Afrobeats (not to be confused with Afrobeat or Afroswing), also known as Afro-pop, Afro-fusion (also styled as Afropop and Afrofusion), is an umbrella term for contemporary pop music made in West Africa and the diaspora, that initially developed in Nigeria, Ghana, and the UK in the 2000s and 2010s. Afrobeats is less of a style per se, and more of a descriptor for the fusion of sounds flowing out of Ghana and Nigeria. Genres such as hiplife, jùjú music, highlife and naija beats, among others, are often lumped under the 'afrobeats' umbrella. Afrobeats is primarily produced between Lagos, Accra, and London. Paul Gilroy, of The Black Atlantic, reflects on the changing London music scene as a result of shifting demographics:
"We are moving towards an African majority which is diverse both in its cultural habits and in its relationship to colonial and postcolonial governance, so the shift away from Caribbean dominance needs to be placed in that setting. Most of the grime folks are African kids, either the children of migrants or migrants themselves. It's not clear what Africa might mean to them"
|Cultural origins||2000s Ghana, Nigeria|
Afrobeats (with the s) is commonly conflated with and referred to as Afrobeat (without the s), however, these are two distinct and different sounds and are not the same. Afrobeat is a genre that developed in the 1960s and 1970s, taking influences from Fuji music and Highlife, mixed in with American Jazz and Funk. Characteristics of afrobeat include big bands, long instrumental solos, and complex jazzy rhythms. The name was coined by Nigerian afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti. Fela Kuti and his longtime partner, drummer Tony Allen, are credited for laying the groundwork for what would become afrobeats.
This is in contrast to afrobeats, pioneered in the 2000s and 2010s. While afrobeats takes on influences from afrobeat, it is a diverse fusion of various different genres such as British house music, hiplife, hip hop, dancehall, soca, Jùjú music, highlife, R&B, Ndombolo, Naija beats, Azonto, and Palm-wine music. Unlike Afrobeat, which is a clearly defined genre, afrobeats is more of an overarching term for contemporary West African pop music. The term was created in order to package these various sounds into a more easily accessible label, which were unfamiliar to the UK listeners where the term was first coined.
Afrobeats is most identifiable by its signature driving drum beat rhythms, whether electronic or instrumental. These beats harken to the stylings of a variety of traditional African drum beats across West Africa as well as the precursory genre Afrobeat. The beat in Afrobeats music is not just a base for the melody, but acts as a major character of the song, taking a lead role that is sometimes equal to are of greater importance than the lyrics and almost always more central than the other instrumentals. Afrobeats shares a similar momentum and tempo to house music. Rather than only featuring a 4/4 time signature of Western music, afrobeats commonly features a 3–2 or 2–3 time signature called a "clave". Another distinction within Afrobeats is the notably West African, specifically Nigerian or Ghanaian, accented English that is often blended with local slangs, pidgin English, as well as local Nigerian or Ghanaian languages depending on the backgrounds of the performers.
I cannot say I invented Afrobeats. Afrobeats was invented before I was born. It was invented by Fela Kuti. But what you’ve got to remember is the genre of music artists themselves are now producing — the likes of WizKid, Ice Prince, P-Square, Castro, May7ven — are calling their music Afrobeats. So that’s what I call it when I put them on my mix tapes.
Afrobeats is less of a style like afrobeat is, and more of an overarching term for the contemporary sound of African pop music and that of those influenced by it. DJ 3K criticised the label for being a contemporary marketing category. According to David Drake, the eclectic genre "reimagines diasporic influences and—more often than not—completely reinvents them." However, some caution against equating Afrobeats to contemporary pan-African music, in order to prevent the erasure of local musical contributions. Some artists have distanced themselves from the term 'afrobeats' due to the overt similarity it has with 'afrobeat', even though they are different sounds.
Afrobeats is also sometimes referred to as Afro-pop and Afro-fusion. Don Jazzy has stated he prefers "Afro-pop" rather than afrobeats. Wizkid, Burna Boy, and Davido all use Afro-fusion or Afro-pop to describe their music. Mr Eazi also refers to his music as 'Banku Music' to denote the influence Ghana has had on his music (Banku is a Ghanaian dish).
