Why the Ghanaian producer's new single may be the Pan-African energy we need
A few days back I was sitting around going through my Spotify playlists, and I stumbled across Juls’ new release; ‘Mandela Riddim’. Now this struck me. Was this a house track I was hearing? From Juls no less?? Oh, now I was intrigued.
If you don’t know about Juls by now, my dear, where have you been? Julian Nicco Annan is a British born Ghanaian producer, responsible for some of the biggest hits in commercial Afrobeats today. His command of instrumentals creates an alchemy that moulds songs into beautifully executed works of art. Think I’m being dramatic? Just listen to this...
After a long period of rolling my eyes at the over the top commercialised Afropop that was dominating the scene, in 2015, Mr. Eazi caught my attention. With early singles like Skin Tight, Bankulize and Hollup, this sound was everything I’d been missing. Juls’ production brought back the nostalgia of classic highlife (enter memories of Supermalt and meat pie hall parties), interlaced with jazz, dancehall and hip-hop. His guitar riffs paired with that sultry slow tempo rolled off your skin like the most gentle touch. Juls created a level of intimacy in his music that injected soul back into the mainstream.
In the years that followed, Juls refined his sound and went on to collaborate with artists like Burna Boy, Eugy, Sarkodie, Mugeez, and Maleek Berry. His hit-making abilities cemented his position as the production powerhouse who was playing a key role in the international explosion of Afrobeats.
Listening to his music, you can probably understand why I was so shocked by this new track's 180. Like, I have so many questions?? I’m assuming he spent time in Johannesburg, because the song is definitely influenced by South African House. Cool. But somehow it feels like to interpret this sound, he felt that he needed to strip back the soulful essence of what makes him so beloved up West.
I mean, I understand the logic. They are completely different sounds. But if you truly Immerse yourself in SA house, and experience the way people dancing in Johannesburg, Durban or Cape Town conjure up an electric energy in a room. You’ll find that It is nothing short of poetic. I once watched as a man who had spent most of the night trying to impress a girl at his table, was slowly pulled away by the sound of the beginning of DJ Big Sky’s song, Fire. I’d never seen anything like it. Almost like the spirit of his ancestors were carrying him forward, finally placing him before that DJ booth. All remnants of stunt like behaviour slowly melted away as he approached the dancefloor. And in that moment, his body and the beat involuntarily become one single entity. This didn’t just feel like dancing, this felt like something entirely deeper. Something spiritual.
Despite the slight disconnect, I feel like Mandela Riddim has a much bigger purpose, and signals more of what’s to come. It’s a unifying statement in light of the xenophobia scandal that rocked the continent a few months ago. It highlights the fact that despite all our differences, we need to collaborate if we are to excel. Nothing highlights this more than my experience in Ghana this December. The 'Year of Return' transformed Accra into a stunning cultural melting pot, and made our hometown the diaspora’s gateway into Africa. Therefore this song says, whether your people traditionally dance with their waists or they get busy with footwork, we are all Africans first.
This audacious ode to South African music, is Ghana's biggest producer reminding us that the ‘s’ in Afrobeats is not silent. The genre’s umbrella spans further than Ghana, Nigeria or even Congo. This song is an acknowledgement that though our sound has taken the mainstream by storm, there is a huge scene further South that’s also making massive waves. There are multiple seats at the table. And we should be be inspired by each other while always keeping our essence. For me, it’s also a reminder of why it’s so important to travel within our own continent. There is so much to see and it’s truly a life changing experience.
Ultimately, Mandela Riddim is the perfect representation of cross-cultural inspiration. An act that ironically aligns so perfectly with Ghana’s celebration of 63 years of independence. How? Because if this isn’t a manifestation of Dr. Nkrumah’s vision for Pan-Africanism, then what is?