held each year on the week of Fela Kuti’s October birthday, Felabration – which has taken place in Lagos since 1998 – is actually a global affair, with the musician’s birthday being a call to arms for venues and punters to get their Afrobeat on. London had a successful stint at the British Library in 2015, but if you’re heading Lagos way in October this year, expect to see the great and the good of Nigeria’s music scene paying tribute with a palette of Fela songs taken from throughout his career.
Music books, posters, CDs and a central DJ station are what you’ll find when you step into the well-loved Jazzhole shop (pictured below) – where, if you’re really lucky, you might be able watch a music rehearsal taking place in what is one of Lagos’s must-stop-and-see venues.
Check out the Facebook page Jazzhole Lagos for details
Johannesburg’s rich musical heritage is reflected in an array of different styles and genres of music – today, its venues house the diverse beats of hip-hop, dance, Kwaito, alternative rock and much more besides.
Words Helen Jennings
Johannesburg’s diverse music scene mirrors the city’s unique history. Established in the 19th Century Gold Rush, migrants from all over the world forged its multicultural make-up. The slumyard marabi dance parties of the 1920s and 1930s laid the foundations for a rich legacy of African jazz, blues and swing that grew out of Sophiatown in the 1940s and 1950s.
This pre-Apartheid era gave rise to stars such as Kippie Moeketsi, Dolly Rathebe, Miriam Makeba, Elite Swingers and Hugh Masekela. Their township music became the sound of resistance and continues to influence the latest wave of artists, who today look to their heritage and international influences to create new South African sounds, with the likes of John Wizards and Fantasma receiving international recognition.
Johannesburg’s greater metropolitan area is now home to over 10 million people and a burgeoning creative scene. It’s become a musical melting pot, pulsing with unstoppable energy, and its thriving live-music circuit offers something for everyone. House and Kwaito are perhaps the country’s biggest musical exports, thanks to stars including Black Coffee, Liquideep and Culoe De Song. Hip-hop reigns courtesy of Cassper Nyovest, AKA and DJ Milkshake.
Alternative rock feels fresh in the hands of Motel Mari, BLK JKS and Desmond And The Tutus. Soulful singers Simphiwe Dana and Lira pick up where Makeba left off.
And busy crafting new futures for South African music are ghetto tech pioneer Spoek Mathambo, performance collective The Brother Moves On and gender-bending maverick Umlilo. Now hear this…
One Classic Venue
10 Henry Nxumalo Street, Newtown
Originally opened in 1994 as a jazz venue, Bassline relocated to Newtown in 2004 with a 1,000-capacity concert hall and 150-seat performance space. The spot has since played host to artists from across the musical spectrum, including Vusi Mahlasela, Jimmy Dludlu and Tumi And The Volume. A statue of legendary Afropop star Brenda Fassie stands outside.
One Underground Venue
Afrikan Freedom Station
41 Thornton Avenue, Westdene
Billing itself as an ‘afrocentric multimedia gallery,’ this intimate space curates art exhibitions, poetry readings, film screenings and gigs. Visiting musicians have included Nduduzo Makhathini, Herbie Tsoaeli and Katlego Gabashane. You can also expect to be served a good strong cup of coffee.
During The Day
Downtown Music Hub
62 Goud Street (Corner Fox St & Nugget St)
Downtown Music Hub is a musical community centre comprising three studios, a rehearsal room and music museum. The building has been an important recording studio since the 1970s and was revamped last year so that it can now host events, workshops and the permanent cultural exhibition, entitled A Glimpse Of South African Music. Call ahead for entry.
See The Sites
SA Music Scene
As its name suggests, this site offers music news, album reviews, a packed gig guide and some great longer reads.
Winner of Best Blog at the SA Blog Awards 2015, The Beard focuses on alternative events alongside monthly indie mixtapes.
FDBQ (Feedback) Music is brimming with timely features, weekly gossip round-ups, and an annual list of the country’s top 100 musical acts.
77 years young and still going strong, Hugh Masekela’s life’s work has been the soundtrack to South Africa. Playing in jazz ensembles since 1954, the multi-instrumentalist’s accolades are too many to list, ranging from two Grammies to recording with The Byrds and Paul Simon and from penning the protest anthem Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela) to opening the FIFA World Cup kick off concert. We are not worthy.
Moonchild Sanelly draws on Kwaito, jazz and hip-hop to create a sound she calls ‘future ghetto funk.’ She also her own fashion line called Moonchild Cultwear and, it must be said, fantastic hair.
This collective of rappers, musicians and producers including Bhubesii, Okmalumkoolkat and Stilo Magolide express Joburg’s urban street culture though music, art, fashion and sports. Needless to say, their shoe game is on point.
New kids on the block Sol Gems are a threesome making a form of psychedelic rock they’ve dubbed ‘sungaze’. Trip out to their jangly charms.
Sowing The Seeds
2 April, Emmarentia Dam, Emmarentia
Now in its fourth year, Sowing The Seeds is a boutique one-day music and culture festival which, for its 2016 edition, features international headliners Of Monsters And Men and Jungle. The festival’s vibe is decidedly laid back, thanks to artisanal food stalls, art installations and a decidedly hipster line-up in a tree-lined setting. Don’t forget your picnic blankets.