Yeni Kuti, daughter of Fela Kuti, expressed distaste for the name 'afrobeats' and instead preferred if people referred to it as "Nigerian Pop", "Naija Afropop", or "Nigerian Afropop". Music critic Osagie Alonge criticised the pluralisation of 'afrobeat'. Sam Onyemelukwe of Trace Nigeria, a television show, however noted that he liked 'afrobeats', noting that it acknowledges the foundation set by afrobeat while also recognising that it's a different and unique sound. Nigerian artist Burna Boy has stated that he does not want his music referred to as afrobeats. However, most of these monikers, including afrobeats, have been criticised for using the 'afro' prefix, presenting Africa as a monolithic entity, rather than one with diverse cultures and sounds.
Reggie Rockstone, a pioneering hiplife artist, felt conflicted over artists referring to their music as 'afrobeats' rather than 'hiplife', a genre that is often placed under the 'afrobeats' umbrella. He stated in an interview with Gabriel Myers Hanse:
It’s like ‘Oh come on! We work so hard for you to get on, and now you’re gonna deny what it is that we did? Come on!’ Sometimes I get that vibe, but then, in the same breath, I’m like, well, it is one Africa, and I’m pan-African to the bone. So do I really care if it’s called Afrobeats or hiplife? As long as Black people are getting it, and young people are making money, feeding their kids, I think I’m okay. So, to each their own
Styles of music that make up afrobeats largely began sometime in the mid-2000s. With the launching of MTV Base Africa, artists within West Africa were able to grant themselves a large platform. Artists such as MI Abaga, Naeto C, and Sarkodie were among the first to take advantage of this, however most of the artists were merely making interpretations of hip hop and R&B. While this allowed them to build local audiences, it blocked them from a wider platform due to the language barriers in-place. P-Square released their album Game Over in 2007, which was unique for its usage of Nigerian rhythms and melodies. Meanwhile, artists such as Flavour N'abania were able to find success by embracing older genres, such as highlife, and remixing it into something more modern, as seen in his song "Nwa Baby (Ashawo Remix)". By 2011, artists within the burgeoning scene were beginning to become stars across the continent. P-Square released "Chop My Money (Remix)" alongside popular Senegalese-American artist Akon in 2011.
However it wasn't until "Oliver Twist", released by Nigerian artist D'banj in the summer of 2011, that afrobeats first saw international success. It made the top 10 on the UK Singles Chart in 2012 (making him the first afrobeats artist to make it to the top 10 in the UK), and number 2 in the UK R&B Charts. Mr Eazi later credited D'banj in an interview with Sway In The Morning in 2019 for helping encourage Nigerians to embrace their accents and music, rather than looking outwards and trying to emulate American accents and music.
British DJ's such as DJ Edu, with his show Destination Africa on BBC Radio 1Xtra, and DJ Abrantee, with his show on Choice FM, were early adopters of the sound and helped grant it a platform in the country. DJ Abrantee has been credited for coining the name "afrobeats". DJs and producers like DJ Black, Elom Adablah, and C-Real, were also crucial in spreading afrobeats, often giving songs a burst of popularity after being played on their shows.
Azonto and dance crazes
Ghanaian British artist Fuse ODG helped popularise afrobeats in the UK. He was also the first to top the iTunes World Chart and received the Best African Act award at the 2013 MOBO Awards. In 2009, Fuse ODG described his sound as "hip hop with an African vibe". In 2011, Fuse ODG traveled to Ghana where he discovered the Azonto dance, and became inspired by hip hop-influenced Afro-pop and Naija beats. Once he returned to London, he fused the sounds he had found in Ghana into what he described as "Afrobeats, but with my U.K. thing added to it", fusing the sound with influences from UK funky and grime. In 2012, he saw his first success with the song "Antenna" which peaked at number 7 on the UK Singles Chart. He followed that up with "Azonto", which further helped popularise afrobeats and the dance in the UK. This was the first time afrobeats was being played on daytime British radio. Such songs, and the Azonto dance craze, helped encourage Black Brits to embrace their African heritage rather than, as was the norm before, attempting to fit into British-Caribbean communities. Afrobeats night clubs became primary features of UK's nightlife with clubs opening in most major cities.
