One way Afrobeats has earned a distinction as the foremost musical export out of Africa is through the unrelenting capacity of Nigerians to domestic foreign genres.
This domestication sees imported sounds already popular in their respective bases infused with exciting Nigerian elements and swiftly exported to different parts of the world who get to experience the excitement and ingenuity it offers.
Amidst Afrobeats’ international exploits, artists of Nigerian descent are embracing the genre and amplifying it in their corners of the world. One artist who is playing a role in promoting Nigerian music and culture through the domestication of Afrobeats is the talented Austrian-Nigerian singer Rose May Alaba.
Through her music that sees a fusion of her multiple cultural heritage, May Alaba is making Afrobeats easily digestible for her large international audience.
In this Pulse interview, Rose May Alaba talks about staying in touch with her Nigerian heritage, her cross-continental musical influences, and her role in promoting Afrobeats to a global audience.
Growing up in Austria, Rose May Alaba was exposed to the cultures of her country of birth while also interacting with the Yoruba cultures of her father and the Filipino cultures of her mother. The result is a cultural hybrid that combines with her parent’s musical backgrounds (her father used to be in a music group and was also a DJ who enjoyed some level of success in the 90s and her mother was a classical artist) to make her an artist whose music carries intercontinental markers.
Rose May’s earliest interaction with Nigerian culture came in different forms, especially the music which forms part of her early influences. According to the stunning singer, as a teenager, she grew up listening to the music of the likes of P-Square who are among the earliest Afrobeats superstars before following Afrobeats’ steady growth which is soundtracked by the music of Wizkid and Davido.
Growing up, the Church and the closely knitted Nigerian community there offered May a chance to interact with Nigerian culture as a child.
“While growing up, the church was the only place to get Nigerian food because there was no Nigerian restaurant around. So the church was a place to interact with my Nigerian roots.”
While the church offered May a community, her father also offered her lessons on her Yoruba heritage by her father who’s a Prince from Ogun State
“I have a family house in Lagos and the majority of my family are there so I like to visit because it’s home,” May says on ties to Nigeria which she first visited at the age of 12 to get in touch with her roots.
This connection to her roots has shaped May Alaba’s music which is a hybrid of her multiple influences. Growing up in Austria, May’s first attempt at making music was to deliver Austrian mainstream Pop music.
However, her Nigerian heritage would come into play later in her career when she decided to incorporate Afrobeats into her sound with the first manifestation being the track ‘Toxic’ where she sings in German over an Afrobeats composition before featuring Mayorkun on ’50/50′.
“I got inspired by African artists. The way they sing, and the way they make music are all good vibes and I love the energy. My roots are from Nigeria and I decided to incorporate this into my music,” May shares her decision to take on the challenge of transitioning into making Afrobeats-styled music.
Listening to a lot of Afrobeats and working with creatives in the Afrobeats ecosystem aided May’s transition into making Nigerian mainstream Pop music. The result of her transition can be found in the single ‘Ibadi’ which is the first time she attempted to sing in Yoruba language. For May, the decision was a bold one as she appreciated the fact that the experiment could go either way.
“I know it can either go really well or super wrong because it was the first time I was singing in the Yoruba language.”
Rose May knew Nigerian music fans can be very thorough and wouldn’t hesitate to call her out if the music doesn’t sound right. To achieve the required sound, May worked with her dad who helped in writing some parts and taught her the proper pronunciations of the Yoruba words while also recruiting the assistance of superstar producer Blaise Beats to craft an infectious Afrobeats sound.
The result is ‘Ibadi’ which has enjoyed impressive success and has introduced May to listeners across Nigeria, Ghana, and Europe where she has been performing in different festivals.
Rose May intends to use ‘Ibadi’ as a stepping stone in building her career as an international Afrobeats artist whose music packs cross-continental influences.
Currently managed by her father who also doubles as her Yoruba tutor, May Alaba has continued to foster close relationships with her Nigerian roots.
“I have visited Nigeria consistently since 2017. Aside from having family here, we also have a foundation that operates in the country,” May shares about her family’s foundation that has done some work in Nigeria to support the Ministry of Environment’s effort to eradicate open defecation.
The sensational singer is also a younger sister to Real Madrid and Austrian defender David Alaba who’s among the few footballers who have won all the available trophies for his clubs during his illustrious career with Bayern Munich and Real Madrid.
“You know I tried to become a footballer. I used to be a Right Back but football just wasn’t my thing,” Rose May shares about her attempts to follow in her brother’s footsteps before quitting as a teenager and switching the football academy for Art school.
Having found love in music and taken on the bold challenge of exploring Afrobeats, Rose May Alaba intends to further her musical career by continuously embracing her cultural roots. She plans to drop an EP that will showcase her talent and contribute to the global exportation of Afrobeats.