DJ Neptizzle and a Lesson on Culture

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Illustration by Seun Ajibola

I was stunned by the discovery that one of the best Afrobeats DJ in London, England was Asian.  DJ Neptizzle is a Vietnamese born and raised in the heart of the city of London; with roots in Grime music before the transition to Afrobeats. 10,776 kilometers is the distance between Nigeria and Vietnam, London is closer to Nigeria, however, my initial reaction to the news of an Asian connected to Afrobeats was a disappointment. I was disappointed in the idea of an Asian acting as an authority on the music. Of course, I was ignorant, forgetting not only the friendships I built with Asians from regions such as Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam here in Toronto but also the connection we all had to Hip Hop music - a genre considered black music. 

The term cultural appropriation is now a normal part of the discourse in North America, which has received more attention over the past two years. The discussion has centered around the co-opting of black culture for commerce without the appropriate acknowledgment by the users. The list of accused in the entertainment industry is extensive, leading many to conclude that black culture is only accepted by the mainstream if a non-black embodies these cultural attributes. Given the recent Grammy awards and the fact that Beyoncé’s album failed to win album of the year, the questions have again come to the forefront in some circles. While I am very cognizant of the truth behind the topic of cultural appropriation, I believe there should be room for those not native of the culture who happen to express the best of the culture through the push of the culture into the mainstream.

DJ Neptizzle is an ambassador for Afrobeats, and the genre needs people with his skill, talent, and admiration for the genre to maximize its potential.  He anchors a radio show that features the best records from the genre. On my second trip to London, I was in a car ride into London city from the town of Essex when I first heard of Neptizzle. Over the next thirty minutes, all that played was Afrobeats on terrestrial radio. As an outsider to the city, I came to understand how much Afrobeats was a part of the fabric of London, which North America still lags behind. My friend, an African born in London was well accustomed to Neptizzle and considered my disappointment absurd. I agree now with her sentiment, however, I lacked knowledge of his contribution to the genre, which I needed to learn. Neptizzle is embraced by the Africans in London, and following that trip, I have come to a better understanding that ideas such as cultural appropriation can lead to a slippery slope with regards to acceptance of non-natives and who can be an authority.

In North America, there is a heightened sense of moments that appear as cultural appropriation, which has also influenced my perspectives. I made this mistake with DJ Neptizzle. With his Soundcloud mixes, recognition by the top artists in the genre and his presence on the London airwaves each week, Neptizzle makes the culture accessible to the masses and that can only be beneficial for Afrobeats.

Next time, I will not be so quick to jump to conclusions.

Ideas, MusicFemi Adeyinka