African artists rush to cover Adele’s hit 'Hello'

Cover versions of popular songs have been popular in the music world since the early days of rock 'n roll in the 1950s. Traditionally, covers have carried a negative connotation. For some, they are viewed as a less talented and successful act “stealing” the superior work of the composer to make quick money. Currently, however, cover versions are seen as one artist paying tribute to another in a show of admiration.

Kenyan artist Dela Maranga. Photo: www.kenyabuzz.com
Kenyan artist Dela Maranga. Photo: www.kenyabuzz.com

British artist Adele’s single ‘Hello’, released in October 2015, has seen artists the world over do cover versions of the hit song -  and African artists have not been left out. Numerous Kenyan artists, including Dela Maranga, Jimmy Gait, Titus Wainaina and Wambui (aka Poetic B), have recorded their own cover versions of the song, showing how the hit can be redone in indigenous Kenyan languages - some to much acclaim, others to some ridicule. Just like in Kenya, Nigeria has witnessed more artists releasing their own covers of the songm with other the likes of Praiz, Omawumi and Ruby Gyang also doing their own versions. In Southern Africa too, Zimbabwean acts Taps Mugadza and Buffalo Souljah have also released covers and videos of the track, finding plenty of success.

With the promise of instant recognition without the hassle of having to actually write an original song, covering 'Hello' has proven to be a relatively sure-fire way for African artists to boost their careers. In Nigeria, as in Kenya, where audiences have been waiting to see who makes the next version of the song, one fan was even prompted to ask Davido when he would be releasing his cover version. Whether or not the Nigerian superstar delivers remains questionable, but judging by the endless stream of artists all over the world covering the song, it seems clear that more artists are set to follow suit.


Taps Mugadza (Zimbabwe)
YouTube plays: 3 million+
 
Zimbabwean singer Taps Mugadza put out this soulful, guitar-driven version on the song soon after the the release of the original. It's already garnered over 3 million hits on YouTube. 
 

Praiz (Nigeria)
YouTube plays: 125 000+
 
Praiz's version did not receive much buzz as he would have wished, prompting him to go ahead and release a video.
 

Dela (Kenya)
YouTube plays: 400 000+
 
The first Kenyan cover, a Swahili rendition by Afropop musician Dela Maranga, got rave reviews. It keeps the word “hello” in English, but translates the rest of the lyrics into Swahili. The rhythm and musicality of the song translate effortlessly, and an emphasis on a little added percussion giving the song a fresh feeling.
 

Jimmy Gait (Kenya)
YouTube plays: 20 000+
 
The public reception was not quite as warm when gospel singer Jimmy Gait released a Christian rendition of the soulful ballad. Gait takes on the persona of God, speaking to a ‘prodigal child’ about changing their ways. From drinking too much and forgetting their faith, Gait serenades a lost believer “from the other side” atop an upbeat groove. Conservative Kenyans on social media would have none of it. Despite the criticism, the audio version of the track (released in December 2015) has garnered over 150 000 plays, while his video of the track, released a few days later, has been watched over 20 000 times.
 

Alex Boyé (UK/Nigeria)
YouTube plays: 940 000+
 
Garnering close to one million hits on Youtube in under a month, American-based singer Alex Boyé - born in the UK to Nigerian parents - tapped into another global pop culture trend at the moment, the latest Star Wars movie - for this 'African Tribal Star Wars Cover', complete with Talking Drum accompaniment.
 

Titus Wainaina and Wambui aka Poetic B (Kenya)
YouTube plays: 47 000+
 
‘Hello’ has also been covered in the local Kenyan dialect of Kikuyu. Sang as a duet by singers Titus Wainaina and Wambui (aka Poetic B), the duo recently performed it live on Kenyan TV. Just like Dela's Swahili version, this one was well-received by listeners, who found it breathtaking. 
 

Buffalo Souljah (Zimbabwe)
YouTube plays: 30 000+
 
Less successful than his compatriot Taps was Zim-Dancehall artist Buffalo Souljah's easy-skanking version of the same track.
 

Ruby Gyang (Nigeria)
YouTube plays: 3 800+
 
Also getting in on the act is Chocolate City singer Ruby Gyang, whose own rendition shows off her powerhouse vocals but fails to stray far from the original.
 

Omawumi (Nigeria)
YouTube plays: 1 800+
 
Omawumi’s version-that incorporates reggae beats has been met with high praise, albeit relatively low Youtube plays so far. 
 

Ola Dips (Nigeria)
YouTube plays: 1 500+
 
Nigerian MC Ola Dips broke ground by releasing the first rap version of the song. While the rapper’s cover maintains the same melancholic aura as the original track, his expressive rhymes - rapped mostly in Yoruba and Pidgin - give the song a memorable hip-hop twist. 
 

The genesis of cover versions

While everyone talks about cover versions in the present day, online publication Askmetafilter says the word “cover” is now used by music writers and music fans incorrectly. According to the site, “They use it to describe any attempt by an artist to perform old songs or previously recorded material. The use of this term gives them a bit of authority since it makes them sound like they are in the music business. They are in fact ignorant of what a cover version of a song really is.”

The word “cover” dates back to the invention of the radio and the widespread of racism that the USA was built on. During the 1920s and 1930s, there were no radio stations catering specifically to black audiences. Radio stations were owned and run by white executives and as such catered to white audiences. As the American music scene changed, music made by black artists attracted growing interest. However, because of the racist infrastructure in place, white radio executives refused to play songs by black artists on their stations. So record executives would recruit a white band to come to the studio and record the exact same song so it could be played on the white station. 

For much of the 1950s and 1960s, “covering” became an easy way for white artists to “cover” up the first release with a white radio-friendly version, which would often become the more popular version.  Elvis Presley’s ‘Hound Dog’ is an example of a cover that became popular. Originally recorded by Willie Mae 'Big Mama' Thornton in 1953, the 1956 version of the song by Presley became a chart-topping best seller.  

Today, even though people might feel otherwise about cover versions, it remains a great way for artists to present songs to audiences who might have not been able to listen to the original because of the genre or the language.

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