More viral dances would follow which played an important part in popularising afrobeats. In 2011, Nigerian singer Iyanya released "Kukere". The song became viral and known for its adaption of a traditional dance called Etighi. Another dance was popularised by Nigerian artist Davido when he released "Skelewu" in 2013. Davido promoted the song by uploading an instructional dance video of it onto YouTube on 18 August 2013. The video was directed by Jassy Generation. The release of the instructional video accompany the announcement of the Skelewu dance competition. In order to win the competition, participants were told to watch the instructional dance video and upload videos of themselves dancing to the song. According to Pulse Nigeria, the number of dance videos uploaded to YouTube by fans aggregated to over 100,000 views.
Other British afrobeats artists also emerged around 2012-2013, such as Mista Silva, Vibe Squad, Weray Ent, Naira Marley, Kwamz, Flava, Moelogo, and Timbo, who collectively set the foundation for future UK afrobeats and its derivative genre, Afroswing. Mista Silva's songs "Bo Won Sem Ma Me" and "Boom Boom Tah" were notable early hits in the UK afrobeats scene. Mista Silva and Skob credited Fuse ODG's "Azonto" song for encouraging them to create afrobeats.
Another method of utilising social media in order to boost a song was seen in the promotion of "Dorobucci", released in 2014, wherein Don Jazzy encouraged people to record themselves singing the song prior to release. The song won Best Pop Single at The Headies 2014, and Song of the Year at the 2015 MTV Africa Music Awards. It gained over 20 million views by 2016.
Ghanaian artist Sarkodie won Best International Act Africa at the MOBO Awards in 2012, and Best Hip Hop award at the 2014 MTV Africa Awards. In 2011, his song "U Go Kill Me" became a hit in Ghana and helped popularise the Azonto dance craze.
American artists such as Michelle Williams, French Montana, Rick Ross, and Kanye West have all collaborated with afrobeats artists. Michelle Williams released "Say Yes" in 2014, a gospel song based on the Nigerian hymn “When Jesus Say Yes.” The songs beats are said to resemble the popular four-beat of house music, but in fact follows the 3–2 or 2–3 of Afrobeats. This beat is known as the clave and mixes a rhythm with a normal 4/4 beat, it is commonly seen in many forms West African music. Another notable hit was "Million Pound Girl (Badder Than Bad)" by Fuse ODG, which reached 5 on the UK Singles Chart in 2014.
In 2014, a genre derivative of afrobeats known as afroswing emerged in the UK, which fused the sound with influences from road rap, grime, dancehall, trap, and R&B. The genre was pioneered by J Hus. This has led to many people referring to afroswing as 'afrobeats', however the two genres are distinct from each other.
Canadian artist Drake also began to experiment with afrobeats in the mid 2010s, which arguably helped afrobeats gain international mainstream appeal. In 2014, he featured on "Ojuelegba (Remix)" by Nigerian artist Wizkid alongside British MC Skepta, and in 2016 when he released "One Dance" alongside British singer Kyla and Wizkid. "One Dance" became Spotify's most streamed song, with over a billion streams, and charted in over 16 countries. Drake's 2017 album More Life contains many Afrobeats and Dancehall influences. In 2015, Wizkid signed to RCA Records, which became the biggest ever deal an African musician has ever received. Wizkid and Drake have both been credited in helping popularise Afrobeats worldwide. "One Dance" has been credited with helping push afrobeats into worldwide mainstream appeal, which would only continue the rise within the following years. Wizkid was later entered into the Guinness Book of Records 2018 for featuring on the most streamed Spotify single of all time, "One Dance". He is the first afrobeats artist to enter the Guinness Book of Records.
