In a recent interview, the acclaimed Senegalese-American RnB artist, Akon, opened up about his journey in the music industry, spanning nearly two decades. He highlighted the challenges he faced integrating his African heritage into his music due to industry expectations.
Akon was born in the US and shuttled between New Jersey and Senegal during his formative years. He mastered various western and African instruments but had to prioritize the former for commercial success. "When I started out, my African identity wasn't a marketable aspect.
It felt like I had to distance myself from it," he shared with BBC Newsbeat.
Akon's Journey Beyond Hits
His hits like "Lonely" and "Locked Up" garnered immense popularity, but Akon recalls the pressure to maintain commercial appeal: "Every move was calculated; it began to feel more like work than passion." However, his career trajectory shifted as he built his brand.
His endeavors include a record label and the Konvict Clothing line. While some ventures, such as a cryptocurrency-driven "real-life Wakanda" in Senegal, didn't succeed as hoped, others flourished. Now, with various revenue streams, Akon’s focus on music centers on passion, not profit.
At 50, he relishes the freedom to incorporate more African influences into his tracks. "Music isn’t my primary revenue anymore, it’s maybe tenth," he admits, emphasizing that this shift allows him to infuse "more culture" into his music.
His latest EP, Afro Freaks, leans heavily into the Afrobeats genre, a blend of African and Western musical influences. Despite its global recognition today, thanks to artists like Davido, Wizkid, and Burna Boy, Akon remembers when Afrobeats faced US industry skepticism.
They often mistook it for Reggae. "They couldn’t fathom the vast African audience and the future of this genre. It was disheartening," Akon recalled. It took a decade and collaborations with giants like Drake and Beyonce for Afrobeats to garner mainstream attention.
Akon lauds the younger generation and social media for widening the genre's reach. Notably, European successes, such as Davido, shifted the genre’s perception and facilitated its expansion. Akon is optimistic about Afrobeats' future, emphasizing its longstanding presence and potential to spotlight Africa globally.
Reflecting on his early challenges, he believes future artists won't have to downplay their roots. "Afrobeats has globally shone a light on Africa, offering insights into the continent's rich heritage," Akon concludes.