For his debut London performance on 3rd December, leading Alte artist Santi delivered a truly exuberant performance. Rahel Aklilu headed down to catch Santi in action.
On the 3rd of December, the Grade II Listed Islington Assembly Hall was turned into a jungle. Stacking the stage with TVs from the ‘70s and palm trees behind, Nigerian Alte artist was determined to recreate the same dreamy, retro vibe of his debut studio album, Mandy & The Jungle, for his sold-out, debut London show.
This past year alone has seen music become Nigeria’s premier export and within that has seen a vast variety of music coming from the country with Africa’s biggest population. Although home to Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, mainstream music in Nigeria today reflects the realities of globalisation and migration, with hip-hop inspired videos filmed abroad, American accents and lyrics peppered with Patois as well as lingua franca Pidgin. Whilst internationally mainstream stars such as the likes of Davido and Wizkid have adopted an ambassadorial role, this year saw a breakthrough of self-proclaimed ‘African Giant’ Burna Boy. Weaving political and cultural commentary into his lyrics at a time of arguable economic and political dissatisfaction, an artist that was once on the margins has achieved mainstream commercial and critical acclaim.
On the fringes, lies the Alte (short for alternative) scene, of which Santi has been widely regarded as the leader. Bringing together fashion, culture and music, it stands as more of a lifestyle than a genre. Inspired by distinctively vintage fashion including 90s Nigerian music, it was evident from the eclectic pieces on show that many gig-goers identified with the forward-thinking, experimental tastes of Alte.
With London-based Nigerian creatives Vivendii opening the night before Places + Faces co-founder Ciesay came on, there was an unspoken understanding that the night wasn’t just Santi’s debut London show, but of all the influences that inspired Mandy & The Jungle.
Blending together the sounds of Afroswing, Afrobeat, Dancehall and contemporary Afrobeats as well as Hip Hop, the significance of the songs selected cannot be understated in showcasing the sounds that inspire Alte. Vivendii played the likes of contemporary Rema’s breakout single ‘Dumebi’ whilst Ciesay played 1980s Afro-boogie star Steve Monite’s ‘Only You’ alongside Kid Cudi and Octavian. Further on, nostalgic crowd movers such as Ivorian quartet Magic System’s iconic ‘Premier Gaou’. Shedding light on the Alte scene in Lagos, Vivendii reintroduced the crowd to Santi collaborators Odunsi the Engine and Prettyboy D-O who broke out with single ‘Dey go Hear Wehh’.
Then, at around half past nine, the man of the hour kicked off with album opener, the melancholic, melodic ‘Raining Outside’. Appearing amidst the palm trees in purple light, with TV screens all transmitting his album artwork, in a leather jacket spray-painted with the album title, there was no doubt that Santi was here to take us into his jungle.
For a time, Nigerian soul singer Tay Iwar (who features on album closer ‘Settle Down’) took the stage, singing and warming the crowd until Santi returned to perform the rest of Mandy & The Jungle to an adoring crowd. In between songs, thanks were given and proclamations of love were made for the city and its people. Indeed, both bustling, both bad with traffic and bubbling with music, there are more similarities than differences between Santi’s home of Lagos and London.
The reggae-infused ‘Gangsta Fear’, from Santi’s 2016 mixtape Suzie’s Tears, is originally considered his ‘breakout’ hit, bringing him and Odunsi to wider international attention, especially in the UK. A solid fan favourite, there was no way that Santi wouldn’t perform it. Although Odunsi couldn’t be there, the conveniences of modern technology allowed him to take in the crowd’s ready reception as he performed through FaceTime.
As an album that moves smoothly and softly with autotune, I was curious to see how Mandy & The Jungle would be performed live to an energetic audience. It’s safe to say that I wasn’t disappointed. As the crowd sang word for word through faster-paced grooves such as ‘Morocco’ and ‘Sparky’ as well as the Goldlink featuring ‘Maria’, Santi himself seemed to draw confidence and energy. Dancing and smiling as the pace of the show picked up, the stage was bursting with spirit when it came to performing ‘Raw Dinner’, featuring UK based Afropop artist Kidda Kuddz. Quite literally jiggy bopping onto the stage to an embrace from the headliner, the change in tempo is not least caused by Kidda’s raw and raucous energy that starts with the iconic “Peng ting she from Ghana”.
For the finale, the sound-system-reminiscent cult classic ‘Rapid Fire’ raised the roof. Although a hazy, mellow track not out of place at the end of a house party or on the night bus home, the song translated fantastically in the live performance. With featured artists Shane Eagle, Tomi Agape and Amaarae all coming on stage to join a victorious looking Santi who asked the crowd to go crazy for this one, mosh pits were formed and gun fingers were skanked. Ending the show on such a high note impressed upon me that Alte was not only influenced but influential. For his debut London show, Santi showed us all that as elusive he may appear to be, he and the scene he had brought to international attention have no intention of going anywhere.