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Shirazee’s “African In New York” video, co-signed by Sting

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Music has become more inclusive than ever thanks to the rise of international artists, and singer/songwriter Shirazee is ready to give Afropop music an even brighter spotlight. He was born in Cotonou, Benin, but his life has transported him to places like Ghana, Paris, South Africa, Atlanta, and New York City. Shirazee’s unique nomadic lifestyle (where he learned six languages along the way) is captured in Lost — his debut EP that channels an explorer’s curious spirit. Stream Lost EP HERE 

Lost gives the listener a sonic world tour, with its six tracks embracing Shirazee’s passion for fusing unexpected beats from various genres, while also telling a personal story through artful lyricism. Growing up in Benin, the artist first discovered his love for music through his mother. She played a colorful mix that ranged from the country’s local artists to Motown-era stars like Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, James Brown, and European artists that she picked up while studying hairdressing in Belgium. Like many kids, Shirazeewas a major fan of Michael Jackson. But he also admired Benin-born artists who skewed more traditional: Sagbohan Danialou, Gnonnas Pedro from the group Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou, and Angélique Kidjo.


“The influence that Angélique Kidjo had was letting me know it was possible to crossover overseas,” Shirazee explains. “She was the voice of hope that we had at the time when it came to world and traditional music. I want to be that for the kids coming up now.”

Shirazee was mainly exposed to American artists’ most popular songs as a kid, as many countries in Africa were only provided with singles CDs and music videos rather than a complete album. Seeing the same videos from rappers like Busta Rhymes, Outkast and 50 Cent were quickly drilled into his head, which ultimately played a role in Shirazee’s songwriting ability. He has written for the likes of StingTy Dolla $ign, K-pop group Girls’ GenerationKiezaTwista, and more before fully committing to solo stardom.

“My strongest suit is my melody,” he says. “I just go into different spaces in my brain since I’ve worked with and listened to so many genres for so long. That’s what happens when you grow up overseas.”

Shirazee’s worldly skills are unmistakable throughout Lost, which can be heard in earworm hooks like EP opener “Zaddy.” The seductive track fuses throwback Eurodance melodies with modern Afrobeats-inspired drums, which is wrapped around a sample of Dutch singer Amber’s 1999 single “Sexual (Li Da Li)” that Shirazee recalled from hearing it in a London supermarket.

The EP is brimming with feel-good tunes, including the party-ready “Baka Breaker” that finds Shirazee showing off his flirtatious side. Calling it “one of my best works to date melodically,” the track draws from the catchy sounds from South Africa’s Kwaito genre. The country is also highlighted in “Right Thang,” which features Busiswa. The South African singer-songwriter and poet (who was previously on Beyoncé’s The Lion King: The Gift album) reached out to Shirazee through Instagram, which led to the collaboration that blends West African and South African melodies. “We kept it authentic,” Shirazee says. “We wanted to bridge both worlds without it sounding too contrived.”

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But the song that best encapsulates Shirazee’s story is “African In New York.” He worked with Nigerian producer Sarz for the track, which is inspired by his mother’s love for Sting and his journey living in various countries. Shirazee got Sting’s blessing to sample his classic 1987 single “Englishman in New York.” The song holds sentimental value, as Shirazee sheds light on chasing a dream in the city’s streets while homeless. “I was living with the people that liked my music and who discovered me online,” he recalls. “I’d live in their basement and on couches for a while. It got tiring and I was about to quit until I met a lady named Samira who literally saw her son in my eyes and took me in. Bottom line: the struggle was not sexy, but we made it.”

Shirazee hopes his Lost EP will not only unlock the door for the world to fully engage with Afropop, but to also make sure that the roots of his home country aren’t forgotten. “I want Benin to be heard all through my music, where you feel like you’re hearing the voice of my ancestors,” he explains. 

“Benin is the main source of a lot of things that it doesn’t get credit for, which even goes back to the slavery days. You can hear a lot of Benin’s influence on Haitian and Brazilian culture because of the enslaved people who went there. It’s all tied to my country. I don’t think people understand that, so I want to make sure that I reconnect those dots.”

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