August 14, 2022
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Origins Of The Alté Movement And How It Birthed a Generation Of Young Nigerians. – TeenVogue.com

  • October 30, 2021
  • 6 min read
Origins Of The Alté Movement And How It Birthed a Generation Of Young Nigerians. – TeenVogue.com

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“[The Alté movement] for us, it stemmed more with the lifestyle thing than music," says Teezee. It is noon in Lagos and Teezee and I are speaking via Zoom. We are trying to trace back the multi-layered origin of the Alté movement and his role in turning it into an extremely popular Nigerian subculture. Teezee (whose real name Teni Zacheuus JR) is a Nigerian alternative hip-hop artist and remains one of the pioneers and leading faces of the Alté movement. “It transformed into the music because the people who were creating with us, [people saw] our lifestyle].”
Alté, pronounced locally as (uhl-teh) and cropped from the word alternative, is a concept, as Teezee describes it. It's come to include a music genre, but it started as a way of being that champions individualistic and non-traditional modes of self-expression. The central idea is to stay true to yourself in spite of existing traditions or cultural restrictions. It is a phenomenon most prevalent among young Nigerians that emerged around 2007 — just around the time many young people in the country were gaining increased exposure to the internet — and has only recently begun to enter the mainstream media.
“Prior to the late 2010s and the proliferation of easily accessible internet, the media diet of Nigerian teenagers and young adults was restricted to television and radio and bootlegged VCDs and early iterations of cable television,” says Edwin Okolo, a Nigerian journalist who has covered the subculture extensively. “But the Alté generation draws its influences from all of the media prior to 2010,” Okolo says.
Apart from championing a deep sense of individualistic expression particularly through music and fashion, the Alté subculture is also known for tapping into nostalgia and drawing inspiration from it. At the beginning of this movement, alternative artists like Santi, Odunsi (The Engine), BOJ, Lady Donli, were amongst the cohort of creatives championing this subculture not just through their music, but also their video aesthetics and style choices. Now emerging and established Nigerian mainstream artists (think Rema, Ayra Starr, Fireboy DML, Ckay, Tems, Wizkid, Burna Boy) are tapping into that energy to express and build their artistry.
“Alté as we understood it two, five years ago, it was not anywhere in the mainstream," Spotify’s Head Of Sub-Saharan Africa Phiona Okumu says. "Now because these kids came and were so defiant and looked so cool and rebellious, it gave mainstream artists inspiration. The growth of the Alté movement shows in the way [these artists] have impacted the way mainstream is going right now.”
Nigeria, due in part to religion and traditional values, has a deeply conservative culture. Although the rise of Nigerian entertainment in the early 2000s attempted to shift that conservatism a little, the messaging often remained the same.
But Alté's individualism — a continued state of refusing to compromise one’s identity to fit into conservative cultural or religious guidelines in the country — is slowly empowering more young people to buck those traditions. In music, it is the gritty soulfulness of Tems, the psychedelic vibe of Odunsi or Santi, or even the old Nollywood-inspired sentimentalism behind some of Lady Donli’s artistry.
In fashion, it is the radically sex-positive designs of Mowalola or the eclectic mix of grunge, goth or y2k fashion popular among influencers and stylists like Ashley Okoli or Dunsin Wright. And in photography, it is the immersive and mind-bending photography of Tse, to name a few.
Despite it's innovation, Alté continues to experience challenges. Teezee remembers a lot of Nigerians finding the Alté sound, which is sonically experimental, often using electronic production, incompatible with traditionally instrument-heavy Afrobeats embodied at the time.
“The support wasn't what it is now in 2021, back in 2015, 2016,” Teezee says. “It was definitely difficult initially but the beauty about it is all of us, even though we're learning and growing as young people at the time, were comfortable in ourselves and comfortable in what we were doing. We didn't know the end goal or how it was going to transcend to be a community. But we were just comfortable with ourselves and we stuck to our guns because we always knew that [something] different and unique would stand out.”
Some of the genre's artists have been somewhat ostracized from mainstream music. They've not been invited to perform at popular award shows, and have been bullied online for dressing the “Alté” way.
Yet in spite of these obstacles, there have been a number of creative spaces that have taken it upon themselves to document and platform these outliers. One of such spaces is NATIVE, a creative outfit that runs a magazine, a studio and a famous annual music festival with Nigerian indie and Alté artists as headliners.
“We wanted to provide a voice for everyone, whether it’s Alté or mainstream,” says Seni Saraki, Co-founder of NATIVE. “A big part of why we started NATIVE Magazine was that I just didn’t think Nigerian art was being discussed in the way it needed to be discussed. [And so far] We’ve played a pivotal role in contextualizing Nigerian art.”
The entry of the Alté subculture — that has existed and thrived on the fringe — into the mainstream is a natural progression of a generation that is connected to global culture through the internet and aren’t afraid to live on the fringe as well. If the pioneers of the Alté movement grew up listening to TuFace Idibia and Britney Spears through mp3 players, this generation now has access to even more streaming platforms where they can be drawn to other aesthetics.
And just as the EndSars movement signified, more and more young Nigerians are unafraid of being themselves, particularly when it comes to self-expression through creative outlets or their style. Just last year, as the EndSars protests were being quelled, young Nigerians felt emboldened to wear their hair in styles that would usually get them profiled by SARS officials as criminal suspects.
On social media, young Nigerians are also expressing their identities with even more courage. The Alté movement might have simply begun as a group of young people trying to do what truly appealed to them, but it has set a precedent for radical individualism amongst young Nigerians.
As Okolo says, “Every subculture is eventually co-opted by the mainstream when it starts to show profitability, the Alté movement has not escaped this commodification of ideas.”


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