The Herald (Harare)

21 August 2012

Africa: How Akon Is Keeping Africa Relevant

opinion

Photo: Akon/Facebook
Senegalese American star Akon

I first met Akon on September 4, 2010 when my friend, the late Prince Tendai Mupfurutsa, introduced me to him at Meikles Hotel after he had arrived in Harare for the "Real Deal" concert. He appeared to be a humble and well-brought up man. We got into conversation and soon I realised what a powerful celebrity I was talking to.

Akon talked about his world experiences including musical collaborations he had with the likes of Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Tpain, Lil Wayne, 50 Cent, Lady Gaga, Usher and The Notorious BIG.

His musical collaborations stretch across all continents.

He has had musical collaborations in the United States, India, New Zealand, Europe, Australia, China and Africa and some of them include work with Wiber Pam from Taiwan, Reggaeton and French DJ David Guetta.

He is indeed a shrewd businessman with a fashion label and a diamond mine.

Our conversation ended with talk of the demise of Fortune Muparutsa in 2009 whose music Akon loved and was about to put on the international map through his Konvict Music Label.

He was really disappointed to hear of Fortune's death and has since begun searching for other promising African artistes he can help to achieve global recognition.

He told me that although he was born in the States, it was difficult for him to abandon his African roots as he spent quite a large part of his life in Senegal and therefore the desire to assist talented musicians through his successful label, Konvict Music.

He said he would keep on searching for African talent until African music makes it worldwide. What a noble thought!

The search seems to have been successful as Akon is now the man behind the success of Nigeria's P-Square.

P-Square are a Nigerian R&B duo composed of identical twin brothers Peter and Paul Okoye.

In December 2011, they were signed to Akon's Konvict Music label which has enabled the duo to do a collaboration and release songs like "Chop My Money"

throughout the world..

P-Square are on everybody's mouth in the UK today as they are played regularly on almost every radio station.

Early this year P-Square conducted a successful tour of Britain and are due back in November.

It is the hand of Akon, that has assisted this group to reach the top.

Akon realised a long time ago when he did a duet with Michael Jackson that musical collaborations are the way to reach to the top and that successful artistes should assist up- and coming artistes to achieve this.

When it comes to collaborations, Akon can only be matched with our very own Oliver Mtukudzi who has had dust with numerous African artistes.

Akon and Michael Jackson were close friends near the end of Jackson's life.

In 2008, Akon collaborated with Michael Jackson on the song "Hold My Hand" and after their recording, this is what Akon had to say: "Mike is the King of Pop, and I think that it's a dream come true for any major artiste, songwriter or producer to be able to work with the best in the business!

"You know, to work with someone like Mike -- who's created opportunities, opened doors for so many people, and achieved so much in the music world, period -- is just an experience which would be enough to take home for anyone!

"I mean, when I first flew up to Vegas and met him it was almost like we'd known each other for years! Literally! Cause musically we were on the same exact page!

"The chemistry was just incredible! And, as a person, he was the most cool, humble dude I've ever met!

"I mean, we even actually got to go to the movies together -- in broad daylight! Which was an experience in itself!"

Akon now believes that if huge stars such as Michael Jackson can open doors for him, why should he not do the same for his fellow Africans?

Akon was born Damala Badara Akon Thiam in St Louis, Missouri, on April 16 in 1973 and spent much of his childhood in the West African country, Senegal, which he describes as his "hometown".

The child of a dancer mother and a renowned percussionist father, Mor Thiam, Akon learned to play five instruments, including drums, guitar and djembe.

At seven, he moved with his family to Union City, New Jersey, splitting his time between the United States and Senegal until settling in Newark, New Jersey.

Growing up in New Jersey, Akon had difficulties getting along with other children. When he and his older brother reached high school, his parents left them on their own in Jersey City and moved the rest of the family to Atlanta, Georgia.

Akon's first album "Trouble" was a huge success.

His second album, "Konvicted" was released on November 14, 2006.

It included collaborations with Eminem, Snoop Dogg (who now prefers to call himself Snoop Lion after his visit to Jamaica) and Styles P.

After only six weeks, "Konvicted" sold more than one million records in the US and more than 1,3 million worldwide.

The album was certified platinum after seven weeks, and after 16 weeks it was certified double platinum.

It stayed in the top 20 of the Billboard 200 for 28 consecutive weeks and peaked at number two on four different occasions.

On November 20, 2007, the RIAA certified the album "triple platinum" with three million units sold in the US.

It has sold more than five million copies worldwide. He has achieved gold and platinum certifications in 23 countries with the album .

When asked by an interviewer on MSN.com in October 2007 what his fans could expect in the future, Akon responded: "Just expect the unexpected. The fans can definitely know that I'm gonna always come a whole new way of how they saw me last. And that's always been my goal - to kind of surprise them and come from a blindside angle because that's how you keep the excitement going about you.

"You always want to do something they would never expect you to do, and then when you do it, you do it well".

And this is what Akon did during his Zimbabwe tour in 2010. After speculation that he was not coming he finally did and had this to say:

"Sometimes you hear that Akon is coming but we never knew that we are coming! It is really funny because Africans, we are like that, we are the ultimate hustlers.

"This time it was real! A call came from Prince Tendai in Zimbabwe and it was a real call with some real people doing some real business.

"It definitely made sense for us to wanna come because this is what we always wanted to be doing.

"And we always said to ourselves when we do it, we wanna do it properly and Zimbabwe gets to feel the experience of the Akon concert.

"Thank you for the welcome and it has been incredible."

In an interview with Blender, Akon claims he has six children with three different women.

Akon claims to have great relationships with all his children, and that he wishes to keep his family protected from the public eye. He converted to Islam. He also states that his religion made him a better person, and provides guidance to how he acts among others in life.

He also has his own charity for underprivileged children in Africa called Konfidence Foundation.

Akon owns a diamond mine in South Africa and he sometimes donates profits to local communities. He is said to be worth US$60 million at the moment.

He is the first solo artiste to hold both the number one and two spots simultaneously on the Billboard Hot 100 charts twice.

Akon has kept Africa relevant in musical circles and will continue to uplift African musicians through his collaboration formula as evidenced by his latest collaboratin with P-Square on "Chop My Money"

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