Wizkid, Davido, and Burna Boy are three of the most well-known entertainers in the world, not just in Nigeria. It’s almost impossible to have a conversation about African music without these names coming up. Since its inception, Afrobeats has become one of the greatest popular genres in the world. A formidable matchup, but the path has been long.
To identify our steps back to the beginning, we must discuss the origins of music in Nigeria. Fela Kuti (and his longtime partner, drummer Tony Allen, who is famous for creating the double beat you hear in Fela’s records) was responsible for developing and exporting the sound as far back as the 1970s—albeit a fusion of many western sounds—both within and beyond Nigeria. He called it Afrobeat, with no “s.” As such, how did Afrobeat evolve into a global phenomenon? Let us examine the history of one of Nigeria’s most important exports to the world.
Early imports of brass instruments and woodwinds were critical in the development of Nigerian music, while the subsequent importation of electric guitars aided in the popularization of jùju music. In the late 1950s, Kuti left Lagos to study at the London School of Music, where he became exposed to jazz. He returned to Lagos and performed a highlife jazz hybrid that was not commercially successful.
The turning point in his sound would come when he and his band went on a trip to the United States and realized they weren’t playing African music. When he returned to Nigeria in the early 1970s, his sound evolved into what is now known as Afrobeat. Afrobeat merges West African styles of music (such as traditional Yoruba music and highlife) with influences from American funk, jazz, and soul, with a focus on chanted vocals, comprehensive intersecting rhythms, and percussion.
The name was partly inspired by an attempt to differentiate Fela Kuti’s music from the soul music of American artists such as James Brown. The genre quickly became Africa’s most important export, influencing generations of artists from all over the world. This, however, did not prevent the importation of several elements of Western pop culture that impacted the development and distribution of local production.
Fela Kuti, the father of Afrobeat, was born in Abeokuta, Southwest Nigeria, in October 1938 to Reverend Israel Kuti as well as Chief Funmilayo Kuti. Fela’s father was an Anglican Bishop, and his mother was a revolutionary feminist who fiercely opposed colonialism in Nigeria. Having such a parent had a strong impact on Fela, who developed an early desire to engage in several anti-colonial movements.
Fela’s parents sent him to London to study medicine in 1958. He chose to study music instead and enrolled at Trinity College of Music, where he pursued his passion. While attending Trinity College, Fela formed the Koola Lobitos band. Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, also known as the ‘Father of Afrobeat,’ was widely regarded as one of Africa’s most intimidating and charismatic musicians, as well as a musical and sociopolitical voice of international significance. He utilized Afrobeat to combat the colonial powers that partitioned Africa and the corrupt structures that kept Nigeria’s leaders in power.
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A Quick Look at The Growth of Afrobeat in Nigeria
Three years after Nigeria’s independence from British rule, Fela returned to Nigeria in 1963. During that time, he was engaged in incorporating afrobeat into Nigeria’s highlife music. Fela restructured his band’s musical style to Afrobeat and rebranded the group Africa 70. In response to Fela’s disillusionment with the Nigerian government’s inability to combat corruption, he founded the Kalakuta Republic, a commune.
The Kalakuta Republic was a pattern of a free state (movement) that brought together freedom fighters and Afrobeat enthusiasts. The commune was Fela’s means of utilizing his music to speak out against social ills. Fela’s home, also known as his shrine, was the location of the Kalakuta Republic.
Through the controversy that followed Fela’s career, Afrobeat quickly gained popularity in Nigeria, West Africa, and all across the world. Multiple album entries by Fela on the Billboard chart set a precedent. As is currently being witnessed, this paved the way for succeeding generations, particularly the rising of these younger generations of musical talent to global prominence.
The more Fela popped up in the news, the greater the popularity of his music grew. His sons Femi & Seun Kuti had already adopted their father’s musical style and carried on his legacy before his death in 1997. In any of Nigeria’s countless nightclubs, you’ll be immersed in a sonic voyage of throbbing beats, groovy samples, and hip-hop kicks. In cities where everyone loves to dance, the infectious sounds of Afrobeats — a growing musical movement that has struck a chord with youth in West Africa and beyond the continent — set the tempo.
Emerging musicians from Nigeria and other regions of Africa began to view Afrobeat as a style of music that can be accepted by society at large. Young artists started incorporating the style into their music as well. The afrobeat artists who were influenced by Fela’s music include: Femi Kuti, Seun Kuti, Dbanj, Timaya, Burna Boy, Wizkid, Yemi Alade, Mr. Eazi, 2Baba, and Falz, among others.
The Global Recognition of Afrobeats
There is no assumption that African music, particularly Afrobeats — a fusion of West African and American jazz styles — has gone global. It is now commonplace for non-Africans to identify with Afrobeats and appreciate the African rhythm. At the forefront of the worldwide frenzy for Afrobeats, Nigerian musicians are performing around the world and winning awards.
The young generation of Afrobeat musicians, including Wizkid, Tems, and 2Baba, elevated the genre by fusing it with the American hip-hop style. This genre is commonly referred to as Afrobeats. These Afrobeats musicians have won multiple awards, including Grammys, BET Awards, and MTV European Music Awards, among others.
With the advent of online music streaming platforms, Afrobeats artists from Nigeria and other countries can distribute their songs to listeners all over the world via YouTube, Apple Music, Spotify, Boomplay, and others. Through the signing of indigenous Afrobeats artists, international record labels such as Sony have also contributed to the global expansion of Afrobeats.
