Fuse ODG’s debut album ‘T.I.N.A. (This Is New Africa)’ opened a dialogue to present Africa as it really is: a vibrant, scenic and community-orientated continent full of opportunities that’s a world away from how it’s portrayed by the mainstream media. Assisted by the viral hit single ‘Azonto’, Fuse ignited debates in some of the world’s most prestigious universities and raised awareness all over the globe.
The album also cemented Fuse’s status as the pioneer of the Afrobeats sound. Mixing the irresistible rhythms of the original Afrobeat genre with the rambunctious production of grime and a bold pop sensibility, Afrobeats is a sound that feels at home in London as it does in Lagos or Accra.
It’s a genre that’s now gaining traction in the mainstream with Diplo, Major Lazer and Beyoncé all releasing music that reflects its energy and vibe. Meanwhile, its previously underground stars such as Wizkid and Davido are bigger than ever before, while newcomer J Hus breaks boundaries by fusing the genre with grime. It has even inspired Ed Sheeran, who co-wrote the ‘÷’ album track ‘Bibia Be Ye Ye’ with Fuse while visiting his projects in Ghana.
Fuse’s forthcoming album ‘New Africa Nation’ aims to build upon those achievements by creating tangible results. Fuse is passionately engaged in helping African people to spread word of their culture by prospering in creative endeavours that include a record label, a music festival, a fashion brand and children’s toys. By connecting with the international community, Fuse believes that those cultural roots will inspire investment and tourism from the world-at-large.
“Our ultimate goal is to create a new African nation with major businesses, record labels, movie directors and restaurants – an empire in which each product contributes towards African culture,” he explains. “These things influence your subconscious – ‘Oh, that place looks nice, maybe we should go there or find out more about it.’ It’s about influencing and providing the means for a whole new African lifestyle.”
Fuse ODG was born in Tooting but spent most of his early childhood in his parents’ homeland of Ghana. He returned to nearby Mitcham for secondary school but soon encountered an identity crisis caused, in part, by his African accent.
“When I was in Ghana everyone would say I was from London, and when I was in London everyone would say I was from Ghana,” he recalls. It was a time that clearly influences his current work. “As I got older I realised that I was proud of being African. The music means a lot for me to be able to represent Africa, so other kids who came to London from Africa can see that it’s okay to stay true to your mother tongue and to represent your culture.”
“When I was in Ghana everyone would say I was from London, and when I was in London everyone would say I was from Ghana.”
As a teenager, Fuse started to make music in order to be accepted in school. One of the friends he made was his future manager Andre Hackett, and together the pair started a community project in which they taught music skills to young people to keep them off the streets. It was such a success that they soon earned further contracts for similar projects from schools, colleges and the London Probation Service.
It was around this time that Fuse organised a showcase gig to raise money to support children in Africa. As his fundraising gradually grew in scale, he teamed up with Wood World Missions to raise funds to build a primary school in Akosombo in Ghana which was built entirely on local resources – builders, teachers and raw materials. As the children are now reaching secondary school age, Fuse’s new challenge is to build a suitable place for them to move on to. The school is currently due to be named Nana, a unisex name that was chosen as it means king or queen – a suitable name for a centre which will educate the nation’s future leaders.
Although Fuse was already actively making music, he opted to return to Ghana to soak up the local music scene and the wider culture to find fresh inspiration for his own tracks. “The food was amazing, the people were amazing and the music that I was hearing was phenomenal. Afrobeats is just music that makes you feel good. It’s good music with good vibes, it makes you want to move and it puts a smile on your face.”
The trip resulted in Fuse releasing ‘Azonto’ which in turn sparked the kind of worldwide dance craze that you can’t manufacture, with dozens of videos from all over the world amassing millions of views. It was the start of something much bigger as Fuse subsequently hit the UK Top 10 with four singles and became Afrobeats’ dominant figure.
Fuse’s growing profile magnified the media’s interest in the message behind his music. After an impassioned speech highlighting Africa’s virtues after he collected Best African Act at the MOBO Awards, Fuse was subsequently interviewed by the likes of BBC News and The Guardian as his words gained momentum. The debate was further extended with debates at universities including Cambridge, Georgetown and Harvard, while the support of politically aware footballers including Didier Drogba and Emmanuel Adebayor continued to further the cause.
Yet Fuse also had the courage of his convictions to realise when exposure could instead damage his campaign. He famously turned down an invite to participate in Band Aid, believing that it misrepresented a continent in which the need for tourism and investment is hindered by depicting it as diseased and poverty-stricken. However, Fuse’s rare ability to present his argument in a way that was engaging rather than preachy helped to win over one of the musicians who did participate.
Fuse and Ed Sheeran became friends after featuring on many of the same bills together, and Fuse extended an open-ended invitation for Sheeran to “soak in the proper old school traditional music vibe” in Ghana. Fuse believes that it offered a snapshot of the real Africa and that it encouraged Sheeran to connect with a culture that he continues to support. Sheeran’s enthusiasm can be further demonstrated by the fact that he added the Afrobeats-flavoured ‘Bibia Be Ye Ye’ to an album that he had previously considered to be finished.
As Fuse continues, “Ed understands that it’s not just about people donating £2 per month, but it’s about encouraging people in the long run to visit and spend far more, or even to invest. We need short-term solutions, but let’s also keep in mind the long-term effects of what we’re doing.”
In addition to the school, his long-term plans include a clothing line (“We’re making sure that the colours are popping!”); a range of Nana dolls inspired by inspirational women from African history; a music festival that unites the continent’s many nations (“The cultures are so different, but the music is a platform to get all of these countries together to learn about each other and see how we can work together”); and even longer-term plans for tourism and sporting events which are still in development.
At the heart of it all is Fuse’s mansion in Accra which is more of a headquarters than a home. It’s a cottage industry which allows many of his community dreams to flourish. It’s the site of his Off Da Ground Records label and recording studio, and there’s also a video editing suite with a director, a manufacturing line for the clothing brand, and an in-house artist. With luxury touches such as a swimming pool, it’s also the ideal site to entertain and inspire visiting artists as they collaborate with local talent.
Fuse commenced the ‘New Africa Nation’ album campaign late last year with the uplifting and authentic Afrobeats banger ‘Jinja’, a West African word that derives from broken English which means to give excessive energy to a person or situation, especially through dance.
Currently working on a wealth of new material for the album, Fuse is about to follow ‘Jinja’ by dropping the big summer vibes of his new single ‘Window Seat’. “It’s like my own rags to riches story! I grew up on an estate in Mitcham and now I’m travelling the world. I’m sitting on a plane, looking out of the window and thinking, ‘Wow, how did we get here?’, and feeling thankful for it.”
With Afrobeats now staking a claim to become a mainstream genre in its own right, Fuse’s vision to use music as a springboard to enable long-term growth across the continent feels perfectly timed.
“We want to create our own media and influence outside media so that people understand that Africa’s actually a rich place to come from and a beautiful place to visit,” he concludes. “It’s a real mission, and music is the fun way to do it.”