Ayriq Akam’s experimental hip hop goes from soulful to minimalist
Perhaps best known for “Bienvenue au Cameroun”, a hip hop song with a soulful influence released in 2010 to wide acclaim, Ayriq Akam can be considered as a lynchpin of the underground hip hop/rap scene in Cameroon. “Bienvenue au Cameroun” is shot around the Central Market in Yaoundé, highlighting everyday life scenes from the market and around town in a way that surreptitiously documents the man in the street. The song moves on from the central market, as Akam becomes a touristic guide of sorts, pointing out other everyday scenes around the city.
A change of environment, as well as other factors led Ayriq Akam into hip hop in 1995 and in 1997 he teamed up with MH to form a group called Feu Rouge. His interaction with Mr Ndongo (DJ Str’ss) greatly enlarged his music repertoire and in 2000, he participated in a mixtape produced by DJ Str’ss entitled Micro, Sauce, Tomate. After a brief hiatus, in 2001 he continued writing spoken word and rap texts and in 2004, after he became disillusioned with his former label, Dark Cell Recordz, he launched the label Self Service Music with his friend S’Mael. The label was operational right up to about 2012 and it was under this label that he released Puzzle, in 2010, which includes the hit tracks “Bienvenue au Cameroun” and “I Got Soul”, and Okayafrica described the album as the product of “a dope MC repping Cameroon to the fullest.”
Sometime later, a change in ideology as well as in the direction of his music (he had a soulful influence under Self Service Music) led Akam in 2014 to create Bangando Dream, another label, which represents his musical maturity as well as a desire to return to African influences and samples.
Over the years, Akam’s style has been constantly changing and he has experimented with different styles and forms from mainstream rap to spoken word poetry. His current experimental style, which highlights his maturity can be described as minimalist, given its stripped down nature wherein every superfluous beat has been discarded, and his lyrics, as well as instrumentals fit into the “less is more” concept.
Minimal repetitive music was born as a style in the 60s, but its traces predate that period and can be found in various types of music in the past. Minimalism in music features repetition and iteration such as those of the compositions of La Monte Young, John Adams, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass.
Jeff Zeiders in “Hip Hop and the Minimalist Aesthetic” posits that “The most distinctive elements of early minimalism (extreme repetition, additive process, strong pulse) are audible in much of the art music of the late twentieth century. But they appear dominantly in popular music genres too, from club music to film soundtracks. One genre that has incorporated these basic elements in new and progressive ways is hip-hop, specifically in the use of tape samples, additive processes, strong pulses, and extreme repetition.”
While minimalism may possibly be the least understood school of hip hop, artists such as Kanye West have been recognized as minimalist on albums like 808s & Heartbreak and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Akam’s new musical projects, which will culminate in an LP tentatively called Hello, expose his desire to do music which is at once constructive and stripped down to its most essential elements for an African audience which is reflective of the African socio-political experience. “Ma Nouvelle Afrique” is steeped in social consciousness and hope, but it is devoid of the soulful influence of Akam’s earlier songs such as “Bienvenue au Cameroun” and “I Got Soul” as its kinship rather lies with Blitz the Ambassador and the minimalist movement. Akam’s faith in Africa is made clear in the chorus, in which he repeats in English: “It’s the new day for my Africa, for you and me.”
Introspection haunts “Travelers” as the song is accompanied by an acoustic guitar and opens with a repetitive chorus which is soul-searching and the persona ponders existence and life. The song ends by alternating solo guitar notes and finally vocals devoid of guitar accompaniment. Both songs tread the fine line between rap and spoken word and the beats are simple, repetitive and minimal. A recent forerunner of the current direction of Akam’s style is his track “Comme Koppo”, whose video, released in April 2014, is shot at Avenue Kennedy in Yaoundé, and has as stage props a microphone, a guitarist and a camera, as well as people going about their daily businesses. The video eschews all the glamour and blitz which characterizes many recent music videos.
Going by his new songs, Akam seems to be a new person, or perhaps, he simply knows how to recycle his earlier influences such that the likes of NWA, Public Enemy and MC Solaar have been fully consumed and added to his insatiable musical repertoire, giving way to newer influences such as Fela Kuti, Blitz the Ambassador and minimalism which is omnipresent in his recent tracks.