Afrobeat can be described as a music genre with a fusion of traditional African rhythms with modern global sounds. It is the most popular music genre in West Africa, particularly, Nigeria.
In recent years, Afrobeat has received a widespread global appeal and popularity. Several Afrobeat musical artists such as Burna Boy, Wizkid, Tems, Rema, and the like are hitting Billboard’s top 100, gaining collaborations with top American A-list pop artistes, and emerging as the most searched songs across the globe.
This article attempts to delve into the fascinating journey of the Afrobeat music genre, shedding light on the factors that have contributed to its widespread popularity. I will also be focusing on the dynamics of the production, distribution, and consumption of the Afrobeat music genre, especially in this digital era.
The history of Afrobeat can be traced back to the works of the Nigerian musician and political activist Fela Kuti popular in the late 1960s. He is the father of Afrobeat, a name he coined to describe his musical genre.
His musical expression is a blend of traditional West African rhythms, jazz, highlife, and funk that carried powerful social and political messages. Fela used his music to critique the Nigerian government and address issues of corruption, social injustice, political oppression, and social inequality.
Fela’s influence with his music extended beyond the shores of Nigeria. He became an international musical icon because of the uniqueness of his sound and the powerful message his music carries. Fela’s music production included the use of a live band with percussion and brass instruments, and his compositions were usually lengthy with complex arrangements.
He was popular for his dexterity with the saxophone as well. Today, Afrobeat has evolved with contemporary artists incorporating new features and elements while still sustaining its rich cultural roots.
In the digital era, the production of Afrobeat music has been embellished with the advent of software platforms such as FL Studio, Logic Pro X, Ableton Live, and the like. These Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) have brought greater flexibility into music composition, arrangement, and mixing. This has enhanced the creative process as well.
The availability of virtual instruments and sampling libraries has made it possible for Afrobeat producers to infuse a wider range of sounds and instruments to enhance the music genre and make it more globally appealing. The innovation of drum machines, synthesizers, and electronic effects has contributed to the genre’s modern sound.
Producers have embraced these digital tools to innovate sound designs, infusing unique textures, and effects in their mixes to embellish the listening experience. The transformation in this digital era has empowered artists and producers with new tools to foster dynamism in the production of the Afrobeat music genre.
Aside from the transformation in the production of Afrobeat, digitalization has also brought dynamism into the widespread distribution and consumption of the Afrobeat music genre which has contributed immensely to its proliferation.
Digital distribution platforms such as Deezer, Spotify, Boom Player, YouTube Music, Apple Music, and the like have given artists unprecedented global reach. Artistes are no longer limited by traditional geographical boundaries, but the Afrobeat music genre is now exposed to a diverse global audience.
Afrobeat artists also benefit from the algorithm on these streaming platforms which helps to amplify the visibility of their tracks through personalized playlist recommendations for the exploration of listeners with varied musical tastes.
Social media platforms, especially, TikTok, have played a crucial role in the distribution and widespread global appeal of the Afrobeat music genre. We have witnessed some viral trends and social media challenges that have propelled the recognition of some Afrobeat tracks to international audiences.
Hence, social media serves as a powerful marketing and promotional tool for Afrobeat music artists. Artists do share announcements about new singles or upcoming concerts to create anticipation for relevant audiences. Fans also create and share content about Afrobeat tracks, such as dance videos, covers, trends and so on which also help to amplify the promotion of the music genre.
Hashtag campaigns also create a buzz around some Afrobeat tracks which encourages users to participate in sharing content related to these tracks. This organically helps with the promotion of the Afrobeat music genre. Fan communities on social media platforms have also played a significant role in fostering the growth of Afrobeat culture. Fans share their favorite tracks, and playlists, discuss artists, and participate in conversations about the genre.
Some important Collaborations
It is likewise important to consider the cross-cultural collaborations among Afrobeat artists and musicians from other regions as well as different genres. Examples of such collaborations include Wizkid and Tems with Justin Bieber on the remix of the song “Essence“; Tems and Drake on the song “Wait For U” which debuted at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 song chart.
Fireboy DML with Madonna on the song “Frozen“; Fireboy DML with Ed Sheeran on the song “Peru” which became a global hit with over 84 million views on YouTube; to mention a few. These collaborations have no doubt, placed the Afrobeat music genre on the world map.
These collaborations also result in a fusion of sound which makes it more appealing to a diverse audience. Digital connectivity has made this possible, as artists can engage virtually transcending geographical distances. The influence of these globally recognized pop artists has contributed immensely to the visibility of the Afrobeat genre into the mainstream music scene.
Selling out Concerts all over the World
Despite the digitalization era, live performances remain a significant part of Afrobeat consumption trends. We have witnessed some of the top Afrobeat artists selling out for their live concerts in large arenas in the United Kingdom, the United States, and the like. Wizkid sold out the O2 Arena in May 2018. Burna Boy sold out London Stadium on June 3, 2023, where about 60,000 fans turned up to watch the African giant perform.
The same Burna Boy sold out a 41,000-capacity Citi Field Stadium in New York City, U.S.A. on July 8, 2023. Tiwa Savage, an A-list Nigerian Afrobeat artist performed at the Coronation of King Charles on May 6, 2023. Davido, Rema, and more have all had a sold-out concert in some of these international large arenas.
Some believe that this has been made possible due to the large migration of Africans, especially, Nigerians to some of these nations. These Africans in the diaspora remain a big fan of the Afrobeat genre, and they play a significant role in its proliferation to the international community.
However, despite the global successes of the Afrobeat genre in this digital era, there are some challenges that artists as well as society will have to confront as regards the production, distribution, consumption, and cultural representation of the Afrobeat music genre.
Artists and producers need to preserve the traditional elements and authenticity of the Afrobeat music genre, despite the global and modern influence. We cannot afford to dilute completely what makes the Afrobeat unique. Artists and producers must continually guard against the risk of elements of the Afrobeat being used without proper respect for its cultural origin.
Instead of succumbing entirely to the pressures of mainstream expectations, artists should be resilient in maintaining their integrity as artists and not over-commercialize the genre’s sound and artistic elements. We must not forget the origin of the Afrobeat music genre as a powerful tool for addressing social and political issues.
The proliferation of the Afrobeat genre has threatened to weaken this over time, but artists must carefully consider how to maintain and keep this aspect of the music genre. Another major challenge being faced by artists and producers in the digital era is related to getting fair compensation for their works in terms of copyrights and royalties.
The availability of various streaming platforms has brought in the challenge of being able to control the distribution of their artworks, hence affecting negatively, the artistes’ income. Artists and producers now must deal with issues such as copyright management, fair royalties, and so on.
In addressing some of the above challenges, the place of art management, society, and creative entrepreneurs becomes very important. They play a vital supporting role to the artistes in their creative endeavors, ensuring the artiste can stay true to his artistic vision and authenticity while building his brand image.
They also help to drive innovation in the elements of the Afrobeat art as well the financial management. Lastly, they ensure that society benefits from the cultural contribution of the artiste towards a positive social change.
In conclusion, as we experience the growth and proliferation of the Afrobeat music genre in the international mainstream music industry, this allied industry of art management, society, and creative entrepreneurship must grow together.