The mantra “Afrobeats to the world” has morphed from a far-fetched prophesy into a global reality. Afrobeats, not to be confused with Afrobeat, is an overarching term for contemporary West African pop music. As this so-called genre of music marked by a mesmeric fusion of West African musical styles (including Afrobeat, highlife, juju, hip-hop, pop, dancehall) evolves into a fluid style of music, and forges its way into the elusive mainstream markets of the world, the whole world pays attention.
Burna Boy, who released his seventh studio album I Told Them yesterday, has a discography that not only consists of Afrobeats songs that highlight reveling (“Different Size”, “Last Last“) but also songs that criticize modern-day politics (“Monsters You Made”, “20.10.20”, “My Cry”). It is not surprising to learn that he draws inspiration from Afrobeat Pioneer, Fela Kuti, who was acclaimed for his ability to seamlessly weave socio-political critique into classic and groovy rhythms. On “Collateral Damage” a track on Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu’s fourth studio album African Giant, ironically against bouncy and danceable beats he describes the sad reality of Nigerians who suffer as a result corrupt leadership, “ My country problem e pass Jesus/ Because na we be our own problem ehee/ Na who go come reason well?”
Wizkid is also at the forefront of the modern-day Afrobeats music space. With tracks like “Holla at Your Boy”, “Don’t Dull”, and “Pakurumo” from his debut album Superstar, he captured the hearts of many Africans with up-tempo and infectious anthems and continued with that music style in subsequent albums, up until his fourth studio album Made in Lagos where he shifted to more melodious and mellow tunes. His sonic evolution as an Afrobeats artist is evident, illustrating the versatility afforded to artists within the Afrobeats music scene. On his most recent album, “More Love, Less Ego” the grammy award-winner singer’s sound is relaxed, seamlessly fusing Afrobeats with other genres, such as dancehall in “Slip n Slide” featuring Skillibeng and Shenseea and R&B in “Frames (Who’s Gonna Know)”. The Grammy-nominated singer’s refined Afrobeats tune has proven to be commercially viable with “More Love, Less Ego” being the first Nigerian album to spend multiple weeks at number one on the Billboard World Albums chart (3 weeks) and the first African song to sell over 1.5 million units (almost multi-Platinum) in the U.S.
Meanwhile, superstars like Davido who belongs to the so-called “Big 3” of modern-day Afrobeats and Tiwa Savage, popularly referred to as the Queen of Afrobeats, have consistently remained true to the uptempo danceable rhythms of Afrobeats.
Afrobeats is unarguably one of Africa’s biggest cultural exports with its leading artists continuing to mark giant milestones on the global music stage, across live events, awards and streaming. Spotify reports that the genre has grown by 550 percent since 2017, and in 2023 alone, the genre has been played for more than 223 million hours with streams exceeding 7.1 billion on Spotify. The streaming platform further attributes international collaborations as the leading factor that has influenced Afrobeats’ growth, with social media, better music quality, online streaming and Africans living Abroad respectively following behind.
Newer Artists such as Ayra Starr, Rema, Tems, Omah Lay and Amaarae consistently reinvent Afrobeats—sometimes they stay true to its roots or merge it with other genres and other times they depart completely from it. Ayra Starr’s ‘Sability’ for example, an effortless flex of charisma which samples Congolese veteran Awilo Longomba’s on “Coupé Bibamba’ is unequivocally afrobeats, while “Toxic”, a soulful heartbreak song is more reminiscent of the RnB genre.
Rema has delivered hit Afrobeats songs such as ‘Dumebi’ and ‘Bounce’. In his expression of the creative freedom Afrobeats affords him, he has also welcomed collaborations with international artists. The remix of his viral hit ‘Calm Down’ from his debut album “Rave and Roses”, with American artist, Selena Gomez would go on to peak at number 3 on the US Billboard top 100 and spend twenty-seven non-consecutive weeks in the top ten of the UK Singles Chart. The Selena Gomez assisted track merges Afrobeats and Pop elements, with a supreme ear worming hook and alluring vocals lent by the Songstress to elevate the track sonically. Although Spotify confirms that as at the time of writing this piece, Rema’s “Calm Down” remix with Selana Gomez is the biggest Afrobeats song of all time, there has been numerous ceiling shattering Afrobeats international collaborations that materialized before it, to name a few: Wizkid’s “Essence” featuring Tems and Justin Beiber, Future’s “Wait For U” featuring Drake and Tems, Fireboy’s “Peru” featuring Ed Sheeran, Beyoncé’s “Brown Skin Girl” featuring Wizkid and Burna Boy’s “Heaven Gate” featuring Lilly Allen.
Afrobeats is the moment and many artists are tapping into the vast opportunities it offers. Adekunle Gold is one of them. He abandoned the mellow tunes that marked the earliest parts of his career as a Nigerian-folk singer to dive into the Afrobeats scene, with unexpectedly exciting results. With well-received singles like the catchy bop “Party no Dey stop” and amapiano-laced “High”, Adekunle Gold has perfected his transition from an alternative act to an afrobeats superstar.
Within an experimental and collaborative framework, Afrobeats pushes the boundaries of traditional African styles, allowing players within its industry to create infectious music that embraces dynamism and creative freedom, ultimately blurring genre in their artistic output.