Introducing “Scene to Watch: Borderless Sounds” ft. Alté Wavves

Introducing “Scene to Watch: Borderless Sounds” ft. Alté Wavves

As the global community where 20 million creators from 190 countries share their sounds with the world every day, SoundCloud connects artists, bridges genres and pushes traditional music boundaries to create change. “Borderless Sounds” celebrates the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly by spotlighting five global music scenes that show how sounds can come together to create new genres and drive music culture forward, across timezones and borders. Check back every day this week for a new Scene to Watch.

Scene to Watch: Alté Wavves: New African Pop

Guest post by Eddie Stats Houghton*

“What is alté?” is the question on everyone’s lips lately, judging by the amount of digital ink devoted to it. The short answer is this: Alté is style initiated by a rising freshman class of Nigerian musicians transforming afropop – just as the genre was starting to get comfortable on the global mainstream front. This next wave is less a genre than it is a loosely-assembled group of young talent like Santi, Lady Donli, Odunsi, Zamir, Tomi Thomas, Aylø, Funbi and Bridge who consistently collaborate with and influence each other, while innovating the blacklantic sonic-sphere led by Lagos and London.

While it can be hard to tell where afropop ends and alté begins, there are some clear-cut style markers and recurring motifs. Alté tracks tend to be more ambient and less rhythm-driven than recent afropop hits. Occasional flourishes of hi-life guitar and palm wine percussion can still be found, though they’re more likely to give way to lingering, melancholy, jazz-inflected chords. The sparer rhythms and floating notes conjure a space for introspection often matched by a visual aesthetic reflective of new-age spirituality – e.g., artwork ft. candles or crosses, and artists favoring all-black attire over the latest designer. Some of these innovations can be ascribed to simple geographic and generational drift: if afropop is a West African sound in dialogue with Stormzy, Vybz Kartel, and Drake, alté resonates more strongly with Khalid, 6lack, and Swae Lee.  But what makes a track alté is more the mood than musicology, a swirling, dreamlike quality that’s reminiscent of Seal or P.M. Dawn at their most ambitious.

If you ask Santi, Odunsi or Lady Donli, they might deny that those stylistic traits alone make something “alté.” What the term signifies to these artists is simply a sense of individualism and a disdain for conformist thinking. And this suggests that maybe there’s no short answer to the question, “What is alté?” – rather, it’s the contributions of each respective artist that define this scene to watch. 

Stream our alté playlist New African Pop to get familiar with your future favorites, and then check back tomorrow for our next scene to watch as part of our “Borderless Sounds” series with the United Nations.

“Scene to Watch” is the newest extension of SoundCloud’s To Watch programming that gives you a heads-up on who and what should be on your radar. Because from artists to DJs to scenes: what’s next in music is first on SoundCloud.

*Born in NYC and raised in Detroit, Eddie “STATS” Houghton has made a name breaking international sounds in the US both as a DJ and music journalist since the early 1990s. His work has appeared in FADER, GQ, Pitchfork, RBMA, Interview Magazine, Vogue, and Okayplayer, where he was editor-in-chief and helped launch the Caribbean culture channel LargeUp. He has DJed embassy events in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Armenia at the invitation of the US State Dept. He currently curates music content for the Vibrations community on SoundCloud.

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