HIVE CULTURE #06 - Bridging Beats and Borders – Stories and Insights from Sam 2024’s Journey Through Africa

Africa is the future is talk of the past. Africa is NOW.

HIVE CULTURE #06 - Bridging Beats and Borders – Stories and Insights from Sam 2024’s Journey Through Africa

I was introduced to Samresh Shrivastava by Srishti, and of course their love for Amapiano and African sounds & culture. Fortunately, I love the music and was genuinely curious to speak to someone who has been a big part of bringing African music into the music scene in India. Whether it's his online discovery platform and community - Now Africa, promoting emerging artists, sounds, and culture from the continent, his graphic design studio, Krgyn, or his travels to Africa to experience the music and culture that inspired his artistic journey. Sam 2024 has reimagined himself, he says, after his return from Africa and is committed to changing people’s perception about the music being “underground”. Below, our wholesome chat about his beginnings, travel stories and insights from the great continent itself:

Akriti: How did you get into African music and culture? What are some early memories? 

Sam 2024: My older brother, Sarvesh (Sickflip), has been an influential figure in shaping my musical tastes from a young age. With a six-year age gap, he delved into music during third grade, opening my ears to genres like Drum and bass and Dubstep. Major Lazer, and specifically his "Africa is the Future mixtape," became a pivotal point in my musical journey. DJ Walshy Fire's set, in collaboration with DJ Fully Focused, introduced me to the vibrant and upbeat world of Nigerian music, marking a stark contrast to the more intense and emotionally draining tones of Drum and bass and Dubstep.

The infectious positivity of African music captured my heart, and I found myself exploring various artists and sub-genres. As my passion for African music grew, I realised there was a lack of representation in the party scene. I couldn't find events that showcased the sounds I loved, prompting me to take matters into my own hands. Inspired by the desire to share the joyous vibes of African music, I decided to start DJing. This journey wasn't solely driven by the absence of the right parties but also by the encouragement and support of Sarvesh, who, despite being a musician himself, pursued a different musical path.

The establishment of my platform was rooted in the notion that if I, at one point, found solace and joy in the "Africa is the Future mixtape," then it's only logical to believe that Africa is now the future. This sentiment became the motto of my platform, guiding my musical endeavours and emphasising the timeless appeal of African sounds in the contemporary music landscape.

Akriti: I love the slogan and the T-shirt! Tell me about the visual side of your work.

Sam 2024: As a creative myself, I know how much it takes for a creative to succeed. You always require a team who is there for you proactively and that's kind of where I wanted to go with Now Africa. I run a graphic design studio, so most of my day does go there but I use the rest to push through all the other stuff.

Picture from the Screen Printing Pop up in Kumasi

Akriti: When was the seed to travel to Africa sowed? How long has this been in the works? 

Sam 2024: I always knew that I didn't feel a sense of belonging here, I just did not know where I felt it. Now that I know there are a few places that I belong to, it’s a huge motivator for me to find my way there and be integrated into a culture that I love so much. Ideally, I want to lean into finding my place in Africa and then just move around different countries, work with a lot of people so I don't have to be in India at all. Seriously, this plan has been in the works for five years.

Akriti: How was the experience? Being there, meeting people and performing with and for them?

Sam 2024: South Africa became the starting point for an unforgettable musical journey. Landing in Johannesburg, the city echoed with the beats of Amapiano, a genre I deeply love. The number one item on my bucket list was to see Kabza De Small. Fate aligned perfectly as he was scheduled to perform at Konka Soweto the Monday following my arrival. There, I discovered significant differences from the Indian scene. While table service was more prevalent, the emphasis on exclusivity and stringent rules governing artist appearances was refreshingly absent. I found liberation in the integration of dance floors, allowing people to enjoy the music freely without being confined to specific spots. 

Cape Town added another layer to the experience. Attending a DJ Lag performance revealed the local approach to multiple shows on the same day, challenging my preconceived notions about exclusivity rules prevalent in India. The focus on the party name, venue, and overall vibe rather than the exclusivity of an artist showcased a different perspective. Observing multiple parties happening simultaneously; I found it liberating to have the option to explore different venues and enjoy the same music in various settings. The variety of good venues, rooftop settings, and basement experiences allows for diverse choices.

Kenya presented a unique experience for me as I focused primarily on attending "Beneath The Baobabs" festival. The festival's diversity was truly refreshing, it featured Gengetone, Techno, House, Amapiano and Afrobeats. This diversity contributed to a rich and inclusive festival experience, a departure from my time in South Africa. The atmosphere was markedly different, with a noticeable presence of individuals from various backgrounds, including a substantial Indian community. Similar to festivals back home, it embraced a wide range of genres and catered to a broader audience. Personally biased towards Amapiano, I found the mainstage experience on the first day particularly exhilarating.

Akriti: That's interesting. The main stage was Amapiano? 