Nigerian artist Mr Eazi began to gain popularity in 2016 with his breakout singles "Skin Tight" and "Bankulize", both produced by British-Ghanaian producer Juls. He won Best New Artist at the Soundcity MVP Awards Festival in 2016. Mr Eazi initially gained his popularity in the UK after Juls reached out to him resulting in the song "Bankulize". Mr Eazi soon after became a star in Ghana and Nigeria. He has stated UK, Ghanaian and Nigerian music have all influenced his music. Mr Eazi calls his music 'Banku Music'. He was the first African pop artist to gain an extensive Apple Music artist page.
Nigerian artist Tekno signed a multi-million dollar deal with Columbia Records. In August 2017, he released "Pana". The song was a hit in Nigeria, but failed to propel Tekno's career into America as was hoped. On October 1, 2017, Wizkid became the first African artist to hold a sold-out headline show at the Royal Albert Hall.
2017 also saw the rise of Shaku Shaku, another dance craze. Though the origins are not known, the dance is believed to have been popularized by street urchins in Agege around mid-2017. The Shaku Shaku dance move first appeared in Olamide's "Wo" music video. Much like the Azonto dance, Shaku Shaku also gave rise to its own genre of music, pioneered by artists such as Mr Real, Slimcase, Idowest.
In 2018, French-Malian singer Aya Nakamura released "Djadja". The song became a number 1 hit in France and the Netherlands, as well as becoming certified gold in Belgium and Switzerland. The song gained over 400 million views on YouTube. She became the first French artist to secure seven top 10 songs in the French Singles chart and the first French singer to gain a number 1 album in the Netherlands since Edith Piaf in 1967, and became the most streamed French female artist in the world. Her sophomore album Nakamura became certified gold in France. Her rise has been notable due to the relative difficulty French black women have had in gaining mainstream popularity in France.
In June 2018, prominent American rapper Kanye West released his album titled Ye. Fans of Kanye West that searched for his album also, unintentionally, came across Burna Boy's song called "Ye" (released in January). This led to a 200% spike in streams for Burna Boy, gaining over 11.2 million streams in the United States.
In August 2019, Mr Eazi launched emPawa Africa, a talent incubation initiative to nurture and support up-and-coming artistes in Africa. The platform will be used to help promote upcoming artists and give them a major platform. The initiative is also supported by YouTube Music.
The latter half of the 2010s also saw prominent American artists experiment with afrobeats. This is notable due to the difficulty afrobeats has previously had in accessing the American market. In 2018, Swae Lee and Drake released "Won't Be Late", produced by Nigerian artist Tekno. In 2019, Janet Jackson released "Made for Now" with production by Harmony Samuels. The song was afrobeats, and became a top 10 hit on Adult R&B radio. In 2019 two prominent American artists, GoldLink and Beyoncé, both released albums with afrobeats influence. GoldLink released Diaspora on June 12, 2019 featuring an afrobeats song as the lead single, "Zulu Screams" and production from P2J. GoldLink had also previously made "No Lie" alongside Wizkid back in 2014. Beyoncé released The Lion King: The Gift, coinciding with the release of Lion King film released by Disney, on July 19, 2019. The album featured artists such as Burna Boy, Mr Eazi, Wizkid, P2J, Yemi Alade, Maleek Berry, Tiwa Savage, and Shatta Wale. Mr Eazi and GuiltyBeatz predicted the album would help afrobeats reach a higher level of popularity, especially in the US, than it has yet to achieve. On August 23, 2019, Jidenna released the afrobeats album 85 to Africa. On October 1st, American artist Chris Brown released "Lower Body", an afrobeats single featuring Davido. On October 25, 2019, Akon released a new afrobeats album titled Akonda.
The rising attention of afrobeats in the US also reached music radio stations, which began airing afrobeats, something they typically would not do before. Davido's "Fall" became a top 20 radio hit in America, 24 months after it was initially released. "Fall" also began rising on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay and U.S. Shazam charts, also becoming the longest charting Nigerian song in Billboard history. Nigerian artist Burna Boy also saw some success, performing to over 9,000 people in Brooklyn, and gaining over 11.2 million streams from the US on his single "Ye".
