Akon smacks Manila

There are four names from the international pop scene that always cross my daughter’s lips: Christina Aguilera (unfortunately, we missed her concert), Beyoncé (we watched that one!), Avril Lavigne (she has yet to come), and Akon (he’s coming!).

Yes, Akon is on his way here, not that you do not know or haven’t heard. The Senegal-born American hip-hop and R&B singer, songwriter, rapper and record producer is expected to bring the house down when he performs at the Araneta Coliseum.

I liked his music long before I even found out who was behind the songs. Juliana would hum I Wanna Love You maybe a hundred times before I finally asked, and she told me, that it was another one of Akon’s hits. “You don’t know Akon, Mommy?” she asked, her eyes wide with disbelief. “‘Nobody wants to see us together…“she would sing to me, her arms crisscrossing and waving in a rhythmic groove.  “I know that song!” I told her. “Well, then you know Akon, Mommy,” she said, and went right back to reading her Dr. Seuss book. Truth is, she heard about his concert even before I did! “Mommy, we have to watch!” she said excitedly that evening after she heard the news on TV.

It is not only the kids, teens or the gangsters who listen to Akon. I do not exactly belong to the younger generation but I must admit that I am enamored of his compelling, beguilingly sleek beat — what insiders call “a symphonic mix of West African-inspired vocals and US East Coast rhythms.”

Perhaps the reason why Akon’s music has swept Filipinos off their feet is the fact that it is dance music primarily. Our fiesta culture calls for new dance crazes, every week or so, and they are highlighted well on noontime TV shows, FM radio stations and the music channels. His songs make such great dance tunes that you just find yourself grooving to the music without even realizing it, either head-bobbing, swaying or foot thumping.

While rap and R&B is not exactly my cup of tea, I happen to like his style more than just a little. Few artists are more brilliant, and fewer still have had a more colorful background. Having spent a total of five years in prison, Akon proudly declares that the time he spent in jail was what made him into the man he is today. And from an outsider’s perspective, it sure looks like Akon has indeed turned his life around. He is presently enjoying an all-time career high and still soaring, having completed two albums and well on his way to finishing his third.

Born in St. Louis, Senegal to jazz musician Mor Thiam, Akon was exposed to various kinds of music early on in his life, and this probably explains his complex musical acuity. He grew up in Jersey City in New Jersey, where at the age of 15, he wrote his first song Operations of Nature. Following his first attempt at producing his own music, however, he was sent to jail for robbery and drug distribution charges. He had the good sense to use his time in prison to work on more songs. When he was finally released, SRC/Universal launched him to fame in June 2004, through the release of his album, “Trouble.”

“Trouble” paved the way for Akon’s popular singles like Locked Up, Lonely, Belly Dancer (Bananza), Pot of Gold and Ghetto. The single Lonely, released in 2005, was among his most successful hits, making its way to the top five of the Billboard Hot 100, and topping the music charts in countries like Australia and Germany. It also became immensely popular in the UK, where it reached number one in April 2005.

Between 2006 and 2007, Akon managed a feat seldom enjoyed by any other singer, with 11 songs in the Billboard Hot 100. If that is not a true testament to his talent and his flair for capturing the audience’s sensibilities, I do not know what is.

For his second album, “Konvicted,” he started working with other prominent artists like Snoop Dogg, Styles P. and Eminem, whom he featured in his August 2006 single Smack That. For five consecutive weeks, the single remained in the number two spot on the Billboard Hot 100. The second single off “Konvicted,” entitled I Wanna Love You, was recorded in collaboration with Snoop Dogg, was released in September 2006 and became Akon’s first number-one single on the Billboard Hot 100. The third single, Don’t Matter, earned Akon his first solo number-one single and his second Billboard Hot 100 chart topper after I Wanna Love You. The album “Konvicted” has currently sold more than 3.8 million records.

They say that next year, Akon will be releasing another album with the working title “Brothers in Arms,” to be recorded supposedly in collaboration with Young Jeezy. It’s another Akon project that might prove to be just as, if not more, exciting than the ones that came before that.

With more music ventures and stints in various other fields like television, movies and fashion, Akon has indeed become one of the most phenomenal sensations the US entertainment industry has to offer. Akon is among the most successful artists of this generation and I believe that his passion for his career is something every aspiring artist should emulate.

Yet another high-profile artist shares with us a chunk of his musical genius; how absolutely lucky can we get?

Catch Akon’s Manila performance on Nov. 29 at the Araneta Coliseum. “Akon Live in Manila” is brought to you by San Mig Light. For ticket reservations and inquiries,  call 911-5555 or 374-2222.

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