O2 Academy. Saturday
Born Richard Abiona in south London on 2 December 1987, Fuse ODG is urban music's most thrilling new talent in years, and the brightest star of the Afrobeats sound taking over the clubs, the airwaves – and the charts.
Now aged 26, Fuse moved to Ghana as a child, returning to London for secondary school, and doing so with a west African accent. “Secondary school wasn't the easiest,” he reflects with a smile – “being African back in the day wasn't as cool as it is now.” He managed to connect with his peers in London – just like he has with fans around the world – through his music: making hip-hop in his bedroom with his class-mates.
It helped that even then, Fuse had a unique array of influences to draw on: for one thing, he was the only one in his teenage crew 2 Gully who was rapping with an African twang. With his parents playing traditional Ghanaian highlife in the house, the likes of So Solid Crew on the local airwaves, and an obsession with American hip-hop, these are the roots of his melting-pot sound now known as Afrobeats. “I was trying to find myself in this country,” he says. “These sounds were the moulding of me.”
Aged 16, with the rest of 2 Gully Fuse entered an open mic competition at Croydon Fairfield Halls, and immediately knew he wanted to be a performer: “I was just buzzing off that performance, and started to feel more free to express myself, and my identity – finding a balance between my African origins and my London experience.”
Fuse ODG's career moved into a different gear after a trip to Ghana in 2011 – it was there that Reggie Rockstone, the legendary 'Grandpapa of Hiplife' took Fuse under his wing. Listening to more and more cutting-edge African pop, rap and dance music, he met with leading Ghanaian producer Killbeatz to create the international hit Azonto: “I was looking for that western-meets-Africa sound, and in the end all I had to be was myself. I kept seeing the ‘azonto’ dance everywhere I went in Ghana, but no-one was talking about it, so it seemed the perfect thing to make a song about, and show to the world.”
After its viral release in 2011, with a guest spot from Ghana’s leading female rapper, Itz Tiffany, Azonto became a YouTube dance sensation – securing over 12 million views. It’s also an anthem that has spread the Ghanaian dance craze around the world, and led to invites for Fuse to perform to tens of thousands of fans across Europe and Africa.
The viral dance video for Fuse’s second big single, Antenna, accumulated almost 2 million views on YouTube in late 2012, and the next person to succumb to its addictive qualities was hip-hop legend Wyclef Jean. Performing alongside Fuse at a show in Ivory Coast, Wyclef became obsessed with the song, and jumped on the remix to stunning effect. This collaboration catapulted Fuse to another dimension: Antenna ft Wyclef Jean spent 13 weeks in the UK Top 40, peaking at 7, while the video has over 7 million YouTube views. It's also the highest selling urban record of the year [check]. Azonto and Antenna both went to number 1 in the iTunes World Chart as independently-released singles – and have been playlisted across the board on BBC Radio 1, 1Xtra, Capital and Kiss.
His message and music fizzes with the most irresistible kind of fun, but Fuse is also serious about using his music to change lives. “That's where TINA comes in,” he explains, regarding the movement, hashtag, and clothing line he has created: TINA stands for This Is New Africa. “It's something that encapsulates what Africa is now. The stuff I saw on TV about Africa when I was growing up was so negative… but these kids have grown up now, and they're showing the successful and positive side of Africa – it's about being proud of where you're from.” He's also spoken at Stamford University about TINA, and when he was 19 started a youth group called 'Escape', working with young people to help them explore their own artistic dreams.
With his third single ‘Million Pound Girl’ debuting at no.5 in the UK charts, and a debut album in the works for 2014, featuring more collaborations with the likes of Wyclef and Sean Paul amongst others, and a host of new hits, Fuse ODG is the one to watch right now.