Walshy Fire Is Known for Dancehall. On ‘Abeng,’ He Turns Toward Afrobeats

The wave of intercontinental musical cross-pollination continues on Major Lazer member’s upcoming solo debut

Five years ago, Walshy Fire, the Jamaican producer known for the global-club-mishmashes he makes with the group Major Lazer, funded his own solo tour of Africa. In Kenya at one point, “the driver had fallen asleep and nobody could find him,” Walshy Fire recalls. “When they finally saw him, the first thing they said was, ‘you’re kimbo.’ I know that word in Jamaica to mean lazy — you’re asleep and spread out. It means the exact same thing in Kenya.”

“Those similarities made me begin to really think of how I could make people from both sides of the ocean” — especially those without pop star travel budgets — “see the same things that I was seeing,” the producer continues. After mulling, he settled on the concept for Abeng, his debut solo album, which consists entirely of collaborations between singers based in the Caribbean (Machel Montano, Alkaline) and their counterparts across the Atlantic (Runtown, Mr. Eazi).

Abeng arrives during a boom time for these partnerships: The last three years have brought music from Vybz Kartel and Wizkid, Popcaan and Davido, Devin Di Dakta and Niniola, Kranium and Wizkid, Konshens and DJ Tunez, Popcaan and Runtown, and the Haitian artist Michael Brun and Mr. Eazi. It’s never been easier to send files back and forth, so distance is no longer an obstacle to collaboration, and the accessibility of a platform like YouTube means that both artists’ fans can stream a track with minimal expense. As the Nigerian hitmaker Runtown puts it: “Do a dual hit: Blow in Africa, still blow in the Caribbean.”

But over three years ago, when Walshy Fire commenced work on Abeng, these collaborations were far more rare. “My world was really reggae-dancehall,” he says, “and I don’t remember too many Africans doing collaborations in the dancehall space. When I first thought about the album, there weren’t any that I knew of. Continue reading…

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