The Irresistible West African Afrobeats Genre Taking Over Global Interest
For the past five years, the West has seen the rise of Afrobeats in the music industry. Afrobeats artists have graced our ears with stellar projects and are finally getting global recognition for it. Burna Boy and Wizkid, two of Nigeria’s biggest stars, both took home Grammys in the past year. Newcomers such as Tems and Amaarae have enjoyed instant success as they further the boundaries of this afro-fusion genre. Global superstars such as Beyonce and Drake have also tapped into this vibrant scene.
The History of Afrobeats
The term “Afrobeats” was derived from the Nigerian genre, Afrobeat, which was pioneered by one of the most iconic musicians of all time, Fela Kuti. Afrobeat is a fusion of highlife and juju music infused with jazz and funk rhythms steeped in politically driven messages about Pan-Africanism. For the revolutionary musician, performing was a spiritual experience and his infamous Lagos clubhouse,The Shrine, served as the sanctuary where he carried out his weekly ritual.
Afrobeats takes on a more globalist, cosmopolitan approach. The umbrella term was coined in the UK in the early 2000’s where DJs used to play hiplife, highlife, Nigerbeats, juju music and Afro Pop at African diaspora events such as Ghana Independence Celebration for crowds who yearned to connect to their heritage more through culture. Now, the genre is a 21st-century melting pot Afro pop, R'n'B, dancehall, hip hop, highlife and jùjú which creates the irresistible sounds that dominate airwaves and song charts today.
Not A Trend, A Mainstay
Genres that do not originate from the US or UK tend lose their global popularity over time, but Afrobeats seems to be here to stay and continue to evolve. Lagos-born,Wizkid, nabbed his first entry on the Billboard Hot 100 as the lead performer with his global smash “Essence” in 2021. Fellow Nigerian, Tems, appeared on Drake’s album “Certified Lover Boy” and delivered one of the year’s best records with her EP, “If Orange Was a Place”. CKay’s “Love Nwantiti,” has become a viral sensation.
The sound is making considerable waves as the world’s biggest stars have taken inspiration from it. In July last year, Beyoncé predominantly picked Afrobeats artists for her soundtrack album The Lion King: The Gift, saying, "I wanted it to be authentic to what is beautiful about the music in Africa”. Justin Bieber hopped on the “Essence” remix and Ed Sheeran joined Fireboy DML’s “Peru” remix to raging success.
Beyond radio success, artists in the genre have been able to sell out venues across the globe. Davido has sold out UK’s 02 Arena. At the Atlanta stop of Wizkid’s North American tour in October, an additional date had to be added to the 2,600-capacity venue to meet surging demand. Last October, Burna Boy became the first African solo artist to headline the Hollywood Bowl. This year, he’s slated to play Madison Square Garden as the first headlining performance by a Nigerian musician at the storied New York venue.
How Afrobeats Gained Listeners
Afrobeats popularity is down to not only the quality of the music but also how music is consumed through the realms of social media and the internet. The internet has become the ultimate equalizer for African creatives trying to reach a global audience as they can showcase their talents directly and build fanbases organically. This has led to streaming services like Apple, Spotify and Audiomack to build branches in South Africa and Nigeria.
The growing number of African immigrants in the US and UK has also played a role in the genre’s popularity. According to Pew Research, between 2000 and 2015, the African-immigrant population in just the United States more than doubled, exceeding 2 million. It was the fastest growth rate for any population during the time. Listeners who love Afrobeats are extremely passionate about the genre and that passion has increased over time with the momentum of the music. It is a testament to the strengthening ties between Africa and its diaspora.