‘Now we have our own Billboard charts in the U.S. and UK—that shows how serious the Western world is taking our music.’ Afrobeats superstar Davido
An infectious blend of jazz, driving drums, reggae, pop and hip-hop, Afrobeats has quickly become the new global soundtrack, attracting fans and advocates in the UK, Europe and US.
The reasons for the surge in popularity? A flourishing African diaspora, the frictionless, universal nature of digital music streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, and its place as the soundtrack to multiple viral social media trends on Instagram and TikTok.
Streams of Afrobeats music on Spotify have surged nearly 300% from 2019 to 2022, reaching millions of new fans, while showcasing the continent’s unique talents on an international stage.
Artists like Davido, and other Afro stars, including WizKid, Burna Boy, Tems and Rema now fill stadiums across U.S., UK and Europe, collaborating with Western pop icons like Beyonce, Drake, Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran.
Nigerian Afrobeats star Tiwa Savage also performed at the coronation concert for British monarch King Charles III at Windsor Castle in May 2023.
‘The global music industry is investing in artists and producers from Africa and authentically leaning into what people are listening to,’ says J.J. Italiano, Spotify's head of global hits. ‘It's a truly global sound, and the industry is responding to it in a way that's super cool and encouraging.’
To break away from African music’s contentious and outmoded ‘world music’ classification, a new generation of informed, innovative musicians began riffing on their own musical heritage.
Its name refers to Afrobeat, a genre developed in Nigeria in the 1960s, led by the late, great Fela Kuti, which combined aspects of jazz, soul and Ghanaian highlife with the polyrhythmic drumming of the Yoruba, Ewe and Ga tribes. Afrobeats, its younger cousin, acknowledges the past via samples of classics and familiar African drum patterns, reborn in hybrid electronic form, mixing them with elements of Afro-pop, Jamaican Dancehall and Afroswing.
In recent years, Afrobeats has grown to reflect the essence of West African heritage and its ability to adapt to modern styles without diluting its core sound to appeal to the international pop marketplace.
The music has become a movement, crossing over to the mainstream, with its biggest stars infiltrating airwaves and winning international awards, while energising viral dance videos and sold-out arena tours.
Most recently, at February’s NBA All-Star Game in Utah, newly crowned Grammy winner Tems, Rema and the more established Burna Boy performed a medley of their hits.
In July, Afrobeats superstar Wizkid will play London’s 62,000-seat Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Nigerian Afrobeats superstar Wizkid will play London’s 62,000-seat Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in July 2023.
The popularity of Afrobeats shows no sign of slowing down. U.S. recording labels, including Warner Music have recently announced partnerships with independent Nigerian record companies such as Mavin Records and Chocolate City, in an effort to discover the next Afrobeats success story from the best regional talent.
Warner’s arrangement with Chocolate City includes talent development and handling the Lagos-based label’s international distribution. Their Afrobeat talent can now access Warner’s wide-ranging global expertise and artist services.
Audu Maikori, Group CEO of Chocolate City, comments: ‘The partnership with Warner Music Group is unique in the sense that our clients get the best of both worlds – curated and bespoke services by a highly experienced team across Africa and a dedicated global team to further push their music and their brands.’
Music is only the beginning. Observers have also made a tangible link between the rise in popularity of African music and culture with a sizable boost in tourism. Over the past decade, ‘Detty December’ has come to describe a period between December and early January when Africa experiences an influx of visitors, a mix of tourists and former citizens. Afrobeats’s unapologetically African energy continues to draw the diaspora back to the continent, bringing to mind the Akan tradition of Sankofa, which translates as ‘go back and get it’.
Through this physical homecoming and by creating a feeling of connection between peers who have previously felt lost in the west, African music-makers have built a strong community as a global movement.
It’s clear that Afrobeats is now established as its own genre, complete with fans, superstars and heritage. And the future looks exciting; for Afrobeat’s success stories, like Burna Boy and Wizkid, who forged the path and cemented the global appeal. And tomorrow’s generation of African music makers, now seen as financially and creatively attractive, both at home and abroad
Afrobeat’s artists have set the pace for global pop and continue to innovate while uncompromisingly wearing their African identity with a new cultural pride.