“Time is running out,” sings Nigerian singer Tems on Afrobeats star Wizkid’s summer 2021 hit, “Essence.” Seen more than 67 million times on YouTube, and millions more times counting remixes on TikTok and Instagram, “Essence” was a pandemic hit of the summer.
Not too long ago, this kind of worldwide success for an Afrobeats song would have raised eyebrows. But the truth is that the wider Afrobeats genre – and the Nigerian music industry in particular – has produced hit after hit in recent years.
Whether it’s nostalgic melodies such as the nostalgic “Essence” melodies, the intoxicating beats of Burna Boy, the Afropolitan sounds of Yemi Alade, Wizkid’s “Joro” or the jovial “Fall” of Davido, these tracks have awakened a sleeping giant: a Nigerian treasure trove of musical talent and creativity on the dance floors from Lagos to Los Angeles.
The Nigerian Central
The global rise of Afrobeats seems to have coincided with the pandemic. Indeed, hit after hit and collaborations with big international names, from Justin Bieber to Beyonce via Ed Sheeran, are among the recent successes. But the reality is different, veteran Lagos-based producer and musician Ade Bantu told DW.
“Nigeria has always been a powerhouse when it comes to music,” Bantu said, citing a list of household names including King Sunny Ade and Fela Kuti.
To explain the current wave of international notoriety enjoyed by Nigerian artists, Bantu pointed to the 2012 success of Nigerian artist D’Banj. His UK single “Oliver Twist” “opened the floodgates”.
“Everyone just got the Nigerian virus. And then you have this huge Nigerian diaspora in the UK, the US and other centers around the world,” Bantu said.
Singer Yemi Alade is just one of Nigeria’s successful afrobeats exports
Analysts have sought to correlate increased interest in Afrobeats with the growth and upward mobility of West African diaspora populations in major music markets.
But even the term Afrobeats is fuzzy. Afrobeats with an ‘s’ differs from the horn-filled Afrobeat music associated with Fela Kuti. The term was only coined in the mid-2000s in London by diaspora DJs to market popular music from Nigeria. Prior to this, creations by West African artists were often lumped together with other musicians under the term World Music, arts and culture journalist Bolaji Alonge told DW.
“Afrobeats with an ‘S’ is a combination of different genres over the decades – from highlife to reggae. Today you have Afrofunk, Afrohouse, Afropolitan music, and all of them fall under the Afrobeats label,” Alonge said.
Young, independent, groovy
Afrobeats tracks may lack the political vibe and brass of previous Nigerian offerings, but no one disputes that the hit Afrobeats songs are groovy and catchy. Powerful percussive rhythms make the dance floor bounce. Audiences don’t seem to care about lyrics spoken in local Nigerian pidgin or other regional dialects, even in overseas markets.
However, would a Wizkid or a Davido have made the same noise 10 years ago? Bantu said no.
WizKid has gained an international following, with regular performances overseas
“You had mostly white men dictating your tastes, especially in one of the biggest markets in the world, the United States. Now all of a sudden it’s the kids, it’s the public that determines what’s hot and what’s not,” says Bantou.
The advent of social media and streaming has changed the game for Nigerian artists. Gone are the days when individual record labels – local and foreign – acted as gatekeepers to Afrobeats fame. With local and overseas streaming services including Spotify and Apple Music recently expanding their operations in Africa, artists and DJs can tap into this.
Alonge said the power of the internet has been a catalyst: Instagram, TikTok and other platforms have provided more access to Afrobeats than ever before.
Burna Boy and Davido are two of the biggest names in the Nigerian afrobeats genre
Bantu said empowered, tech-savvy young people could tap into the modern world’s thirst for personalized, visually-oriented entertainment.
“These Nigerian kids, they have the skills to do everything themselves. They make their music videos, they know how to put it on the radio, they put it on the internet. I mean, these kids were shooting music videos that were on par with what they were watching on MTV!”
Bantu foresees a bright future. African urban artists “are much better at adapting to challenges” than their counterparts elsewhere, he said.
TikTok and other social media platforms have helped drive the growth of Afrobeats
Streaming and social media are opening up markets
DJ EnoB works the decks in Lagos for a living and he plays Afrobeats “90% of the time”. The rise of the genre has increased its workload, but added a lot of competition.
“If you want to differentiate yourself, you have to go beyond Afrobeat, so you can look into related genres like Amapiano or change your style of mixing,” he told DW, referring to southern beats. African derivatives of the house.
DJ EnoB believes that access to global markets through streaming services has made the Nigerian music industry more competitive and in some ways fairer.
Streaming services have opened doors for many African artists
“It’s more profitable now,” said DJ EnoB. “Before, the market was plagued by piracy, so an artist could make a song, and everyone played their song, but they didn’t make money from their music. But now, on streaming platforms, no anyone from Mauritania to Greece can listen to an Afrobeats artist.”
He thinks streaming has given hope to every artist.
Market data company Statista predicts that the Nigerian music industry could bring in around $44 million (€39 million) by 2023. Meanwhile, music streaming revenue in Africa is expected to reach $287 million. dollars in 2022 and $484 million by 2026.
But all is not smooth. Producer Ade Bantu explained that becoming the next Wizkid is a “very expensive affair”. Fierce competition sees many budding young famous musicians resorting to business deals so they can make music videos and get their music heard.
Alonge said streaming hadn’t “leveled the playing field”.
“The industry has moved away from record labels and promoters,” Alonge said. “Now it’s up to you to achieve something.”
Alonge said only a few artists have managed to gain a large following, although he acknowledges that streaming and social media platforms have helped promote Afrobeats – and not just in Nigeria.
Anthem of containment
Ugandan musician EeZzy’s hit “Tumbiza Sound” came out of almost nothing, but followed Afrobeats’ hit formula. Locked away in his recording studio during Uganda’s seemingly endless pandemic lockdown, he came up with “Tumbiza Sound,” a catchy track happily lamenting pandemic restrictions.
A music video and several TikTok remixes later, Tumbiza Sound has become Uganda’s lockdown anthem. EeZzy’s social media numbers have skyrocketed, and his sudden rise to fame even landed him in the crosshairs of Ugandan authorities fearing he was encouraging people to party during the lockdown.
“In the song, I was talking about COVID-19 and basically saying that our hearts got stronger: we’re not afraid of it anymore,” EeZzy said.
From Lagos to the Continent: A Pan-Africanist Genre
Nigeria’s significant local market kept the music afloat long enough for the genre to explode internationally. Alonge dismissed the idea that Nigeria is a gatekeeper for Afrobeats.
“Be you from Uganda, be you from Kenya, be you from Ghana, if the song is good, if people like it, the song will go around the continent,” Alonge said.
Bantu said the success of Nigerian artists has empowered other African musicians.
“Wherever I go in Africa, I keep seeing that it’s a Nigerian sound that’s being co-opted, that they’re making it their own,” Bantu said. “And that’s very interesting. Nobody wants to be an American anymore.”
“I believe the Nigerian sound is now a pan-African sound that has its difference in tones or personalities,” he said.
“Time is of the essence,” Wizkid and Tems sing in their track “Essence.” For fans of the Afrobeats genre, their time seems to be now.
Edited by: Keith Walker