African music has had a wide-reaching influence throughout the Caribbean due largely to the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade. Yet Walshy Fire might be the first modern record producer to blend sounds from both sides of the ocean so unambiguously. In fact, that's why the Miami-based DJ and MC believes his forthcoming debut album, Abeng (out Friday, June 7), became a solo project rather than fodder for his group — the world-beating DJ trio Major Lazer.
"It had to be a solo project because that was really the only way to do it," he says. "Major Lazer is not as concise; it's much more global. We're doing music for the whole world, you know? [Abeng] is directly Africa and the Caribbean, which relates to both of the places I'm from. Major Lazer doing it would be a way bigger deal, but for me to do it alone just makes much more sense."
Speaking to New Times from a studio in Los Angeles, Walshy Fire says Major Lazer is still his primary focus — that locomotive simply has too much momentum — so he won't tour to support Abeng until the group completes its string of festival dates this summer.
"I mean, it's a big deal," he says. "Major Lazer is a big, big deal."
Abeng is heavily influenced by Walshy Fire's travels in Africa. Thanks to the resources that come with being in a hugely successful musical group — Major Lazer's 2015 single "Lean On" remains one of the most streamed songs of all time on Spotify — the Jamaican-born record producer has been able to self-finance numerous tours throughout the continent over the past half-decade.
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"I'm African, so naturally I wanted to visit where my ancestors came from," he says. "But getting the opportunity to do that through music was a blessing, you know? Whether it was through music or me just going on my own, it was going to happen just because it should happen. Every black person should go to Africa."
Bright-sounding steel drums and syncopated Afrobeats blend seamlessly with futuristic bass, drum machines, and vocal samples on Abeng, which was composed primarily on the road. Walshy Fire recruited a host of multilingual guest vocalists — mostly singers and rappers he met during his travels and later collaborated with by kicking music files back and forth — giving the record the vibe of a global street party (see the lead single "No Negative Vibes"). It's a celebration of humanity and an exploration of the myriad ways Africa, the birthplace of humanity, has influenced modern music, and it will surely be blasted in nightclubs and on cruise ships for years to come.
In Walshy Fire's mind, the musical connection between the two regions runs as deep as the Atlantic Ocean.
"For sure, when you hear them, the two [forms of music] are so similar," he says. "At the end of the day, you realize that these are the same sounds coming from the same place."