P-Square meets Picasso: How DJ Moma took Afrobeat to the Guggenheim

Updated 19th September 2016
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P-Square meets Picasso: How DJ Moma took Afrobeat to the Guggenheim
Written by By Yousra Elbagir, for CNN
The undulating sounds of Nigerian sensation P-Square echo throughout the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan, as priceless art hangs on the towering white walls.
Sudanese-born DJ Moma is on the decks, churning out Afrobeats, Caribbean Soca sounds and R&B at Art after Dark, as crowds fawn over Picassos and Mondrians long after the museum's usual closing hours.
Even with the extreme global success of African music, these scenes are still a rarity in New York's nightlife - let alone a world-famous art museum, but that's all changing.
"Recently, the world has started to catch up to African sensibilities. There's been a shift, whereas before we were trying to adjust to the western world and now the western world is adjusting to us," says Mohamed Hamad, known in the industry as DJ Moma.
With a DJ career spanning 15 years and residencies at venues all over the city, Moma is serving sounds of the diaspora to the mainstream party scene. Playing parties for the likes of Drake, Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, John Legend and J-Cole -- he is one of the select few in the business to consistently champion African music as a fixture in his set.
"Parties have become really segregated and polarised - all hip-hop, all house or all EDM [electronic dance music], there's no room for a lot of DJ's to play around. We chose to stick to our own format and just play everything," he says.
Born in Khartoum in 1976, he spent his life following his father's senior job at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) that took the family from Paris to Doha and eventually Queens, New York.
"My older sister, who worked at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, would take me to parties with her friends from work that came from international backgrounds. They would always play songs like Premiere Gaou [by Ivorian Zouglou artists Magic System] and Karolina [by Congolese musician Awilo Longomba]. Before the time of afrobeats, these were the African classics and I got to hear them from early on," he says.
A trained electrical engineer, Moma spent the next thirteen years alternating between a corporate day-job and nights spinning with the likes of DJ legend Tony Humphries, Q-Tip from renowned rap-group A Tribe Called Quest and Questlove from hip-hop and neo-soul band, the Roots.
In 2014 Moma played in Africa for the first time -djing at a series of parties in Dakar, Nairobi, Zanzibar and Dar-es-Salaam, with radio appearances in his birth-place, Khartoum.
This move followed the huge success of the signature daytime party, Everyday People, that Moma co-founded with friends and fellow East Africans, Brooklyn creative Saada Ahmed and celebrity chef Roblé Ali.
In 2015, they joined forces with Okay Africa, the largest online platform for African culture launched by The Roots and Okayplayer, Nairobi and Dakar's DJ Cortega and New York based producer Kashaka to host Everyday Afrique.
Drawing crowds of 1500 to 2000 people, the rooftop party is a celebration of African music and culture - with an unspoken dress-code of trendy prints hailing from the continent and Yoruba-inspired body-painting by Nigerian visual artist Laolu Senbanjo
"As displaced Africans, we often try to assimilate with our environment and the local culture. But now, there's this reversal where members of the diaspora sprinkled across the West are looking back to what's happening on the continent for influence, flavour, style and guidance."