Why Santi's Mandy & The Jungle is 2019's Most Important Project (so far)
Evan Dale // July 1, 2019
At a time in artistic and cultural history when the nuances of Western Africa – focused primarily in Nigerian and Ghanaian roots – are garnering a respect and an influence over the globe’s larger cultural direction, Santi’s Mandy & The Jungle deserves a spot in the conversation as one of this era’s most important collective works. A West African cultural renaissance has been shaping up for years and has seemingly now bubbled over, exploding across the globe with vibrant fashion patterns, drums, jewelry, and vocal deliveries. Like most great cultural movements, the fashion, the music, and the art are inseparable, intertwined by their reliance and influence on one another. Santi soundtracks it all with vivacity and vibrancy unparalleled. But he’s only one piece of a much larger puzzle.
From Lagos, Adekunle Gold – a tried and true veteran of the afro-pop scene continues to make bigger and more lasting splashes on the international spectrum. His latest single and video, Kelegbe Megbe is vibrant exhibition of Nigeria’s beautiful artistic past and its endlessly stylish and smooth future beneath the modern light of globalism and West African cultural embrace.
That embrace has been donned heavily by an international audience upon Nigeria’s most celebrated artists from Fela Kuti and Wizkid, to Yemi Alade and Burna Boy.
Also from Nigeria, rappers D’Prince & Rema boast a different take on the merging of old and new, of Africa with the rest of the world, and it’s all on display in their video for latest single, Lavida. An explosive track, Lavida’s visuals naturally bring to life their own vibrant energies, while at the same time merging the world of modern if not futuristic West African music, art, and most noticeably, fashion.
In speaking of that fashion, Muktar Onifade – one of the world’s most unexpected fashion icons whose label VIZUVL GVDS – is changing the way that West Africa and its diaspora are being embraced in the worlds of high fashion and streetwear. His designs are a reflection of his Nigerian roots being married with cultural elements worldwide and are having an impact across the cultural spectrum.
Hip-hop artists from Europe – Kojey Radical from London and Serious Klein from Germany – are doing masterful work in merging the worlds of their European and Ghanaian roots. Both poetically-endowed and lyrical storytellers, Kojey Radical and Serious Klein weave into their expressive lyricism stories, one-liners, and motifs about Ghana while always exploring the instrumental, fashionable, and cinematographic elements that their Ghanaian foundations have to offer. In utilizing Afrocentric explorations in their artistries and personal aesthetics, both have emerged as two of the world’s most exciting hip-hop up-and-comers.
One of Ghana’s most iconic visual storytellers, Joshua Kissi, is a photographer whose keen eye for clarity and socio-cultural thematic explorations have drawn the world to his work and made use of that attention. His brainchild, Street Etiquette began as a men’s lifestyle website and turned into a globally-acclaimed Creative Agency. He didn’t stop there. Founding TONL in Street Etiquette’s wake, Joshua Kissi is now using his photography to change the whitewashed and inaccurate world of stock imagery.
Splitting a childhood between Brooklyn and Guyana, quick-rising hip-hop superstar, SAINt JHN has married the musical pasts of his Afro-Caribbean roots with those of the East Coast, bringing to the mainstream a new take on the Caribbean-inspired hip-hop ideals that have long been sweeping cities like Toronto and New York. And though not directly a product of West African Renaissance, artists like SAINt JHN merging their North American and Caribbean heritages are largely on stylistic par with artists like Kojey Radial and Serious Klein merging their European and West African cultural myriads. The similarities are born in the similarities of their dualistic backgrounds. Where Kojey and Klein are influenced by the music of London and Hamburg – SAINt JHN is influenced by the music of New York. Where Kojey and Klein source inspiration from Ghana – SAINt JHN sources from Guyana. And where America’s East Coast, The UK, and Central Europe share a similar artistic makeup past and present, the same can be said for West Africa and the Caribbean.
And this has outstanding repercussions for the West African Renaissance. When considering artists like SAINt JHN a biproduct of and key role player in West Africa’s cultural Renaissance, its power is more far-reaching and explosive than could have been imagined before. Which is why Mandy & The Jungle is so important to 2019 and a world quickly embracing the cultural mecca that is West Africa.
It’s also why Santi – born and raised in Nigeria and relocating to Dubai for university in his early adulthood – is the perfect torch-bearer for the international implications of the movement. But to understand Santi and Mandy & The Jungle, it’s important to first understand what it is about Nigeria in particular that’s spurring so much artistic and socio-cultural growth.
Alté is Nigeria’s alternative music movement blending the natures of afrobeat, afro-pop, classical African instrumentation, and vocals with mainstream spectrums of the world’s pop, hip-hop, R&B, and neo-soul. Born from the same generation of artists that produced Kissi, Kojey, and Adekunle’s transforming of global culture with gold-stricken vivacity, Alté artists create at the intersection of them all.
Santi is the golden child of the Alté movement and Mandy & The Jungle is his thesis on not only Nigerian Alté, but on West Africa’s Cultural Renaissance, on Caribbean parallelism, on European and North American subsequence, and all of its grand implications on the future of global pop culture.
The album is unendingly inventive in all directions, never adhering to Alté in particular because Alté has no firm definition other than being simply alternative to the Nigerian spectrum of the past and popularly present.
There are reasons why SoundCloud has been littered with your favorite artists reposting their favorite tracks from Mandy & The Jungle. PARTYNEXTDOOR for the floaty non-specificity it undoubtedly shares with his own invention, Boogie for the Summertime cool it shares with his, DRAM and GoldLink each for their respective additions to the marathon project (see Demon Hearts & Maria).
And those shows of respect, admiration, and collaboration should not be taken lightly. Hip-hop and R&B artists specifically have long utilized nuances of cloth cut from West Africa and the Caribbean (listen to pretty much any project out of Toronto and try not to hear its heavy Jamaican dancehall influence), but only recently have outright shout-outs to modern artistry and full-stop collaboration been so prevalent. Rappers have always admired the jewelry game of Shabba Ranks and the constant influence of reggae in particular is obvious, but for the most part other than quick and largely meaningless quips about ethnic and cultural roots, hip-hop and R&B have largely ignored modern music from the places they love to use in rhyme – especially music and culture at large from West Africa.
But at a time of explosive afro-futurism spurred by the influence of a Nigerian and Ghanaian cultural renaissance, an array of transcendent European and North American artists with key ties to their West African and Caribbean roots, a global thirst for new and exciting art driven by global culturalism, and the success of mainstream cultural phenomena like The Black Panther, things are changing fast.
To date, at a time when the most exciting artistic horizons lie in the hands of the West African creative powerhouses and their far reaching Renaissance borders, Santi with Mandy & The Jungle has delivered afrofuturism’s most modern, evocative, and transcendent collection, perfectly definitive of what the future will come to worship in art.