Exporting African sounds into Italy

Nigerian migrants are introducing Afrobeat to one of Italy’s most popular cities

Migrating from Africa to Europe is a particularly tricky business. It is usually very difficult to obtain visas, and consequently, many people opt for the long, tortuous route that runs through the Sahara Desert and extends into the Mediterranean Sea. It is a risky journey in many ways, as desperate migrants get robbed, swindled, enslaved or worse still, meet their end in the hot sands and high seas.

There is also the small matter of reputation when it comes to successful migrants. There are those who believe that men and women who manage to avoid death or slavery, and ultimately cross the borders into Italy and Spain, are either involved in drug peddling, prostitution or unsavoury menial jobs like washing up corpses.

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There is a small group of people, however, who are slowly changing the narrative. These ones are not only showing that there is more that African migrants can do in Europe, but they are also exporting Nigerian music in all its exotic nature and rich flavour into one of Italy’s major cities.

Palermo, the capital city of the Sicilian province, is slowly becoming the Southern European capital for the world-conquering Afrobeats scene. Social media has given a platform to musicians who can reach a wide audience without institutional support. There are more than a few cities in Italy that are not exactly kind to migrants, but Palermo has gradually become a haven for a number of young Nigerian musicians to hone their craft and attempt to carve a niche for themselves on European shores.

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The influx of these musicians has had a significant effect on the city, too. For instance, Ballaro, a small neighbourhood in Palermo, was once known as one of the most dangerous places in Italy, no thanks to the activities of the Mafia. But with the arrival of African and Asian immigrants, the neighbourhood is now revitalised and less prone to crime.

Artists like RayJeezy, Brenex Baba and Thug Money make a living from performing at night clubs across the city. They hope that their hustle ultimately pays off and that they gain worldwide recognition, but for now, they are contributing to the transformation of a city’s music and culture. Things are looking up for the African migrant population in Palermo, and it’s not hard to tell that there will be more where the music came from.

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