Shop 11 Linden Place, 59 Fourth Avenue, Linden
Reflecting the global reversal of fortunes of vinyl, Record Mad opened in 2012 and exclusively sells new and secondhand records. Crate dig for lost gems from Afrobeat artists in amongst the latest credible releases.
From Broadway musicals to hip hop, jazz and club nights, New York is a music-lover’s paradise that has something for everyone among its countless household-name venues.
Words Rocky Casale
New York is one of America’s most important music capitals where styles were born and cultivated, and artists came for inspiration and to chase fame and fortune. Today, people flock to the city for its fabulous concerts, both large and small, and seemingly endless options for music venues – from underground concert halls to music festivals and summer spectacles in Central Park, New York’s what’s on guides are packed, all year round.
The world’s best and brightest acts descend on iconic NYC institutions including Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic and Radio City Music Hall, to name just a few. Historical acts have graced the stages of spots like Harlem’s Apollo Theatre and continue to perform there and at revamped cultural venues like the Brooklyn Academy Of Music. And that’s just a taste of where to go in New York for great music.
Think of the scores of clubs that serenaded New Yorkers over the decades, from famously exclusive places like Studio 54 or celebrated establishments that carry on the traditions of American Jazz like Birdland, Village Vanguard, Iridium and Blue Note. Then there are the public performances: The Saint Patrick’s Day or Thanksgiving Parades with their marching bands and garishly dressed street performers; on- and off-Broadway productions and musicals, or the American Folk music movements of Greenwich Village. Plus, music lovers can take themed tours to find out more about New York’s musical past, from punk and gospel to jazz and hip-hop. Wherever you look, there’s a living history of music and a wealth of talent here to entertain you.
Brooklyn Academy Of Music
1 Metrotech Ctr. Brooklyn; T. 718.722.7839
Innovative masters and emerging musical artists have performed concerts at the Brooklyn Academy Of Music (BAM) for over 150 years.
This classic New York institution is a musical melting pot of sounds and ideas, where the annual roster of performers range from opera singers and jazz musicians to contemporary, world music and pop artists.
130 West 3rd Street, NY; T. 212 777 7745
Many people like to come to Village Underground to discover new talent and great bands. For under $20, visitors are privy to short concerts by several bands. This intimate setting has been known for its celebrity drop-ins by artists including Mariah Carey, Brian McKnight and Stevie Wonder. The bars are well stocked and the crowds here are young and lively.
The Metropolitan Museum Of Art: Musical Instruments Collection
A day trip to the Metropolitan Museum Of Art’s Instruments collection is a delight for music experts and novices alike. The impressive catalogue of over five thousand instruments, from six continents and Pacific Islands, date from as early at 300 BC to the present. The rare and beautiful instruments are an interesting window into the history of music and performance.
The free weekly digital and print publication is, for some New Yorkers, a compass for locating the best music happenings in the city. The music coverage and events listings are comprehensive, and both publications feature local news, features and investigative reports.
What’s great about Timeout.com is its knack for rounding up the city’s music highlights into genres, like the top upcoming NYC concerts of the year, or the best free concerts during any season. It also covers the latest local and international music news; it’s a must-read while you’re in the city.
New York Magazine
New York Magazine is a bi-monthly print publication with a daily digital presence, with constant updates on all music events throughout the NYC metro area. You can refine your search on its website to look for events by day, week, critic’s choice and so on.
Many genres of music bloomed and prospered in New York City, but of them – jazz – steals much of the attention. One of the most prominent New York jazz musicians is Charlie Parker, who from the late 1930s until his death in 1955 was a critical figure in the development of the jazz form of bebop, which introduced fast tempos and harmonic ideas that were revolutionary. He frequently performed all over New York with musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Bud Powell.
This mostly New York-based electronic music group, Burkina Electric are the first electronic band from Burkina Faso, West Africa, with several band members hailing from Düsseldorf, Germany and New York City. The band is an eclectic crew of four musicians and two dancers, with a sound that mixes contemporary electronic dance music with the traditional beats of Burkina Faso.
Razia is a Madagascar-born singer, whose nomadic life and career have made her one of Africa’s most promising talents. During her time in New York, among other international cities, Razia music evolves and borrows from French chanson, rock, jazz and even smooth, Sade-style R&B.
Public Access T.V.
Industry buzz band Public Access T.V. are making the right garage-y noises to inherit the crown of fellow New York kingpins The Strokes, with their melodic, guitar-led sound and catchy, half-drawled lyrics causing a real stir in the indie music press.
The Governor’s Ball
Randall’s Island, NY
This multi-day concert event is on Randall’s Island is one of New York’s youngest and most-attended annual music events. The music festival is great for those who are looking for a variety of sounds, as the acts range from electronica, pop, folk-rock, hip-hop and more besides. The outdoor venue is packed with activities and food trucks for grazing between acts.
64 North 9th Street, Brooklyn, NY
Lovers of vinyl records and music in general ought to venture over to Williamsburg to check out this record store, Rough Trade’s latest outpost. This UK based company is one of the best purveyors of music in the NYC metro area, with an admirable ethos – that is simply to shorten the distance between artists and audience.