Afrobeat emerged as a fusion of jazz, funk, and traditional African chanting and rhythms between the late 1960s and early 1970s. A grand experiment by Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, his clashes with the ruling military government during his time became the background theme of his over 50 songs. Afrobeat was for Fela Kuti, a medium employed to demand for equity and justice from a perverse military government. And Fela had no problem taking his music to international concerts.
Fela’s Afrobeat 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 Afrobeats to the modern Afropop that has taken the world by storm? Let’s investigate this curious transformation.
The Transition From Afrobeats to Afrobeat
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 also while promoting his musical craft on world tours. He was neither ashamed of his Nigerian identity, nor his African roots – he eagerly promoted both brands.
At the turn of the century around the early 2000s, Nigeria’s civilian government and young democracy lent some support to local music content. Especially given that the then elected president Olusegun Obasanjo was a former military ruler and the prime target in the narratives of Fela’s music. Nigeria’s emerging democracy appeared to extend some peace initiative towards its citizens.
Thus emerged musical artists that took elements of R&B, western pop, reggae, hip hop, highlife and Afrobeat to develop new music styles. This musical movement was collectively referred to as ‘Afrobeats’ by European and American audiences. Such artists included Plantashun Boiz, the Remedies, Styl Plus and Psquare, whose songs became very famous within Nigeria.
Later on, individual artists that topped the Nigerian music charts came forth, the likes of Tuface (from Plantashun Boiz), Eedris Abdulkarim (the Remedies), and D’banj for instance. They did not go platinum on the world music charts. But their popularity grew to the point that Nigerians in the Diaspora eagerly streamed and played their songs to the hearing of non-Nigerian neighbors. The influence of their songs were felt across Africa. But this was just the beginning.
The Next Stage: From Afrobeats to Afropop
Within the next decade (as from around 2010) came forth more visionary artists who practically idolized Fela’s Afrobeat. Speaking of the likes of Davido, Wizkid, Burna Boy, Ckay and Tiwa Savage. And they decided to take the musical experiment further. This time, they fused Afrobeats, Afrobeat, modern pop, Reggae R&B and highlife to create the Afropop genre. And they wasted no time to promote their latest craft outside Africa on musical tours.
From there, they began music collaborations with world-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.
At various times, these Nigerian Afropop artists chose to collaborate with international artists like Ed Sheeran, Drake, Meek Mill, Justin Bieber and so many others. Thus they earned global exposure for their music. They also ended up enlisting Nigerian Afropop music on world music charts in America and Europe in recent times. Some of them have even appeared in the top 10 category.
Other Factors that Influenced the Popularity of Afropop Music
Another major promotional factor for modern Afropop songs is the trend of using dance videos and challenges on social media to promote them. That trend reigned mightily particularly on TikTok and Instagram. Streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music are also widely used by Nigerians in the diaspora. It gave access to these beloved Nigerian Afropop songs, and they quickly became hit songs being listened to in Europe, Asia and USA.
The popularity of these songs took them to foreign radio stations and to the top of European and American music charts. 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 Afropop 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. Afropop 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 take place. Perhaps Afropop is just a stage in that journey, but a significant and successful stage nonetheless.
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