What Does the New U.S. Afrobeats Chart Mean For the Perception of African Music?

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On March 29, Billboard published the debut edition of its new weekly chart ranking the 50 most popular Afrobeats songs in the United States. The legacy publication made the announcement alongside Afro Nation, who serve as partners, a week prior. This development is coming nearly two years after Afro Nation partnered with the UK’s Official Charts Company to launch a 20-song chart spotlighting the most popular Afrobeats songs in the UK.

Just before that UK chart became operational, immediate reactions set-up another round of reckoning for the term ‘Afrobeats’, and what it means as a catch-all descriptor for music with African roots or, just generally, music being made by African artists. Coined in the late 2000s by UK-born and raised DJ Abrantee, Afrobeats first became an umbrella tag for the range of urban pop music emanating from West Africa, predominantly those from Nigeria and Ghana. In the following years, and as varying styles of African music trudged across the Atlantic to grab the ears of international audiences, the term was lazily applied to any and every sound regardless of sonic distinction.

Prior to its debut week in late July 2020, that UK chart shared a list of the top 20 Afrobeats songs in the preceding week, and the appearance of musically disparate songs like J Hus’ “Must Be,” Wizkid’s “Joro” and Aya Nakamura’s “Djadja” underlined the ambiguity and flattening effect of Afrobeats. Billboard didn’t publish a similar precursor list, nor did the announcement of a U.S. Afrobeats generate that much conversation on social media beyond celebratory remarks, but it’s worth wondering what the effect of this new chart will be on the very perception of music being made and pioneered by Africans.

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