In recent years, music lovers all around the world have been highly responsive to the sounds of West African pop music, widely recognized as Afrobeats. Let us take a look at the global rise of this music genre and the West’s delicate desire to embrace it, as well as the complex character of the label “Afrobeats” itself.
Origin of Afrobeats
Afrobeats (also referred to as Afropop or Afrofusion) is a label used to characterize popular music from West Africa and the diaspora that emerged in the 2000s and 2010s in Nigeria, Ghana, and the United Kingdom.
You should note that Afrobeats is a descriptive music style for the confluence of sounds emanating from Ghana and Nigeria, rather than a specific style. Hiphop, Juju music, Highlife, and Naija beats, among other genres, have been grouped under the “Afrobeats” umbrella.
Fela Kuti is a significant pioneer of a new sound in Nigeria that expanded throughout the world. It was the starting point for many folks who wanted to make their own sounds. Fela used jazz horns, soul sounds, and even traditional African chanting in his music. They also used a multitude of instruments, including multilayered instrumentation, to create Afrobeat. The song “Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am” is a perfect example of this – it was released in 1972 as part of Fela Kuti‘s album Roforofo Fight.
Today’s Afrobeats – with its distinctive beats and rhythms – is a mesmerizing fusion of West African and Black American music that has influenced plenty of contemporary acts around the world (this is why we have this genre leaning towards being referred to as Afropop or Afrofusion).
Moreover, the international accolades this genre of music has received so far have been due for a while now, with the unhidden adoration listeners around the globe have shown towards this afro wave.
In March 2021, Burna Boy‘s fifth studio album, “Twice as Tall,” won the Grammy Award for Best Global Music Album. It was a resounding victory for Afrobeats, the emerging music genre that gained prominence around the turn of the millennium as a combination of West African rhythms placed on an American Hip-Hop attitude.
Today, we have “Love Nwantiti” by Ckay charting in the US, going viral as one of the most used songs on Tik Tok, as well as being the most searched song on Shazam in the United States while also enjoying some billboard charts entry. Ckay recently tagged his own sounds “emo afro-fusion”.
Wizkid also released a late-summer remix to his smash hit Essence, which features Justin Bieber. This updated version of the mid-tempo blockbuster hit debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard R&B/hip-hop Airplay chart while featuring in other charts. This turnout making Big Wiz the most searched artiste on the Shazam app in US, marking two milestones for the genre and modern African music in general.
Starboy went ahead to release the Deluxe version of his album “Made In Lagos”. This prompted GQ Magazine to cover a story on arguably Africa’s most successful music act – Wizkid. The magazine branded him “The King of Afropop”. Big Win for Big Wiz, Big Win for Afrobeats.
“He’s the guy Drake and Beyonce call up whenever they need a continent-spanning smash hit—and now, Lagos’s own Wizkid is taking over speakers everywhere with the sounds of home.” – GQ.
Yes, Wizkid has been one to cop up several international collaborations (Beyonce, Drake, Skepta, Ty Dolla $ign, Wale, amongst many more acts) and it is also difficult to overestimate his influence on African pop culture, as well as the impact he’s had on a generation of young artists. But he’s not alone in that space.
In the past few years, other Afrobeats acts such as Davido & Burna Boy have also worked closely with top international artists too. DMW boss, Davido, has created bangers with the likes of Young Bleu, Chris Brown, Nicki Minaj, Summer Walker, Young Thug.
While African Giant, Burna Boy, has also enjoyed some elite collaborations with Lily Allen, P Diddy (executive producer of his Grammy-winning album – Twice As Tall), Damian Marley, Jorja Smith, Chris Martin, Stormzy, and so on.
Notably, in the earlier days, Don Jazzy, D Banj, and even P Square have worked with some international artists.
Moreover, it is not only the big boys that have enjoyed such features in the international scene. We have Tems collaborating with Drake on Fountains, a beautiful track on his globally enjoyed album “Certifed Lover Boy”. Omah Lay also did a thing with 6lack on his last EP.
Rema has also worked with a lot of international acts like Skepta, JAE5, Justine Skye, Rvssian, 6lack, Tion Wayne, Tory Lanez.
We still have Tiwa Savage, Shatta Wale, Mr Eazi, etc rocking international waters. The list of Afrobeats & international collaborations is quite endless from here. We can just curate a playlist from there and vibe for a day or more, you know.
That’s how precious Afrobeats is now, just like a black diamond.
We can all agree that Afrobeats is a mainstream genre now, and I believe that this is courtesy of the world wide web. We have more folks using the internet and thus streaming music online in this part of the world now.
Internet and smartphone technology became popular in Nigeria after the introduction of GSM technology. This aided the growth of music blogs and streaming platforms and has been a catalyst to streaming which has led to huge successes and data tracking of music in the entertainment industry.
“Nigerians did not know they needed streaming until they had it… It also gave a new experience for the consumers and artists…”, the chief content officer of Boomplay Music stated.
In Nigeria, there are currently no less than 13 different streaming platforms – Apple Music, Spotify, Youtube Main (by far the most used platform), YouTube Music, Tidal Music, Audiomack, Boomplay Music, and NotJustOkay’s Mino Music.
Despite streaming being instrumental behind the global viral growth of Afrobeats, it is not without shortcomings, particularly on the African continent. Shortcomings including low internet access, subscription cost, and high internet costs.
UK-based Nigerian artist, Mr Eazi, resents the fact that less than 2% of his digital earnings originate from Africa, where 90% of his fans reside. This fact demonstrates the inadequacy of streaming as a long-term option for music distribution, particularly in Africa.
Afrobeats continues to break into uncharted territory on its own accord while remaining relevant in its native land. Even by hip-hop standards, the two-decade-old genre has done extraordinarily well.