In December 2019, YouTube announced it would be supporting four afrobeats artists: Kizz Daniel, Reekado Banks, Simi, and Teni. Announced at an event titled "A celebration of Afrobeats" hosted in Lagos, Nigeria, YouTube stated it would be providing them with tools to "propel their music, grow their presence on YouTube and accelerate the growth of their audience globally".
The Azonto is a Ghanaian dance and music genre. Although the origins of the dance are unclear, Ghanaian artist Sarkodie helped popularise the dance with his 2011 song "U Go Kill Me", produced by EL and Krynkman, which became a hit in Ghana. This wasn't the first Azonto song however. Azonto music first emerged sometime in 2010, with songs such as "Kpo Kpo Body" by Gafacci and "I Like Your Girlfriend" by Bryte and Gafacci being among the first to showcase the new style. The dance craze that followed, in-turn, created a subgenre of afrobeats specifically dedicated to the dance, utilising simplistic, faster, and easier to dance to rhythms and simple, memorable hooks. In 2011, Fuse ODG traveled to Ghana where he discovered the Azonto dance. Once he returned to London, he realised nobody knew what the dance was, and so he made the song "Azonto", which further catapulted the dance's popularity globally and in the UK. This was also the first time afrobeats was being played on daytime British radio. The song was followed up by another Azonto song, "Antenna".
Banku Music is a subgenre of afrobeats pioneered by Mr Eazi. The core of the genre is Ghanaian highlife bounce while mixing them with Nigerian cord progressions, then mixed in with various other genre influences such as reggae, R&B, and hip-hop. Mr Eazi's style is also mellowed and laid back, with heavy usage of Pidgin English, and percolating rhythms. The genre is called 'Banku' in reference to the Ghanaian dish. The dish contains a multitude of different ingredients, much like how Banku is a fusion of various genres. Eazi credited Ghana for the mellowed sound in his music, in contrast to the typical high energy of Lagos, Nigeria.
Pon Pon is a genre that was briefly the main sound in the Nigerian afropop music scene during the mid-2010s. The genre has been used to describe songs influenced by dancehall and highlife. Sess The Problem Kid, a producer, characterised the genre by its "mellow vibe and soft-hitting synths, mostly in pairs". The name of the genre is an onomatopoeia of the synths that feature in Pon Pon songs. There has however been confusion over exactly what defines the genre. It's unknown exactly where the genre originated, but Tekno's song "Pana" has been credited for popularising the sound. Krizbeatz, one of the producers behind "Pana", instead prefers to call the genre "Afro Dance Music" (ADM), denoting the influence of EDM.
Davido's songs "If" and "Fall" both fall under the Pon Pon genre. Other songs include "Mad Over You" and "For Life" by Runtown, "Medicine" and "Odoo" by Wizkid, "Gaga Shuffle" by 2Baba, "Mama" by Mayorkun, "Ma Lo" by Tiwa Savage, "Jeje" by Falz, and "Ur Waist" by Iyanya.
Fusion / Derivative genres
Afrosoca is a fusion genre of afrobeats and soca music with some influences from dancehall. The genre was pioneered in Trinidad & Tobago by Nigerian and Trinidadian artists. The genre has been pioneered by artists such as Olatunji, Machel Montano, and Timaya. Olatunji's song "Ola" was one of the most popular songs in Trinidad's 2015 carnival season, leading Olatunji to earn the prize "Groovy Soca Monarch" for his performance at the International Soca Monarch competition. Another notable song is the remix of "Shake Your Bum Bum" by Timaya and Machel Montano released in 2014, which was a hit in Trinidad. By 2016, a wave of Afro Soca songs were released coinciding with the years carnival season in Trinidad. Notable songs include Olatunji's "Oh Yah" and Fay-Ann Lyons and Stonebwoy B's song "Block D Road".
