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HomeArts and CultureThe Beguiling Sound of Afrobeats Touches a Nerve in America

The Beguiling Sound of Afrobeats Touches a Nerve in America

By Ezinwanne Onwuka
Special to Truth Nigeria

Abuja—Nigerian Pop isn’t “Coming to America,” it’s here in force. Witness the crowds: at February’s NBA All-Star Game in Utah, Grammy winner Tems, Rema and Burna Boy levitated through a medley of their hits, and the ecstatic crowd screamed the lyrics of their songs back at them. Afrobeats superstar Davido (30), born David Adedeji in Osun State, is rocking his way on a Timeless (the title of his latest album) tour which kicked off on July 1, 2023, at the Capital One Arena in Washington DC. The genre has grown to the extent that it competes with foreign songs in clubs in the Nigerian diaspora.

And Yet.

Just a decade ago, Nigerian artists were struggling for international limelight. “I’m old enough to remember when our music industry was flooded by American and Jamaican music, and Nigerians preferred to listen to Eve, Eminem, Boys 2 Men, Snoop Dog and Blues,” top music journalist Joey Akan tweeted July 8 https://twitter.com/JoeyAkan/status/1677581272326053890?t=1mWScMTSzMDZmt4MU-2fdg&s=19 .

Nigeria today is home of Afrobeats – the modern variant of Afrobeat popularized by Fela Anikulapo Kuti in the 1970s – and which captured the imagination of artists who broke through in the West recently. Afrobeats, defined by its heavy percussion, repeating vocals, energetic melodies and a blend of English language and pidgin English, is reverberating around the world.

Dominated by Nigerian trailblazing acts such as Davido, Burna Boy, Wizkid, Rema and Tiwa Savage, — Afrobeats is summiting a transnational and transatlantic moment.  

Its biggest stars are filling stadiums, forging new collaborations across Africa and the rest of the world, riding airwaves and dominating music charts across the globe. Its global popularity has been marked by Grammy wins, viral dance videos on TikTok  and sold-out arena tours.

How did this crossover success and recognition on the global level happen? Akan explained in his tweet: “What did we do? We didn’t blame the Americans and Jamaicans for eating in our market. We simply looked inward and stepped up our music for three decades, until it became worthy of global cross-cultural consumption.

“We reached out across the world, begged and paid everyone who made themselves available to us. From Rick Ross to Snoop Dog and T.I., we got scammed in the US repeatedly – all for a guest verse. We flew to foreign countries, walked into major label offices and sold our market to uninterested execs for decades, until they saw the value, and rushed down here. Took three decades and generations of artists for that to happen.”

“Everything Nigerian music has right now took generations of insane work,” according to Akan in his extended tweet. “We earned every win with our blood. Every inch we took, we paid for it in coin, tears and broken dreams.”

But since 2020, the list of Nigerian nominees for the prestigious Grammy Awards has grown, prompting music enthusiasts to conclude that Afrobeats has won heartwarming global recognition.

Among the standouts is Burna Boy (32), born Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu, in Rivers State.

Burna Boy’s 2019 album, African Giant, paved the way for Afrobeats at the 62nd Grammy Awards in 2020 through a nomination for Best World Music Album. Afrobeats eventually had its big moment in 2021 when his fifth studio album, Twice as Tall clinched the Grammy’s Best Global Music Album award.

Another Grammy’s competitor is Wizkid,(32), born Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun. The nomination of Wizkid’s 2021 Made in Lagos (deluxe edition) album for the same category in 2022 marked the third time in succession that Afrobeats got recognized at the Grammys. His Essence with Tems  https://trendybeatz.com/download-mp3/13794/tems-essence-ft-wizkid

also received a nomination at the 64th Grammy Awards for Best Global Music Performance.

This year, Burna Boy, for the third time, snagged a nomination in the Best Global Music Album category with Love, Damini (2022). He also snagged the Best Global Music Performance category for his Last Last single. Tems was nominated in the Best Rap Song and Best Melodic Rap Performance category as a featured artist on American rapper Future’s single Wait For U.

It’s no accident that  Afrobeats artists are landing high-profile collaborations with U.S. artists.  Beyoncé enlisted numerous Afrobeats stars, including Wizkid and Burna Boy for her Grammy-nominated soundtrack album The Lion King: The Gift (2019). Her Brown Skin Girl featuring Wizkid won the Best Music Video award at the 2021 Grammys.

In July 2021, Wizkid’s and Tems-assisted Essence made history as the first Nigerian song to chart on the U.S. Billboard 100, bolstered by a remix with Justin Bieber. It was also the year’s most shazamed song in the U.S. – Shazam is an app that identifies songs. Globally, Finesse (2022) by Pheelz and Buju, Love Nwantiti (2019) by Ckay and Kizz Daniel’s hit with Tekno Buga (2022) were named the most shazamed songs in the world in 2022, 2021 and 2022 respectively.

Calm Down’s hit remix collaboration between Selena Gomez and Remahas topped multiple Billboard charts such as U.S. Afrobeats Songs, Pop Airplay, Rhythmic Airplay and Global Excl. U.S., while peaking at No. 3 on the Hot 100 — becoming the highest-charting hit from an Afrobeats lead artist in the chart’s 65-year history. To date, One Dance, an Afrobeats song by Drake with a cameo from Wizkid, is the seventh most streamed song of all time – it has surpassed two billion streams on Spotify.

The global relevance of Afrobeats is further marked by the launching of America’s first-ever Afrobeats charts to rank the top 50 Afrobeats songs in the United States based on streaming, airplay and physical sales by Billboard in partnership with a music festival company Afro Nation last year.  Fact is, Afrobeats has soared in popularity and is gradually becoming the fastest-growing genre in American pop culture. As per Nigerian singer-songwriter Ckay, “Afrobeats is the new pop.”

Ezinwanne Onwuka, @OnwukaEzinwanne, is an independent reporter based in Abuja, Nigeria and reports on arts, culture and society for Truth Nigeria.  She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State.

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