This Year’s Most Valuable Afro Music Genre is… (Who Gets the Accolades for the Success of a Genre?)

The nail-biting suspense has reached its peak, and it now has everyone on the edge of their seats as the winner is about to be announced. The host looks down again at the paper she’s holding, pausing one more time for maximum effect while everyone holds their breath.

Smiling, she leans towards the microphone — (Press pause) is anyone asking the same question as I am, “should this be an individual award, or a team award?” (Press play) — and she finally ends the suspense.

“This year’s most valuable afro music genre is AFROBEATS!” A thunderous applause with wild cheers and loud whistling breaks out from the crowds watching, everyone jubilates over the announcement which, despite the thrilling suspense, had been widely expected.

Popular music genres across the world which we know of today, such as: Hip Hop (Rap), Rock, Jazz, R&B, Reggae/Dancehall, among many others, have all enjoyed being the most widely played, and trending music genre on the worldwide music scene at different periods in time.

These periods marked a point that served as each genre’s successful rise to the top as a result of global recognition. It is also a period that firmly sets its legacy in world music history. Presently, Afrobeats is on a similar pathway, as it is a trending music genre on the world music scene.

Expectations of the lovers of Afrobeats have been very high over the years because of the gradual build-up to its global recognition. This expectation of global recognition did not stem from the need of the worlds validation, but from the belief that its unique quality puts it on the same level as other popular music genres.

Having high expectations, coupled with a gradual build-up to the realization of such expectations, can be described as nail-biting suspense, and when it is finally realized, like it is right now when Afrobeats is in the spotlight, it can be described as a feeling of finally winning.

However, a very important question arises at this point, and that is a question of who should be credited with being responsible for the success of Afrobeats?

Should it be like an individual award credited solely to the uniqueness of the genre which everyone on the world music stage now wants to identify with, or like a team award credited to everyone who has contributed to making it the success it is today?

Afrobeats is an umbrella term, as the genre is also called Afro-pop/Afro-fusion; it originates from West Africa, mainly from Nigeria and Ghana, and is an offshoot of the popular Afrobeat pioneered by Fela Kuti in the 60’s.

The first time Fela called his music Afrobeat was in 1967 while on a trip to Ghana

It is a common mistake for some to think Afrobeats is the same as Afrobeat, however, the main elements of Afrobeat is a mix of highlife, fuji music, and jazz, with its core instrumentals from saxophone, keyboard, guitar, congas, percussions, and drums.

No one can dispute the fact that it was a sound worthy of the recognition it got, but without Fela, his mesmerizing dancers, his band, Tony Allen — the renowned drummer who is credited as a co-founder of the genre, and others who worked behind the scenes, would Afrobeat have been the success it turned out to be?

Afrobeats emerged in the 2000s, and has developed over the years to become what it is today. It maintained the distinct feature of the Afrobeat sounds at its core, most especially the variety of groovy African drum beats and highlife, then infused contemporary sounds ranging from hip hop, R&B, dancehall, the Ghanaian banku and azonto, to British house music.

Over the years, a team of Nigerian and Ghanaian music artistes, producers, dancers, and video directors, have all been running a long distance race to get Afrobeats to the finish line of global success.

As at the early 2000s, pioneers on the Nigerian scene like 2face Idibia, whose hit song African Queen was the perfect start for the long race ahead, Sound Sultan, Tony Tetuila, and many others, had to scale so many hurdles, as well as endure the long distance ahead while running with the Afrobeats baton.

2face Idibia won the first ever Best African Act Award at the EMA’s in 2005

They were in a race to catch the attention of their local listeners first, during a time when Nigerians preferred, and even considered foreign music as much better. As a testament to both their talents, and the potential of Afrobeats early on, they were able to get everyone’s attention.

By using the groovy fusion of sounds Afrobeats is known for, that gets the average Nigerian on his feet, coupled with lyrics that were relatable to everyday life, and also highlighted social anomalies like Fela did with Afrobeat, lyrics such as:

“As I dey waka dey go like so, me I am looking for this paddy, this paddy owe me plenty money

They tell me say he dey Ikoyi…today na today no time for story…he must pay me all the money

People gather dey just dey cry…they tell me say my paddy don pai, as I con dey go back to my house I come meet small hold up for road,

The next thing wey I hear for my back…ehn ehn You don hit my car, oyinbo repete

I say, you don bash my car, gbese repete” — Tony Tetuila

“Food e no dey, brother eh water no dey, and our country no good oo…

Fuel e no dey, brother eh transportation no dey, and our road e no good oo, what about the Nepa people, we no get light, everybody just dey halla…na how we wan survive

Policeman go see white e go tell you say, I say that thing na red…make una lead us well, no let this nation to fall inside well

Mr President lead us well, if you be governor, govern us well…if you be police, police well well” — African China

these pioneers were able to set the pace for the team effort needed to take Afrobeats far into the future.

While the more renowned pioneers like 2face Idibia continued to carry the torch of Afrobeats as the years went on, some others passed the baton to a set of new acts like D’banj & Don Jazzy (Mohits), P-Square, 9ice, M.I and so many other artistes.

D’banj followed 2face’s footsteps and won the MTV best African act award in 2007)

This generation made great strides in taking Afrobeats through the next lap, which was the total domination of the local music scene. Nigerians accepted Afrobeats as part of their identity, and this in turn set the pace for more ground to be covered.

This team of iconic musicians made the Afrobeats brand much more attractive, and soon the world started paying attention. Collaborations with top music acts from other parts of the world began, and hits like “Oliver Twist” soon had Afrobeats running in the big leagues.

A factor that made carrying Afrobeats to the finish line of global recognition a successful team effort, is without doubt the smooth transition from one generation of exceptional music acts to another equally exceptional generation.

Afrobeats visibly progressed faster thanks to this exceptional generation of artistes who found themselves on the final lap of gaining international recognition, artistes like Wizkid, Burna Boy, Davido, Mr Eazi, Yemi Alade, Tiwa Savage, Tekno, and Rema.

Wizkid also won the award in 2016

However, a glaring technique had been used by them while on their own lap of the race, a technique which the pioneers didn’t have available to them, and that is the phenomenal improvement in the production of Afrobeats. The quality of sound production and the quality of music videos improved to international standards.

A host of other individuals also joined in this team effort, like the dancers who consistently came up with groovy dance steps that became part of the Afrobeats culture/identity, and eventually became a part of contemporary West African culture/identity.

Ghanaian music acts also contributed to make it a true West African team effort. Afrobeats is also influenced by an unmistakable Ghanaian sound, and their artistes, music producers, and dancers all made their mark on the genre.

The popular Azonto dance and sound made waves both locally, and on the U.K music scene. Ghanaian artistes like the iconic R2bees, Fuse ODG, Shatta Wale, Sarkodie, M.anifest, Efya, Stonebwoy, King Promise, among others have put in work to push Afrobeats further up the line.

All over the world right now, people cannot seem to get enough of the Afrobeats culture as they heap praise on its unique groovy African style, and there are even those who claim that foreigners are only interested in profiting of it, nevertheless, it would be great if those who diligently put in the work to get it to this level, are also given their accolades.

Written by : Osero Ojeaga

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