Shakira Marshall, a New York-based choreographer, has been credited with coining the name 'afrosoca' for her dance class in 2012 in order to describe the unique fusion of Western, Southern and Central African, and Caribbean dance styles she was teaching. Afrosoca songs typically have a similar tempo to Groovy Soca (110 to 135 BPM), often with West African-influenced melodies.
Gospel singer and songwriter Isaac Blackman and DJ Derek "Slaughter" Pereira have both criticised the name and the implication that its a new sound, particularly due to the fact that the origins of soca are African music to begin with.
Afroswing, also known as Afrobashment, is a British genre that developed in London around 2014. The genre is derivative of afrobeats, mixing it with various influences from British dancehall, grime, R&B, trap, and hip hop. British rapper J Hus and producers such as Jae5, Blairy Hendrix, Joshua Beatz have been credited for pioneering the new sound. The genre has commercially been very successful in the UK.
Afroswing is largely defined by its melody rather than a specific tempo. Producer Steel Banglez stated the key elements of afroswing were happy or dark chords that "make you feel a certain way", and that "drum pattern is the most important thing about this whole sound, it's the snare that comes on the third. In hip-hop it comes on the fourth. Coming off the third beat comes from afrobeats."
Martin Connor, an expert in vocal melodies and rap analysis, described the characteristics of the genre as being "[..] technically in 4/4, what you will hear over and over again is this recurring pattern made up of three notes that are still repeated in the framework of a 4/4 time signature [..] You can hear the inspirations of Jamaican music in the rhythm except Jamaican music doesn’t have a bass kick and the snare – that’s hip hop, that’s traditional rap. So this is that translation of cultures happening subtly in the instrumentation. Yet it still has a hip hop sensibility in terms of lyrical focus and music videos: cars, money, authenticity, hardness".
In Cuba, a new genre of music known as Bakosó emerged in the mid-2010s pioneered in Santiago de Cuba by artists such as Ozkaro and Maikel el Padrino and producers like Kiki Pro. The dissemination of afrobeats, afro-house, and the Angolan genres semba and kuduro in Cuba was aided in large part by African medical students from nations such as Angola, Ghana, and Nigeria who visit Cuba to study as part of higher education exchange programs. Some students would have direct contact with local Cuban artists and influence the creation of Bakosó, which fuses these African genres with local sounds such as rumba and conga. An artist named Inka has been credited for coining the name of the genre. Originally the word "Bakosó" was used to mean "party". In 2019, Havana-based DJ Jigüe released a documentary titled "Bakosó: AfroBeats of Cuba" (or "Bakosó: Afrobeats de Cuba") about the genre.
In August 2015, French rapper MHD released a freestyle over an instrumental made by P-Square. MHD had been disappointed with the world of French-language rap, judging there was too much influence from American trends. Influenced by his parents West African roots, MHD decided to incorporate elements of West African genres such as Afrobeats into his songs and languages such as Fula or Wolof. He coined this newfound genre as "Afro Trap". The genre is only very loosely influenced by trap music.
In September 2015, MHD released a video titled Afro Trap Part. 1 (La Moula) which spurned the start of a successful "Afro Trap" series of music releases. Afro Trap Part. 3 (Champions League), a song praising the Paris Saint-Germain football club, was a breakthrough in MHD's music career, with the song and its dance moves becoming popular with supporters of the club. His first album also sold over 200 thousand copies. MHD was featured in the soundtrack of the film Pattaya, and was invited to the Élysée by then-President François Hollande on the occasion of a visit by Guinean President Alpha Condé. His first studio album, MHD, was released on 15 April 2016. It includes six parts of his Afro Trap series and songs featuring Fally Ipupa and Angélique Kidjo. As of 2019, the album has earned a triple platinum certification in France, which represents more than 300,000 copies sold.
The genre has since spread across Europe, especially in Germany where artists such as Bonez MC and RAF Camora have been pushing the genre, however with a heavier lean towards dancehall than afrobeats. The German variation of the genre has been criticised by Ghanaian Stallion for the lack of actual African influences, with the only thing remaining being a dancey rhythm.
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