To the brilliance of Afrobeats and its pioneers, a group of leading Nigerian artists have soared into the ranks of global superstars, amassing millions of worldwide fans and selling out massive concert arenas the size of stadiums, all over the world and even in non-English speaking regions such as Asia and South America. All thanks to music streaming services and social media, which have transformed the global community into a compact digital hub.
On the other hand, the global recognition, international concert tours, and sold-out events brought about by the increasing popularity of Afrobeats on streaming platforms today are the result of years of hard work, scrutiny, and sacrifices by Nigerian artists from the past and present.
With international prominence come endorsement offers and record deals. A significant number of Nigerian artists who are able to propel their craft to international prominence are being rewarded with lucrative record label contracts from some of the world’s largest music companies, as well as the attention and taking that accompany such achievements.
Through the participation of world acclaimed record labels in the distribution and marketing of Afrobeats on a global scale, the audience continues to grow and the musicians become more in demand abroad. This is supported by a recent announcement by the online music streaming service Spotify, which ranked Nigeria as one of the countries with the most musical streams. Nine of the top 10 exported songs from Nigeria, according to their data, are collaborative efforts between local and international musicians.
Appropriately, numerous global superstars, particularly from the United Kingdom and the United States, have caught the viral wave of Afrobeats disseminating across borders and are revamping their discographies with contents of the African tunes, via collaborative efforts with Nigerian stars and sampling of Afrobeats sounds, in addition to enlisting some Nigerian producers for their personal projects.
Beyonce, Chris Brown, Kanye West, Drake, Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran, Future, Nas, and a number of others are among the most recognizable artists on this list. Striking example is the fact that after the majority of initial attempts, some of these foreign artists have recorded additional songs with their Nigerian counterparts.
In the post-colonial entertainment and music industry, Fela Kuti was considered the greatest Afrobeat performer to have ever lived. Many still contend that he is the greatest Afrobeat artist. By winning the Grammy Award for best global music album of the year in 2021 for his album Twice as Tall, Burna Boy established himself as one of the most prominent contemporary Afrobeat musicians.
All of Nigeria’s musical expressions adhere to a fundamental principle: the power and preeminence of words as the important developmental element of expression. In fact, in many Nigerian cultures, there is no word for music. Instead, there are a number of highly developed categories for speech, poetry, and metaphor, as well as terms for drumming, dance, and song.
Difference Between Afrobeat and Afrobeats
Afrobeat is frequently confused with Afrobeats; these two genres are distinct, despite their similarities. Afrobeats combines Afrobeat, R&B, as well as hip-hop. It may be called the modernization of Afrobeat. Popular belief holds that Afrobeats originated in Ghana and Nigeria in the early 2000s. Musically, however, Kuti’s influence on the new generation of Afrobeats artists is unmistakable.
Afrobeat and Afrobeats are highly sought-after sounds and the largest investment target in the Nigerian music industry. The Afrobeat sound is a groundbreaking sound that has had a tremendously profitable impact on the industry’s leading figures. As a musical genre, afrobeat actually paved the way for Africans in the diaspora to feel a sense of belonging and identity, allowing for collaboration and inductive reasoning.
Over the past couple of decades, Nigeria’s music industry has clearly been one of the country’s largest exports. Africa is currently one of the world’s most rapidly expanding music markets, indicating that African music is more popular than ever before. Nigeria’s sumptuously energizing rhythms, generally referred to as Afrobeats, are apparently gaining the most traction and transcending international boundaries of all the well-known African musical styles.
With Afrobeats compellingly emerging as a global phenomenon capturing the hearts of music lovers as well as enthusiasts alike in recent years, the genre, which was pioneered by the legendary multi-instrumentalist and iconic activist Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, has gained such clout that it is now classified in top music genre chart rankings thousands of miles from its emergence.
The global community currently appreciates the sounds emerging from Nigeria and desires more. Nigerian artists are leaving no stone unturned in their efforts to serve afrobeat to a global audience that has fully embraced it. The Nigerian music industry continues to flourish with the introduction of new acts and a rise in lyrical content and quality.
Afrobeats surfaced when West African pop music became fashionable. Its beginnings coincide with the liberalization of the media that accompanied the final wave of democratization in Africa in 1999. Moreover, it is a convenient term for Europe to use when referring to African music as distinct from Euro-American pop.
Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, a Nigerian music icon, coined the term Afrobeat to describe his fusion of jazz, funk, rock, and traditional West African chant as well as rhythms in the early 1970s. Typically, Afrobeat contains messages of liberation. However, Afrobeats tends to avoid discussing politics. Its purpose is to help people forget their daily troubles and enjoy themselves.
Also, we can’t help but say that Nigerians living in the US and UK are bringing their music tastes to the mainstream. Since these two countries set most of the artistic trends around the world, it’s easy to think of Nigerian music as a global phenomenon. The success of this genre can be seen in the past and the present.
Afrobeat has not only given musicians, particularly Nigerian contemporary artists, a way to be creative in the music business, but it has also helped them break through in the global music business. Afrobeats made it possible for Nigerian musicians like Teniola, Wizkid, Davido, Tiwa Savage, Omah Lay, Tems, Joeboy, Rema, Chike, Fireboy, Buju, and many more to work with artists from other countries.