Nigeria’s Music Industry: From Afrobeat to Afropop and Beyond

Nigeria’s music industry is the result of a continous experimentation, a blending of Western-inspired and traditional music. Diverse instruments, rhythms and languages have been remixed over the years to produce exciting music genres of Nigerian origin. The ingenuity and creatitivity of Nigerian music artistes (past and present) are now so widely recognized across the world. In fact, Nigeria’s music industry is an interesting and constantly evolving movement. But the biggest influence on Nigeria’s music industry so far is the one inspired by the legendary Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and his Afrobeat movement.

How Afrobeat Emerged as a Global Movement in Nigeria’s Music Industry

Afrobeat is a fusion of jazz, funk, and traditional African chanting and rhythms, which emerged between the late 1960s and early 1970s. The creation of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, his clashes with the ruling military government during his time became the background theme of his over 50 songs. For Fela Kuti, Afrobeat was a medium to demand for equity and justice from a perverse military government. And Fela had no problem taking his music to the international scene. 

Fela Anikulapo-Kuti

Fela’s music style and messages eventually inspired the transformation of Nigeria’s modern music. His music mentees have become far greater than he ever was.  How did Nigeria’s music industry transition from Afrobeat to modern Afropop, the progressed to Afrobeats (currently taking the world by storm)? Let’s investigate this curious transformation. 

The Transition From Afrobeat to Afropop

Many Nigerian artists past and present have attested to the fact that Fela Anikulapo-Kuti was their musical idol and inspiration. The courage with which Fela Anikulapo-Kuti voiced out against tyranny by the then military government was phenomenal. He did all of this while promoting his musical craft on world tours. He was neither ashamed of his Nigerian identity, nor his African roots – he eagerly promoted both. 

At the turn of the century (around the early 2000s), Nigeria’s civilian government and young democracy lent some support to local music content. It is noteworthy that the then elected president Olusegun Obasanjo was the former military ruler and prime target in the narratives of Fela’s music. 

Thus there emerged a crop of musical artists who blended elements of R&B, western pop, reggae, hip hop, highlife, and Afrobeat. They developed new music styles that was specifically called Nigerian pop (or Afropop). However, this musical movement ended up being collectively referred to as ‘Afrobeats‘ by European and American audiences. Early Afropop artists included Plantashun Boiz, The Remedies, Styl Plus and Psquare, whose songs became very famous within Nigeria. 

Later on, individual Afropop artists that topped the Nigerian music charts sprang forth. The likes of Tuface (from Plantashun Boiz), Eedris Abdulkarim (The Remedies), and D’banj for instance. They probably did not go platinum on world music charts. But their popularity grew to the point that Nigerians in the diaspora eagerly streamed and played their songs. And to the loud hearing of non-Nigerian neighbors. The influence of their songs was felt across Africa. But this was just the beginning. 

The Next Stage: From Afropop to Afrobeats

Within the next decade (starting from around 2010), visionary artists who practically idolized Fela’s Afrobeat emerged. The likes of Davido, Wizkid, Burna Boy, Ckay and Tiwa Savage took the center stage.  And they decided to take the musical experiment further. This time, they fused Afrobeat, modern pop, Reggae R&B and highlife to create the Afrobeats genre. And they wasted no time to promote their craft outside Africa, on musical tours and streaming sites.

From there, they began music collaborations with renowned foreign artists that gave so much visibility to their songs. Wizkid collaborated with Beyonce in the song ‘Brown Skin Girl’ and won a Grammy award for the Best Music Video in 2021. Beyonce would later feature popular Afropop artists such as Wizkid, Niniola, Tiwa Savage, Mr. Eazi, Tekno and Yemi Alade in her album The Lion King: The Gift. Burna Boy won the award for Best Global Music Album in 2021 for his album Twice as Tall

These Nigerian Afrobeats artists continue to collaborate with international artists like Ed Sheeran, Drake, Meek Mill, Justin Bieber, and so many others. Thus, they earned enormous global exposure for their music. In recent times, they have succeeded in pushing Afrobeats music higher on world music charts across America and Europe. It is no longer news that Nigerian Afrobeats music now features consistently in the top 10 category on several international music charts. 

Other Factors that Influenced the Popularity of Afrobeats Music

Another major factor that favoured modern Afrobeats songs is the trend of posting dance videos and challenges on social media to promote them. That trend is hugely popular on TikTok and Instagram platforms. Streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music are also favorites amongst Nigerians in the diaspora. It gave access to those beloved Nigerian Afrobeats songs on home soil, and they quickly became hit songs in Europe, Asia, and USA.

 In the UK, the first Afrobeats music radio station, The Beat London 103.6 FM was created in 2016. It has reached the point where international awards are now created for African songs, of which Afrobeat gained immense popularity. There are now categories for African songs at the BET Awards and MTV Europe Music Awards, just to mention a few. 

Future Trends in the Nigerian Music Industry

The success of Nigerian music on the world stage is no longer in doubt, as its influence is increasing everyday. Afrobeat has come to stay, and is making a bold statement about the creativity of Nigerian artistes. But just as in every other aspect of the entertainment industry and life itself, we can be sure that evolution would continue to take place. Perhaps Afrobeat is just a stage in that journey, but a significant and successful stage nonetheless. 


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About the author

Omolola Akinyemi

A Computer Science graduate of UNILAG, I hail from Ekiti state of Nigeria. An astute teacher, learner & admin assistant of many years experience. I love technology, innovation, and Nature. A problem solving mentality is important to me. The future is only seconds away, and I believe I can define the future now. You can also.