In West Africa, P-Square are a phenomenon. Six albums deep, Nigerian twins Peter and Paul Okoye have become homegrown superstars, distilling the synthetic snap of American R&B with the kinetic kicks of European dance, then splicing in the constantly evolving local dance sounds of Lagos and Accra. In recent years, the formula has seen the brothers score one certified international hit, with the Akon co-signed "Chop My Money". Deeper fans, however, will recognise last year's single, "Personally"—which came with a combination of fidgety synths and brittle claps that could've easily been pulled from a set of '07 UK funky bangers—as one of their finest yet, racking up over 31 million views on YouTube. Their Rick Ross-assisted "Beautiful Onyinye" went down a storm in the summer of 2012, too.
New album, Double Trouble, sees the brothers sticking to their A-game, employing a team of producers who can channel the high production values of Western R&B, whilst giving it that all-important Afrobeats lick. "The key producers are homegrown," says Paul Okoye, "Vtech, Meca E, Charles and ourselves. Initially trying to achieve the right balance between electronic production and more traditional instruments, was extremely tricky. But our sound has evolved and we're pretty much able to adapt it to any particular sound we want to produce."
Our music has been exploited for years, and IS Still being exploited.
This willingness to combine West African styles with Western vibes has seen P-Square criticised in the past, with keyboard warriors often accusing them of selling out to appease an international audience. Unsurprisingly, Paul has little time for anyone who claims P-Square have diluted their sound. "We don't feel we have compromised," he insists. "No matter how Western our beats or sounds may feel, we always keep it African: the vibe, structure, lyrics, message, visuals, it's all about connecting and entertaining our core fanbase. Afrobeats is following in the footsteps of the reggae industry, which concentrates on its core audience and then exports to all reggae lovers worldwide."
Hearing Paul use 'Afrobeats', one is intrigued to find out what he thinks of a term that has gained so much traction in recent years. He's cautiously positive: "The sounds originating from Nigeria were sometimes referred to as 'N9a POP'. As it evolved and spread globally, the term 'Afrobeats' was coined in the UK. This has stuck, due to the original 'Afrobeat' music from the 1970s. For many years, our music has been lumped under 'World Music', which is not entirely representative of all the different genres present in the African music of today. So Afrobeats is an acknowledgment and recognition of a new global movement, with young Africans in full control—we should identify with our own, support our own, and be in full control of our destiny. Our music has been exploited for years, and is still being exploited."
No matter how Western our beats or sounds may feel, we always keep it African: the vibe, structure, lyrics, message, visuals, It's all about connecting and entertaining our core fanbase.
It seems 'identifying with our own' is extended to the African diaspora. When the beat from "Personally" was versioned by a number of bashment artists—most notably Busy Signal, whose rendition of "Professionally" has racked up nearly half-a-million views, and given him a sizeable hit—a number of Afrobeats fans were outraged, calling out Busy as a rip-off merchant. Paul's response is entirely different, though. He's clearly a fan, and has no problem with another artist voicing his riddim. "It was great," he enthuses. "Busy Signal totally got the essence of the song and we are truly, truly humbled by his performance."
Does that mean P-Square are planning on collaborating with any international artists? "No, not yet," he adds. "We're keeping it African right now. Hopefully soon, though." So, if they intend on keeping it strictly African, what are the future-thinking sounds running Lagos right now? Paul indicates "Shekini" (which opens Double Trouble) a minimal dance cut with a nagging melody line and a lolloping, clap-heavy beat. "Shoki dance is the craze," he says of the track's inspiration. "Shoki is a Yoruba word that loosely translated means 'quickie' and is basically the new Azonto. Check it out on YouTube! Seriously, that's the future right there."
Ian McQuaid is a music and culture writer based in London. Follow him on Twitter @IanMcQuaid.