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R. Kelly backs African supergroup tipped for global stardom

By Emily Wither and Teo Kermeliotis, for CNN
African supergroup ONE8.
African supergroup ONE8.
  • Eight African music superstars have joined forces to create ONE8
  • Billboard magazine named ONE8 one of its "Best Bets" for 2011
  • Backed by R. Kelly, ONE8 members aim to expose African music to the world

(CNN) -- Eight African musical superstars have joined forces, on a mission to share their continent's music with a global audience.

They have formed a pan-African supergroup, called ONE8, which has been tipped as one to watch this year by U.S.-based Billboard magazine -- the music industry's bible on what's hot and what's not.

The group is set to release its debut album next month.

The ambitious project has brought together diverse musicians from eight African countries, many of whom are huge in their homeland but relatively unknown elsewhere.

"It's new urban Africa, it's fresh, it's liberating and most importantly it's positive," said ONE8's Amani, a Kenyan singer who won the MTV African Music Award for Best Female Artist in 2009.

"There is a more optimistic and positive generation now in Africa and you can feel that in the music, you can feel that in the culture," she added.

"I think it's time that the world got introduced to that vibe right now because it's different."

Besides Amani, ONE8 consists of Nigerian R&B singer 2Face, Zambian singer JK, Ugandan hip-hop star Navio, Tanzanian bongo superstar Alikiba, Ghanaian hip-hop trio 4X4, singer Fally Ipupa, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Gabonese rapper Movaizhaleine.

This should hopefully be the spark that starts public interest worldwide in African urban music.
--Ugandan hip-hop star Navio
  • World Music
  • R. Kelly
  • Africa

The group made its debut in November last year when U.S. singer R. Kelly wrote and produced its first single, "Hands Across the World."

Being in the studio with Grammy-wining artist R. Kelly, who has collaborated with the likes of Michael Jackson, Toni Braxton and Whitney Houston, was both a humbling and eye-opening experience for the African musicians.

"To work with him was really great," said Alikiba, whose own debut in 2008 became the top selling album in the whole of East Africa.

"He's achieved so many things and I learned a lot from him," Alikiba explained, adding that he's now ready to use what he learned to enhance his musical vision.

The hope is that by getting backing from a global star like R. Kelly, ONE8 will help expose African music to a new audience across Africa and the world.

"This should hopefully be the spark that starts public interest worldwide in African urban music," said Navio, one of Uganda's most famous artists and a hip-hop pioneer in East Africa.

"The music is definitely unexplored," he said. "It hasn't been pushed to the forefront of world music and I think this is the chance to get it done.

"We're not pushing a brand, we're pushing a movement, which is African music."

The supergroup is now putting the finishing touches to its album, which will be released next month on pan-African record label Rockstar 4000, part of Sony Music.

Delmarie Seaward, who works for the label, said the collaboration was a great opportunity to bring together talented people whose music can help break down stereotypes and geographical borders.

"Say, if you're in Ghana you have little exposure to what's happening elsewhere in Africa," she said.

"It's still very much country by country. We wanted to unite lots of countries together through the medium of music and get everyone talking in a universal language."