48hrs ago on Instagram a live video went viral with Hip-hop legend and west coast rapper Snoop Dogg playing a mix of songs on his turntable at his California home, a particular song cued in and he was “vibing” to the beat rhythmically that for a second he was just in the zone, the song was Essence by Wizkid featuring TEMS, that is the power of Afrobeats.
It was unthinkable just ten years ago that major labels would release Yoruba songs that would be heavily played on mainstream radio stations, or that the biggest artists in Western music would not only sample an African musician's track but would also initiate a partnership to boost their coolness. What's different now?
Evolution of Afrobeats
Afrobeat music combines elements of West African musical styles such as fuji music and highlife with American jazz and later soul and funk influences, with an emphasis on chanted vocals, complex intersecting rhythms, and percussion.
Nigeria's vast—and affluent—diaspora contributes to Afrobeats' global success. However, social media, YouTube, and access to global streaming platforms such as Spotify, Tiktok have all played a role in its spread.
Afrobeats is popular not only with the general public but also with world-famous musicians. Drake famously collaborated with Wizkid on One Dance, a huge 2016 summer hit that spent ten weeks at the top of Billboard's Hot 100, and DJs including Major Lazer and DJ Snake are also collaborating with Nigerian artists. Ciara has cited Tiwa Savage as an inspiration for a new record, and Quavo of the Migos has a track with Davido on his debut album. Wizkid, Yemi Alade, Shatta Wale, Tiwa Savage, Burna Boy, Tekno, Busiswa, and a slew of other talented African artists were featured in Beyonce's "The Lion King: The Gift" album, which was a global smash hit.
Beyoncé identifies with Yoruba goddess Oshun, also spelled Osun, in the music videos for "Hold Up" and "Spirit," using visual elements such as water and brightly colored clothes to reinforce the philosophy that Afrobeats is about more than just music.
And recently Burna Boy and Wizkid won awards at the 2021 Grammies; Burna Boy took home the award for Best Global Music Album, while Wizkid took home the award for Best Music Video for his collaboration with Beyoncé, Brown Skin Girl, from The Lion King: The Gift album.
A little stroll down memory lane reveals this hasn’t been the first time Africans, in particular, Nigerians have had a run-in with the Grammies. The legend King Sunny Adé (real name Sunday Adeniyi Adegeye) was nominated for a Grammy in 1984 for his album Synchro System, which was the first album from Nigeria to be nominated for Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording.
Babatunde Olatunji, Femi Kuti, Sikiru Adepoju, Wizkid, Kah-Lo, Seun Kuti, Burna Boy, and Tiwa Savage were all nominated after King Sunny Adé. Babatunde Olatunji (real name Michael Babatunde Olatunji) was the first Nigerian to receive a Grammy award for his contribution to Mickey Hart's Planet Drum album in 1991.
Afrobeats has also made inroads at some of the world's most prestigious record labels. Sony and Universal Music have both opened offices in Nigeria in the last two years, signing publishing and distribution deals with a number of Afrobeats artists. R&B musicians like Chris Brown and Roy Woods, as well as British pop singers like Dua Lipa and Anne-Marie, have incorporated the sounds into their own hits, extending the genre's reach beyond West African artists.
It's not every day that a new artist's song appears on the famous playlist of a former American President. However, a young artist from Benin City, Nigeria, did just that. Rema, whose song Iron Man made Barack Obama's list of favorite songs for 2019, and whose eponymous debut EP topped the Apple Music Nigeria chart that year. This occurred, according to Rema, not as a result of, but in spite of, Afrobeats' international success.
Afrobeats, like Burnaboy, Wizkid, Tiwa Savage, and Rema, declare to the world, "Every country I go to, they tell me I am the future." A sea of smartphones catches the moment to broadcast to the rest of the world. The rise of Afrobeats from West Africa is still in its early stages.