Africa, the world’s second most populous continent with over 1.4 billion people, is saddled with many challenges, from food security and climate change to bad governance and political instability. For a few bright spots in sports (mainly football and athletics), one rarely heard anything positive about the continent on the global stage.
Amidst these struggles, there is a new musical movement, Afrobeats, which is reshaping Africa in the eyes of people from other parts of the world and changing global perception of the continent.
How Afrobeats became a global phenomenon
While contemporary African music, including Hiplife, Highlife, Fuji, and Afro dancehall, has been available to Black communities in other parts of the world, it had always been challenging to market them outside African circles. In 2011, British-born Ghanaian presenter DJ Abrantee coined the term for his radio show, which focused on African music.
Around this time, the real traction for Afrobeats on the global stage started. Nigerian singer D’Banj’s signing by Kanye West’s GOOD Music and the release of the hit track Oliver Twist in 2011, which charted at number 9 in the UK, becoming the first-ever Afrobeats song to chart in the top 10, paved the way. After that came hits from Fuse ODG, Sarkodie, Don Jazzy’s Mavins, and many more.
From its humble beginnings, the Afrobeats movement has grown exponentially and become one of the most sought-after sounds recently.
Growth and successes of Afrobeats
With the increasing popularity of Afrobeats has come a wide acceptance by international award schemes like the Grammys, MTV Awards, and BET, among others. In June 2023, the Recording Academy announced three new categories, including the Best African Music Performance, an attestation to the massive popularity of Afrobeats worldwide. MTV VMAs also introduced an Afrobeats category for this year’s edition, which Nigeria’s Rema won for his Calm Down remix with Selena Gomez.
Streaming platforms have also been dominated by Afrobeats, with Spotify reporting that Afrobeats songs got over 13.5 billion streams in 2022, an over 60 per cent jump from the 8.4 billion streams recorded in 2021.
The trajectory has continued from 2022 as the streaming platform’s list of the best-performing in 2023 so far has Afrobeats dominating. CKay’s Love Nwantiti and Rema’s Calm Down are among the best, with the latter crossing one billion streams on Spotify since its release.
A side-piece to the global appeal of Afrobeats is the acceptance of Africa’s fashion and style by other peoples of the world. With this acceptance, African artists like Wizkid and Burna Boy have had opportunities to work with top fashion brands like Burberry and Fenty. More recently, Italian brand Ellesse announced a collaboration with Ghana’s Black Sherif, while Adidas has also tapped Nigeria’s Adekunle Gold for a new project for English football giants Manchester United.
The challenges and possible cracks in Afrobeats
Afrobeats may be on a speeding ascendency but just like everything art and human, it is not perfect. A relatively nascent music form, it faces challenges, including questions about its identity and lyrical quality. In fact, some do not consider it as a music genre but a fusion of African music styles. This assertion was recently deepened by a statement Burna Boy made. In a recent interview with US-based DJ, Zane Lowe, The Last Last hitmaker claimed Afrobeats was “empty” and lacked substance.
There is also concern about the sustainability of Afrobeats in the long term. Even though the sound has grown and become widely accepted, the insistence of giants like Burna Boy that they are Afropop artistes seems to take away from Afrobeats and make the years ahead entirely unknown.
What the future holds for Afrobeats
Despite the challenges, there is optimism that Afrobeats will be here for the long term. Unlike the naysayers, many others believe Afrobeats will grow to become more prominent in the coming years.
One of the optimists is Nigerian producer Don Jazzy, CEO of Mavin Records and one of the pioneers of the Afrobeats sound. In an interview with Billboard in 2022, Don Jazzy projected that:
“…Afrobeats will become a staple at the world’s biggest music stages. The foreign labels will keep rolling in on social media. From Instagram to TikTok, the next five years will come with innovations by these companies. The potential for virality will even increase. In the next five years, I expect that innovation will address a lot of the problems that the industry is battling with.”
His prediction is coming true with Afrobeats’s impact since his statement.
Afrobeats is excellent for Africa, no matter what
With the history of Afrobeats, its successes, challenges, and potential, there is no doubt that the music movement has put Africa in a global limelight in a relatively short time. That positive attention Afrobeats is courting for Africa has never been achieved in any aspect of African culture, whether governance, sports, education, or the rest.
Africa has had great moments on the sports stage, like Morocco’s semi-final berth in the 2022 World Cup, but it cannot be compared to Burna Boy filling a 40,000 venue with non-coloured people cheering and singing along to African rhythms. The psychological effect of such a feat is incomparable.
So, Afrobeats may not be perfect, but its surge in the past few years is the best thing that has come out of Africa, putting the continent at the forefront of global culture. It is worthy to celebrate and protect every bit of it. Its preservation is not only about music; it is about safeguarding Africa’s rich diversity and creativity and changing the negative narrative.