Rise of Afrobeats: From Africa to the world

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Afrobeat and Afrobeats, although related, are quite distinct. Afrobeats is the genre that emerged when West African pop music became cool. Afrobeat, on the other hand, is what Nigerian music icon Fela Anikulapo-Kuti called his invention, which blended jazz, funk, psychedelic rock and traditional West African chant and rhythms in the early 1970s.

West African musicians (like King Sunny Ade, Femi Kuti, Seun Kuti and Rocky Dawuni) have been nominated for or won (Angelique Kidjo) Grammy Awards for several years. But it took an album richly intertwined with Fela’s essence for an Afrobeats artiste to earn the same.

Burna Boy’s African Giant (2019) paved the way for Afrobeats at the 62nd Grammy Awards in 2020 through a nomination for Best World Music Album. Afrobeats eventually had its big moment a year later at the 2021 Grammy Awards where his Twice as Tall (2020) was named Best Global Music Album.

The nomination of Nigerian star Wizkid’s Made in Lagos (2021) for the same category this year made it the third time in succession that Afrobeats was being recognised at the Grammys.

Pop musicians from other parts of the continent have been making music under the Afrobeats banner, but it is the Nigerians Wizkid, Davido and Burna Boy who have each sold out The O2 arena in London or the Accor Arena in Paris. Undoubtedly, Nigerian artists are the trailblazers of the Afrobeats movement.

Contemporary Nigerian culture – Afrobeats included – is a culture very much on the move.

Related to this is the culture of dance videos – challenges and general routines – orchestrated by Afrobeats artistes across social media platforms that have contributed greatly to the unprecedented global rise of Afrobeats.

The explosion of these dance videos on TikTok, for example, demonstrates that language is no barrier to the acceptance and popularity of the music. CKay’s Love Nwantiti (2019) became the most Shazamed song in the world thanks to the love it garnered on TikTok. (Shazam is an app that identifies songs.) At the height of its popularity, TikTok and Instagram users were making more than 10 million videos a week using the song.

More recently, Finesse (2022) by Pheelz and Buju also emerged among the most Shazamed songs in the world.

The collaborations by Afrobeats artistes with the biggest music stars in the world have made for further global exposure.

For The Lion King: The Gift (2019), US star Beyoncé did the unprecedented by enlisting the services of numerous Afrobeats stars, including Wizkid and Burna Boy. Her Brown Skin Girl featuring Wizkid won Best Music Video at the 2021 Grammys.

A Grammy nominee again this year, the multilingual Angelique Kidjo from Benin is a past winner on four occasions. She cannot be said to be an Afrobeats artiste. Yet her recognition of the genre means that she has had to co-opt some of its brighter stars in her most recent work.

Kidjo’s latest album, Mother Nature (2021), nominated for Best Global Music Album, features a host of Afrobeats stars including Burna Boy, Mr Eazi, Rexxie and Yemi Alade. Kidjo’s choice of direction is testament to the growth and recognition that Afrobeats has recorded recently.

The category of Best African Act was introduced at the MTV Europe Music Awards in 2005 while the Best International Act: Africa premiered at the 2011 edition of the BET Awards. In 2012, meanwhile, D’banj’s Oliver Twist charted at No. 9 on the UK singles chart and at No. 2 on the UK R&B chart, making it the first Afrobeats song to so do.

The sustained success of Afrobeats songs in the UK and in continental Europe eventually led to the launch of the UK’s first Afrobeats music radio station.

In the words of Afrobeats star CKay, Afrobeats is the new pop. It’s the next sound that consumers and major labels are looking for. Afrobeats is a conglomeration of many influences from hip-hop, R&B, reggae, fuji, juju, apala, galala, konto, lamba, makossa, soukous, amapiano etc. The core of this music is the percussion, the aggressive drums, snares, shakers and the sometimes chaotic sound mixes.

Musicians typically desire to have a global reach. The importance of America as the world’s entertainment capital guarantees that for the average artist, acceptance in America is tantamount to global acceptance.

The quest for global relevance of the Afrobeats movement is further signposted by the announcement that the next edition of The Headies – an awards show dedicated to celebrating excellence in Afrobeats – is scheduled to be held in Atlanta, Georgia, later this year. It is the first time in 15 editions that the annual awards show will be held outside Nigeria.

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