The rise of the Afrobeats genre over the past few years has been unprecedented, to say the least. In that time, the genre has been the subject of a major shift in perception on the global music stage, with several artists from Europe and America trying (and sometimes failing) to tap into the Afrobeats sound, through collaborations or otherwise.
This has led to several international record labels, including Universal Music Group and Sony Music creating branches on the African continent in a bid to profit off the growing influence of the genre across the world, give African artists a platform to showcase their art, as well as provide additional marketing avenues for their music; although some of these projects have ended in failure.
Just to be clear, these recent developments are in no way a form of validation for the Afrobeats sound. The genre has always been self-sufficient, and would continue to be as there is no shortage of talented artists and producers on the continent. In an interview with Blanck Digital, Ghanaian producer Juls said, “I don’t think our aim…is to rub shoulders with ‘foreign counterparts’. It’s about spreading the culture and our music and getting heard.” Nevertheless, it is nice to receive recognition around the world for the work being done by Africans to uplift the continent.
On Nigerian soil, our artists are pushing sound barriers. The new generation scene continues to grow off the shores of the country, as well as on it. These young artists are worthy custodians of our culture overseas, and are ready to receive the torch handed down to them as they finetune their sound and aesthetic. One artist who is leading the charge and ushering in a new wave of Afrobeats from Atlanta, Georgia is none other than singer-songwriter, Zarion Uti.
Born Daniel Nwokocha, he began his music career as part of a rap group during his high school days as they followed the footsteps of new generation pioneer groups, LOS and DRB. He made the transition into R&B and eventually afrobeats, shortly before the group disbanded. Zarion Uti moved to Atlanta after graduation in a bid to further his education and music career, and in 2017 released his debut project, Zaradise.
He has stayed consistent ever since, releasing and featuring in a host of singles, including “Ayé” featuring PsychoYP, Tochi Bedford’s “Los Angeles”, “Silent” featuring Odunsi (The Engine) and Jilex Anderson, as well as his most recent single, “War”, released in 2020.
In that time, he also managed to catch the eye of emPawa Africa boss, Mr Eazi, through the emPawa30 programme aimed at helping up-and-coming artists “reach their full potential musically by equipping them with the knowledge and funding to do so.” Speaking to me in an interview last month, Zarion Uti shed more light on the unglamorous aspects of what goes on behind the scenes as an artist, as well as recent developments in his career and plans for the future.
For a while you were off social media, was there a reason for that?
Zarion Uti: I was just trying to protect my own mental space. At a point, social media gets really draining, and I also had to spend time recording setting plans in motion.
Do you think you’re in a better head space now?
Definitely. I feel more ready, in a better headspace. There’s the new single out soon, “Money”. It’s produced by Brym. So it’s time to put that out.
In the last few years, you’ve done a whole lot of collaborations and put out a lot of singles. That’s some work ethic you got there.
Consistency is a blessing. A lot of people have ideas they want to put out, or expand on, but the problem is not being able to execute these plans. It’s really not easy.
Do you sometimes feel rushed or pressured to put out your art, especially as there’s so much music being released nowadays?
Nah, not really. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve seen people do things. I’ve stood and watched people achieve great things, but that doesn’t phase me. I’ve never felt the need to rush my process. I just keep doing me, I’m not ignorant to how much my work is being seen.
I hear that. And right now, you’re doing a great job with switching the bounce of your afrobeats sound a bit. You did that with “Signal” and “War”. How are you able to stay inspired?
Thank you. Man, up to this point it’s been amazing. I just believe that it’s hard to stay true when you don’t have authentic inspiration. It’s easy to come in and lose yourself.
And that’s helped you get this far, especially with emPawa.
Thankfully. Like I said, it’s been great until this point. Have my first release with emPawa coming in August, so in due time there will be more word on that.
How much have you learnt since moving to America, with regard to your career as an artist?
Man there are so many things I’ve witnessed, and it just teaches you that all this shit is real. I mean, in Nigeria, some people make you feel like they care about your art but they really don’t. Here too, I’ve had people charge me more for stuff than they would on a regular basis. Even with the playlists, all these guys get who dem dey reason.
Being in Atlanta, you’ve obviously interacted with great artists. Who would you say are the ones from Atlanta to watch out for?
There are a lot but off the top of my head, there’s Toyé, there’s [dnd]Section, there’s Nonso [Amadi]. Section isn’t even necessarily afrobeats but he’s out here doing his thing.
Listen to “Money” below.