‘I Knew African Music Could Be One Of The Biggest In The World’: How This DJ Played His Part In Promoting The Afrobeats Genre From A Decade Ago

Published 17 days ago
DJ Abrante Boateng; image supplied
DJ Abrantee; image supplied

British-Ghanaian radio and television presenter DJ Abrantee always knew the value and authenticity of Africa’s music scene. But how and when did this journey start? He shares his story – one filled with adversity and triumph.

Over the past decade, African culture and diversity has been celebrated, globally, through the musical genre of Afrobeats, a sound characterized by the infusion of infectious African rhythms, melodies and cultural nuances.

So notable is the meteoric rise of this genre that, for the first time in the history of music and pop culture, superstars like Burna Boy, Wizkid, Tems and many more are not only winning coveted Grammys but are consistently selling out global arenas and prestigious venues like Madison Square Garden in New York City, in the United States.

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An unsung hero in this genre is British-Ghanaian radio and television presenter, Abrantee Boateng, known by the moniker, DJ Abrantee. Before global audiences had truly heard the unique African sound, Boateng, while in the United Kingdom (UK), persistently encouraged radio stations and executives to pay attention to African artists.

At 14, he already knew he was going to become a DJ, and was inspired by his uncle Henry, who was a DJ and hosted several house parties in the East London neighborhood where Boateng grew up with his father.

“I dabbled in so many things, but I always had a love for music. I joined [a] crew, which was made up of five members. We met in the 80s and carried on doing Ghanaian-based events in London. The idea was to support the Ghanaian community. We started doing the Ghana Independence [Day] events, but I stood out because I had a good voice and I wanted to do TV and radio,” says Boateng, on the phone with FORBES AFRICA for this interview.

He got his lucky break on the radio when he was called in to cover the graveyard shift – between 12AM and 6AM in the morning – on the UK’s Choice FM, now Capital XTRA.

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“After the cover, I started the process of introducing African music to the station for consideration. But the radio station did not like the idea. They said UK audiences were not ready for a foreign sound like this, so it will not work,” he adds.

But Boateng was not dissuaded. He began doing bigger parties and events which showcased African artists who, at this point, had little to no exposure to the UK market. He spent his own money to fund local talent and conclude deals with them in Africa, so he could bring them over to the UK to expose their talent to mainstream media. Soon, his events started gaining traction in big venues like The O2 Arena and, slowly but surely, the executives at the radio station began to take notice.

“I saw this as an opportunity to help African mainstream artists get exposure on UK radio. Nigerians were calling their music Naija Beats and Ghanaians were calling theirs Hiplife. I knew it would be easier to market and promote the genre if we grouped everything under one umbrella, and that is where Afrobeats came in,” says Boateng.

His mixtapes started trending and became popular among the younger demographics.

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“The radio station started taking note and finally said they would like the idea of trialing Afrobeats. I played it during the overnight shows and they monitored the responses. In 2011, they put on the very first Afrobeats-titled show in the world on Choice FM, anchored by me.”

“The reaction was massive and it trended everywhere. It was the first time that everyone could hear African music playing on a UK radio station and made the artists overnight success stories in the UK. Everything I sold to the artist was proven right. I knew that African music could be one of the biggest in the world and I decided that this was the genre of music I was going to sell to the world,” says Boateng.

This vision has become a reality. According to Spotify, about 43% of all music streamed on the platform is Afrobeats and the genre was streamed more than 13 billion times in 2022 alone. On Audiomack, Afrobeats averages 2.5 billion streams a month.

Boateng says he had a hand in artists at the time, like D’banj for his Oliver Twist hit, to gain international exposure. He believed in the power of this genre so much that he immediately began to trademark the words Afrobeats, Afrobeat Charts, Afrobeats Awards, etc with the goal of turning it into a global multi-billion dollar business by Africans for Africans.

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“I remember when DJ Abrantee spoke to me about promoting my music in the UK on his Afrobeats mix tape and it was exactly the right push I needed at the time, because I wanted to be more than just a Nigerian artist in Nigeria. He gave my music exposure, and I secured a new fanbase for the first time in the UK,” says D’banj.

After securing Afrobeats on the UK charts, Boateng was asked by both Nigerian and Ghanaian governments in 2017 to use his brand to facilitate UK artists to come to Ghana and Nigeria in a bid to encourage the diaspora to return to Africa.

Then, tragedy struck.

“We were about to launch it properly with contracts signed and everything ready to go. I also had my TV show about to launch in July 2017 but, by August 2017, I had a massive stroke. I didn’t have any health issues prior to this. I went to bed after DJ-ing and didn’t wake up in the morning as myself and that’s when things changed for me.”

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He was confined to a wheelchair and told by the hospital he would never be able to walk or talk again, effectively removing the prospect of becoming a DJ.

“I was told I would never be able to recover the right side of my body, arm and leg and I had significant injury to the brain. The prognosis was the worst-case scenario and they gave me and my family a choice of whether I should live and be in that vegetative state or we can turn the machine off and give me a peaceful death,” recalls Boateng.

Everyone had, collectively, decided he would be kept alive and since then, Boateng has undergone several life-threatening operations to repair and recover. He was able to open his eyes and slowly regain the use of one of his legs. He recovered some of the things they told him he would not be able to do, including the ability to speak.

Similar to how he overcame the naysayers and brought Afrobeats to global audiences, he is determined to continue his recovery and says he is “doing better everyday”. And if his determination in the past is anything to go by, Boateng is in poll position to overcome this experience and get back to his love of spreading Afrobeats to the world.