Nigerians are largely conservatives, clinging onto morality-ascribing dictates from both Christianity and Islam, so it’s no surprise that people who dare to have a different take on personality and lifestyle are considered pretentious, immoral, and weird. There are a variety of individuals and the personal preferences influenced by religion, [ the entertainment industry, reality TV, as there are different strokes for different folks, but what is with these new lot of millennials and Gen Zs seen at giddy parties and at event centers dressed like cutouts from retro magazines, the so-called altéists?
The alté scene is a community of creatives pushing boundaries sonically, visually, and stylistically. Alté, a lingo for ‘alternative’, insinuates freedom of expression essentially through any medium. Their freedom and personality are expressed through their style, inclusive of music and fashion. They seem to have outgrown the trends dictated by whomever the fashion gods are, taking on styles that are unique across the board, and because they are diverse thinkers by design, metamorphosing seamlessly into their own individual identities, regardless of the norm is very likely. Regardless of the fact that words have been used to dispossess and to malign their personal style by people who do the see the sense behind their idiosyncrasies, they have remained the coolest kids in the block, unbothered by external negative opinions, dedicated to maintaining a healthy and steady development of the alté process.
In terms of fashion, the term clearly elucidates the Nigerian youth known for creativity and style, showcasing and promoting fashion finesse that strongly differs from widespread standards. Having a mix of retro and edgy style to it, mostly revolving around the sort of creativity that is nostalgic, comfy, and fun. Specifically, an altéist is mostly attracted to usual combinations of colours and an affinity for accessories like (not restricted to) fanny packs, baggy jeans, bell hats, peeper sunglasses, crocs, layered neckpieces, Ankara, dreads, and weird hairstyles with shiny hair studs, often including indigenous pieces of ornaments that often possess deep meaning, like the mini pendants of famous Benin crafts, and crux rings etc. They pay attention to matching their numbers for that unique look, with gothic, peculiar kind of make-up, or a general ‘extraness’ in their savoir-faire.
While there is still ruffling feathers about appropriateness regarding the alté culture, and how acceptable it could be, some having tagged the word ‘alté’ to the offensive in association with miscreance, and some others ascribing it to distant, elitist, something reserved for the ‘rich kids’, it is interesting to note also how Nigerians
While it is not yet widespread because some people feel that the word alté is offensive due to the word’s association with miscreance, to others it is definitely elitist, bougie, or something only associated with ‘rich kids’, people have been seen slaying in originally alté pieces without even prior knowledge of the culture, referring to them as stylish a ‘the easier option’. We are talking about students even working-class individuals preferring fanny packs and totes to backpacks and handbags, party ladies preferring handcrafted bricked box-like hand carries to oversized Hermes and Dior. Crux rings preferred to the regular bands (this style cutting through to couples and their wedding band choices) ladies preferring mum jeans, shorts, and mini-skirts to skinny tights and California spoilt kids’ bums, penciled stilettos swapped for thick-soled, thigh-high boots. The guys are not left out with the new craze for over-sized T-shirts, piercings, baggy jeans, and boots. They are the ones at parties and events recognizing each other with hugs and customized handshakes, big grins, and cackling laughter like people who have known themselves through the world wars.
Alté recording artists have had their fair share of struggles in terms of acceptance in the Nigerian music scene because of how ‘otherly’ their style is. While most media platforms paid less attention to them, they made most of the internet as a medium for conversations around what it means to be alté. This way, they have been able to gain visibility and capture the attention of listeners. Before making its way into the country, this attention first came from the diaspora – a phenomenon that led to the movement being judged as classist and elitist, especially if you throw in the fact that some of these artists themselves had upbringing off the shores of Nigeria too.
In an interview with The Guardian, Lady Donli, a longtime fixture in the alté scene in Nigeria doesn’t believe that the alté scene in Nigeria is classist. According to her, if there is any sub-genre that is classist, it is Nigerian pop because they talk about things that the average Nigerian can never attain. She says that the aim of alté is not to isolate, but to let people express themselves. “Nigerians are not free, they are not used to being free, they do not know how to react to it”. She says that no one in the alté scene is going to tell anybody that they are not enough, if they are open minded and non-conformist.
True. Because they are non-conformists, alté artists are more about inclusivity and freedom to self-expression. Beyond Lady Donli, other alté artists who have helped propel the alté culture through their musical contributions and fashionable lifestyle are Santi, Odunsi, and Tems, among others.