Sam 2024: Yes, imagine that! You’d never feel like 120-125 BPM is mainstage behaviour. They had the best sound system and setup for something that is super slow and sexy that digests really well. There were dancers there throughout and they’d come in and make everybody move in a certain way. That's something that we look at differently here - our perception towards dancers at a venue but also the way we dress our dancers. The dancers are basically like a group of young guys and girls from a dance group and they're hired to do that rather than here, for example in Goa, you see a lot of Russian women only, and that's also the reason why we have a different perception. 

Akriti: I want to know more about the differences between the Indian and African market from a business and scene point of view. What are the top-line differences you noticed?

Sam 2024: It's interesting to note the differences in the concept of VIP between our perspectives and those in South Africa. Attending a concert where half of the dance floor was designated as VIP, it wasn't about exclusive treatment but rather proximity to the DJ. This contrasted with the notion of VIP in our context. The similarities lay in the ability to charge higher prices with the right curation and quality venues, aligning with the consistency I prefer over the fluctuating pricing system common here.

Although I didn't initially scrutinise these aspects during the shows, I found myself experiencing diverse settings in Soweto. Konka stood out as the most expensive, where the minimum order requirement for a bottle, coupled with the inability to visit the bar directly, led to a unique dynamic. A similar setup was observed in Maboneng, a party district in Johannesburg, emphasising the role of waiters in guiding patrons to tables and facilitating orders. While this approach may pressure individuals into spending more at the bar, it presents a different perspective on the party scene. It's intriguing to witness how cultural nuances influence the bar sales strategy. 

At a festival outside Cape Town, the atmosphere was more relaxed, allowing attendees to visit the bar independently, highlighting the broad spectrum of experiences. This variability extends to Ghana, where the party culture aligns closely with our preferences. Observing familiar family dynamics and even the naming of rickshaws as "Pragya" due to influences from Hindi soap operas, Ghana felt like a home away from home. The diverse approaches to party settings across these locations underscore the need to find venues that align with different preferences, each with its unique ticketing system.

Akriti: I would never have imagined Bollywood is still popular across Africa! 

Sam 2024: Yeah, I would never have imagined all this, so I really began to learn all of this stuff. Lots of Bollywood, lots of daily soaps! One of the artists, Gafacci, is also inspired by Bollywood. He's constantly looking up to Bollywood music and integrates that into his music samples. He's really well known and a really good producer from Accra. So, there's a lot of influences that go from here to there as well. 

Ghana also has a lot of free parties. Their parties are not really something you pay for much. There are parties everywhere, so it's like where you want to be and where you want to spend your time and money. There are certain public bars that are normal. You just pass them by on the road, but there are also perfect parties. There's this really cool vinyl bar in Jamestown, in Accra, called “Jamestown Boutique,” and they had a really cool setup. I played my second show there. I think Freedom is the biggest difference between the Indian and African scene. I knew I didn't have to set up a specific song a certain way whereas back here I make sure I set up each song in a way that people can understand, relate and then move to it. 

Akriti: Last year, we had Rema touring India and Tyla’s ‘Water’ was trending for weeks on socials. Everybody knows the songs - but they don’t know the artist or the culture. How can we bridge that gap between India and Africa?

Sam 2024: In curating Now Africa showcases, I intentionally avoid highlighting the names of DJs, including myself. Having conducted solo shows at Soho for an entire day, I initially carried this approach to South Africa. However, I soon recognized the importance of aligning with customer behaviour rather than trying to alter it. The key was to let people recognize the sound rather than specific artists, leveraging that as a positive starting point. The strategy involves focusing on building stronger Intellectual Properties (IPs). By developing IPs with notable names and impressive showcases, the goal is to gradually attract people to the music. The role of an IP should encompass a consistent introduction of music, thereby strengthening its overall appeal. Over time, as enthusiasts develop a deeper connection with the IP, anticipation for future events grows.

Understanding that everyday consumers may not approach music with the same educated mindset as enthusiasts, the emphasis shifts toward creating a robust IP. This approach allows for audiences to invest in an idea rather than relying solely on individual artists for each event. Strengthening the IP becomes a means of financial support, facilitating sustained growth. Recognizing the potential, I am also working on planning a Now Africa showcase tour for India, aiming to implement this strategy more effectively. This aligns with the broader branding efforts, such as the increasing prominence of Sam 2024, contributing to a more cohesive and powerful identity for Now Africa in the market.

Akriti: Thank you, Sam! Anything else that you want to add?

Sam 2024: Shimza's event in India challenged my preconceptions about a venue in Andheri, emphasising that African music, far from being underground, has broad appeal. The enthusiastic response to Shimza, even in an unconventional setting, highlighted the undeniable power of African music to unite diverse audiences. This experience affirmed the need to shift away from considering African music as underground, encouraging its presentation in more popular and mass-oriented venues. The success across various venues from Barefoot to Eco and Soho, underlines its universal appeal.  The call to avoid elitist norms, not treat African artists differently and emphasise fair compensation aligns with African music becoming more mainstream. 

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