The term "alternative" takes on different turns depending on your vantage point. For young Nigerian artists, it denotes bravery and breaking free from the molds placed before them. Enter Alté: a youthful sub-genre that tackles preconceptions of what African music is and can be.
Alté is simultaneously the face of Fela Kuti's anti-establishment legacy and the avatar of Nigeria’s youth, with their desire to shape their own world. A handful of artists have managed to embody that energy and serve as ambassadors for the fusion of home and away’s joys and insecurities. At the center of it is Santi.
Santi is a Nigerian artist and prominent member of the Alté movement; a Motley Crew of young musicians drawing inspiration from varied continental and global influences. The emergent sub-genre is stylistically and sonically informed by traditional styles of Nigerian music, along with pop, soul, indie, dance, R&B, dancehall, and hip-hop. As with Afrobeats, there's a focus on amalgamating sounds across a range of genres and musical eras.
This eclecticism occurs on Santi's pioneering Birth of Santi EP, released in 2013, and his most recent project, 2016's Suzie's Funeral EP, where he references and blends a kaleidoscope of sounds, encapsulating the ethos of Alté. The sub-genre houses fellow artists Nonso Amadi, Odunsi (The Engine), Tay Iwar, Lady Donli, Zamir, and Amaarae, amongst others, while its youthful demeanor makes it an appealing outlet and is slowly energizing the Nigerian music industry as a whole.
"Alté represents freedom, genuine love, expression, and most importantly the reminder to never suppress your ability," Santi shares.
It's perhaps this sense of optimism that makes both Santi and Alté such an endearing musical proposition, operating from a position of artistic insouciance.
Of course, this carefree aura may also place the values of Alté's practitioners at odds with those of the general populace. A lax view on prescriptivism is what fuels this vanguard collective that appreciates expressiveness and individuality a lot more than conformity. There seems to exist a suspicion of the role Alté plays in a societal context; a legacy of the position largely espoused by previous generations of Nigeria's music community.
Although Alté currently operates on the fringes, it's slowly beginning to occupy the same spaces held by Nigeria’s more established stars. For Santi, divergent outlooks haven't dented his relationship with seasoned artists.
"We grew up listening to a lot of them so we have a huge amount of respect and love for them,” he says. “The ones we know and communicate with, whenever we meet, it’s always love. It’s always great to learn from them when we have the chance."
Learning and drawing from the influences of previous generations is apparent on Santi's earworm “Freaky,” which is a delicious interpolation of Nigerian hip-hop legend Ikechukwu's massive 2009 hit “Shoobeedoo.” The incredibly looped sample is a vehicle for Santi’s risqué content, again a symbol of the unrestrained nature of one of Alté’s fastest rising exponents.
Expanding on existing expressions also comes through in Santi’s emphasis on aesthetics and texture. "Style goes hand in hand with the music,” he says. “It's very essential and gives you the full form of expressing yourself. Visuals allow the people to connect the dots and grasp the message fully. The same goes with style.”
This focus on visual appeal is another element of Alté, best exemplified in the lo-fi video for Santi’s infectious “Rapid Fire.” The grungy video, released this past November, symbolically casts Santi and his crew as outcasts but more pointedly serves as a medium to “express freedom, youthful exuberance and perspective through the eyes of a gang called ‘The Lost Boys,'” Santi says. The video is both self-edited and directed but that's more of a sign of Santi's versatility than his unwillingness to create with other artists.
To date, Santi has worked with a long list of peers, including Bridge, Tomi Thomas, Genio Bambino, Izzy, and Funbi. On “Rapid Fire,” he combines talents with rising South African rapper Shane Eagle.
“I found Shane's music through a close friend of mine who thought it would be fire if we worked together, and she was more than right,” Santi says, clearly happy with the decision. “Shane is a visionary, and his art speaks for itself. Collaboration is a great way of learning from other creators and 'Rapid Fire' wouldn't be the song it is without that legendary intro.”
The song is indeed representative of the strength of joining forces; a growing trend amongst African artists and a characteristic the Alté movement is cultivating organically.
Synergy, purpose and youthful exuberance are what Alté artists are bringing to the table. But more than that, their music is rooted in creatively mapping out the future of African music. Alté is challenging expectations of what young Nigerian musicians can create, and by being resistant to pigeonholing, different worlds collide, bringing various artistic expressions and sounds into a variety of universes. Santi, and by extension Alté, is the soundtrack to young African musicians’ growing aversion to fear.