February 20, 2020
From Beyoncé in golden robes to J Hus’s devilish alter ego, musicians from the African diaspora are paying tribute to the religion of their ancestors
That not-so-old black magic: how African mysticism returned to pop
In west Africa, juju, also known as black magic, is the indigenous belief system in the ability of the spiritual world to impact on the physical one. Now, it is in the charts. More than ever, artists from the styles of Afrobeats, Afroswing and Afropop are weaving traditional mysticism into their work in a way that smirks at the scary stories and stern warnings from their parents that they will have absorbed as children of the African diaspora.
The essential point of juju is that the outside world is not as it initially appears to the naked eye. When Gambian-British rap star J Hus refers to himself as Juju Jay, alongside his personification as bonsam (the direct Ghanaian Twi translation for which is “devil”), he is doing a lot more than saying he is the bad guy you don’t want turning up at your door at night. Afroswing group NSG’s track Options, a recent No 7 hit in the UK charts, features rapper Dopebwoy jokingly speculating on the fate of his enemies, saying “fuck around and I’ll take your pic to the shrine”, implying that disrespect warrants a cosmic retaliation. Wizkid’s video for viral hit Jaiye Jaiye similarly sees him mesh the language of material wealth, “Maserati fun iyawo mi, Ferragamo, Bugatti” with the aesthetic of tribal worship: white facepaint, masks and rural landscapes.
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