Alté, SARs and Nigerian Futures
When Brits think of the musical contributions of Nigeria, our ears are largely tuned to the conception of Afrobeats, with the likes of Tiwa Savage, Burna Boy and WizKid storming airplay. Though a contender to make that station switch to is Afro-Beats’ younger sister, Alté. Alté is a musical, artistic and fashion based movement that simultaneously emulates, then usurps, the traditions of Afro-Beat and Mainstream Nigerian culture. Alté, meaning Alternative, celebrates blackness on the continent with a slight nuance not seen in the more prominent Afro Beats sphere. Typically looking to push the boundaries of style, gender, art and music genre conventions, the intention of Alté is to encourage difference.
Altéfashion nods in some senses to the 90s ghetto goth/grunge scene that has been peppered with west-african chic. This manifests in unpractical but whimsical glasses paired with hair beautifully peacocked in colours, lock styles or natural styles that might otherwise subvert the idea of “normal” or “acceptable” in mainstream culture. Leather and baggy trousers are also a prominent feature however in my attempt to categorise I am still blind to the possibilities of Alté. Amongst others, the Nigerian fashion designer Mowalola Ogunlesi is an example that intertwines Alte’s boundary pushing with every stitch.
The music combines, challenges and champions various genres from Reggae beats to Indie elements. It seeks to use a variety of sources to create a familiar yet unseen sound that makes it a choice alternative for lovers of Afrobeats or Dancehall alike. Alté might present in one instance as a one drop rhythmic tune, met with vocals that stride a line between RnB and Indie. Though this is only one description of what it can be...
Proponents of the Alté scene are often criticised for presenting a skewed image of Nigeria, arguing that this subculture exclusively reflects the lives of the privileged young and wealthy. Dismissing this movement as alienating for much of the population at home in Nigeria and across the diaspora. Despite this, Alté artists like Lady Donli maintain the notion that the ethos of Alté is transcendence and that individuality and expression is at the core of its philosophy. To be defined as Alté in itself lacks the mark scheme and taxonomy that many other cultures and sub-cultures alike might uphold. Fundamentally for Donli, anyone can be Alté if they so choose.
2020 has been a year of chaos entirely but from this disarray in some ways has come revolution. The global BLM movement, sparked from George Floyd’s death in the US, has motivated other societies to look to their civil institutions and rightly question them. A recent entrance to reach the British consciousness has been the ENDSARS movement. Campaigners are seeking, amongst other demands, justice for those that have faced brutality and sadly death at the hands of the Special Armed-Robbery Squad (SARS) in Nigeria. One social group targeted by SARS is the Nigerian Queer community who perceivably “conflict” with the “traditional” ideals of mainstream Nigerian society. This is something that sadly resonates with QTIPOC members across the globe, particularly those of the African Diaspora. It paints a very real portrait of West Africa as a region still deeply scarred by the remnants of its colonial past.
In what Alté stands for, Queer people in the nation and the diaspora can find refuge in this subculture away from the crimes of SARS and traditional thought. Between each stitch and between each beat of Alte fashion and music presides this commitment to contest conventionality and aim for nuances that beacons the unpolarised truth that blackness is far from a monolith.
Below are some Alté tracks to check out:
- Blinky Bill- Showdown
- DRB LasGidi- Alté
- Yinka Bernie- Palmwine Chills ft. Musmah, Lady Donli & Brisb
- Aylo- Star Signs
- Lady Donli- Corner Ft. VanJess & The Cavemen
- Aylo- Paris
- Odunsi, Zamir & Santi- Alté Cruise
- Cruel Santino- Jungle Fever ft Odunsi & Genio
- AYLø- wys? Ft Santi
- Odunsi (The Engine)- Vanilla Freestyle
- Cruel Santino- Rapid Fire
- Tolani- Liar
- Show Dem Camp- Popping
- Cruel Santino- Sparky
- Lady Donli- Cash
- Cruel Santino- Gangsta Fear Ft. Odunsi.