Afro B arrives in 2019 with arguably the biggest Afrobeats song to hit the US, and worldwide. “Drogba (Joanna)” is not only catchy, but introduces audiences to the diverse culture of African music while bringing the familiar sounds of R&B and hip-hop.
Currently, the track hails over 100 million streams across all platforms and is No. 13 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart. It has also seen remixes from African-born stars French Montana and WizKid.
What people may not know is that Afro B started out as a DJ and event producer. At age 16, real name Ross Bayeto began spinning at a club called NW10 where he built his first fanbase. During a time when dancehall and hip-hop were prominent, the UK-bred DJ stood out amongst his peers, pushing the genre of AfroWave that’s now accepted worldwide.
DJcity caught up with a good-spirited Afro B in his few days in Los Angeles to chat about his come up as a DJ, the AfroWave movement, and the success of “Drogba (Joanna).”
You refer to your style as “AfroWave.” Describe what that is for those who aren’t familiar.
AfroWave is the movement promoting the African culture to people who are unfamiliar, giving a good view on the continent itself. It’s the sound as well, a combination of different elements into one. You might hear some influences from dancehall, influences from old school hip-hop, new-school hip-hop, and a bit of reggaeton. It depends on the vibe on the day you make it in the studio.
How does your background as a DJ influence you as an artist?
I look at things like what would get people moving? What would work in the club and what wouldn’t? The way I tap music, I always think of whether it’d work for a club or not. It helped me work out the structure as well. People like catchy music and vibes, that’s always the angle I hit.
How did you get into DJing?
I was with a group of friends, two of them already knew how to DJ. Kenny Allstar and Rick, we had a group called All-Star Entertainment. They literally taught me how to DJ. I started off using VirtualDJ on my laptop. We started to release mixes on YouTube, and I was getting good numbers. Not many people were using social media at the time. We were throwing under 16 or 18 events, that’s how we were building our fan bases.
A lot of DJs are content with staying DJs. Why did you expand?
You know what? I started off playing keys in church. I also grew up listening to all types of music, not just Afrobeats. From old school rock and roll to Amy Winehouse, Michael Jackson, 50 Cent, Ja Rule, Akon, Sean Paul, Vybz Kartel, Mavado, Popcaan, just a different range of music.
When you were DJing, did you think you’d be where you are now?
I always speak things into existence, so I knew I would get to this point one way or the other. I always envisioned things happening. I did see myself coming; I just didn’t know when it was gonna happen. This “Joanna” [track], that’s the ticket. [laughs]
It wasn’t an instant hit. How’d it grow into what it is now?
Well, I attached a dance challenge to it. I was very strategic with the way I was pushing the track. Social media played a big part in the song spreading into different territories. The dance challenge called #DrogbaChallenge allowed different people all over the world to dance to the record, who weren’t necessarily African as well. Mainly through Instragam, Twitter, and Facebook. Those three platforms helped it spread. Then it started to reach the DJs; the DJs started to play it in the clubs. It was more of an organic build rather than paying for crazy promotion and getting it into people’s faces. It’s been a gradual build.
Was the dance challenge through an app, like TikTok?
Nah, I was pre-recording people dancing to the song in dance classes. Literally the day after the release, I was releasing all the pre-recorded videos on my Instagram. There was one in particular that went viral, like crazy viral.
What was it about that one?
The skill. She did it with style man. That was the one that took off. Then it just had a knock-on effect; all these other videos were going viral.
Wow. Being a DJ yourself, what was your strategy in getting it to DJs?
I literally sent it out and would just connect with them. If someone would add me on Instagram playing the song, I’d thank them for playing the record, connect with them. [I’d] Be like “anything you need, let me know. If you want [a] drop, I can literally record it on WhatsApp. If you need a dubplate, I can record that for you when I’m in the studio.” I understand their value because I am a DJ. I understand the importance DJs are to the music because they really play a big part in spreading the music to the masses. They’re the ones telling the audience, “yeah, this is a cool song” or “this isn’t a cool song.”
Do you feel pressure to have a successful follow up to “Joanna”?
No man! Right now the way I see it is, I’m a supplier. Because the sound is new and people don’t really know many artists or songs in this scene, they’re gonna just look at people who have the song poppin’ right now. “What else do they have out?” Or “what are they bringing out?” So I’ve got an album ready to go in the next two months. I’ve got my next single coming out next month, so I just have to keep providing. Whatever people gravitate towards, that’s what it’s going to be, man. 100%.
“Joanna” might be one of the most popular African music singles ever in the US, but the genre itself has yet to crossover into the mainstream. What could change that?
We just need to keep dropping more records I feel. It’s still early. “Joanna” could be the door-opener to more music breaking through the mainstream. We just need to keep supplying, get more co-signs from the bigger artists, like Beyonce. She just did the Lion King album and featured some African artists on there [Burna Boy]. That’s gonna help it because obviously, she influences a lot of people. If people are watching her do that, they say “okay, so it’s cool to do that.”
What about you? What do you think you can do?
Me? Just keep releasing! Talk to people like you, have interviews with people who are introducing the sound to people who are unfamiliar with it. Not just promoting it [to] people who know about it already. That’s what I aim to do.
You know our team member, Poizon Ivy the DJ? How did you guys connect?
Yeah, that’s my friend! She’s been supporting from early. She picked up on the record early last year. She’s someone that’s been pushing African music from the jump. She’s a cool girl, man. Dope DJ.
Do you guys joke about how the record blew up?
Yeah man, because obviously it’s been out for a year and a half now. She’s been like “oh people are late, but it’s cool man.” She gives me updates on how it’s performing in [Dallas]. She was the first one to play it at an NBA game. I can’t remember what game it was, but she sent me the footage of her playing it. That’s how I connected with her. She showed me the footage of her playing the record at an NBA game. I followed her instantly, thanking her.
Do you still DJ?
Yes. Up to now, I still have a weekly radio Afrobeats radio show on mainstream radio called Capital XTRA. My show’s called Afrobeats. I’m still pushing the genre, other people’s music that’s not my music. That whole Afrowave movement, just pushing the culture to the masses.
Will you be doing DJ sets on top of your performances?
Well DJ sets, I haven’t done one in a while. People been calling me to perform rather than DJ, but later on down the line, once I’ve done my thing with the music, I’ll say “do you want to book me to DJ or do you want to book me to perform?” Give them the choice.
Is there anything else you want to let us know?
[My] next single [is] out next month [and my] album [is] on the way, Afrowave 3. More Afrobeats vibes. [I’m] working on getting some American features on there. I’ve got the French Montana remix out now. I’ve got a Latin remix on the way with Ozuna. Let’s keep breaking down those doors; that’s what I aim to do.