The Pop Music of Nigeria. Afrobeats.

For some years now, the Nigerian and Ghanaian Afrobeats music scene has taken on global dimensions in terms of reach, acceptance
and impact

Increasingly, the yardstick for measuring the success of an Afrobeats artist is the level of international success he or she enjoys. It means not only collaborating with leading music superstars from around the world but also filling prestigious arenas in metropolises such as London, Amsterdam, Paris, and New York. This also involves recording, distribution and sponsorship deals with the largest companies involved in the music and entertainment business.
The speed with which Afrobeats stars churned out their hits was astonishing. For a while, it might have seemed that this scene would soon peter out and eventually give way to other interesting genres such as amapiano, the subgenre of house music born in South Africa, which fuses different styles such as R&B, kwaito, soul, gospel, and indeed house. In reality, Afrobeats musicians have simply incorporated amapiano as part of their ever-growing repertoire.
This demonstrates not only the versatility of the artists but also the resilience of this genre of music.

Tiwa Savage performing at the Mavin Industry “Nite” Concert in Nigeria. CC BY-SA 3.0/TCD

The first wave of great Afrobeats artists includes P-Square, D’banj, Flavor, Timaya, and Tuface. Those were followed by the likes of Wizkid, Olamide, Sarkodie (Ghana), and Davido. And then it was the turn of Burna Boy, Yemi Alade, Tiwa Savage, Patoranking, Simi, and Mr Eazi.
While many of these artists have achieved viral successes, some of which have had a global impact like Alade’s Johnny, the latest generation of Afrobeats stars has brought even greater depth to the genre. Among the hottest artists are C-Kay, Rema, Fireboy DML, Ayra Starr, Ruger, Joeboy, and Asake. All of them are touring all over Africa, as well as shooting their elaborately plotted music videos in exotic locations abroad. Asake, in particular, not only does successful tours in the US and UK, but shoots his intricate videos – made mostly by the ubiquitous TG Omori
– almost exclusively in the US. Last August he held major shows
at the O2 Arena in London.

Tems, the voice
On the other hand, Tems’ rise as a current Afrobeats star has been nothing short of meteoric. When the smoky-voiced Nigerian singer and her compatriot Rema were announced as part of the line-up for the August 2023 edition of Lollapalooza, their already notable international profile was cemented even further. Furthermore, Tems, who has already won two BET Awards, was nominated in three different categories for the 2023 edition of the BET Awards in the United States. Tems is something of an enigma: shy, reserved, and sexy. Nigerian Afrobeats superstar Wizkid launched it globally with his 2020 hit Essence, an R&B-influenced track that wowed audiences across multiple continents. The hit was even remixed to include Justin Bieber.
The 28-year-old Tems creates a pleasant Sade-style atmosphere (very successful Anglo-Nigerian singer in the 1980s, ed.), but also more captivating than the latter.The speed with which she has won the favour of the American public is unprecedented for Nigerian singers, which include artists of the calibre of Tiwa Savage, Yemi Alade, Simi, and younger aspirants such as Ayra Starr, Fave, etc. On stage Savage, Alade, and Starr are exuberant performers.

Temilade Openiyi, known professionally as Tems. CC BY-SA 4.0/NdaniTV

Tems, on the other hand, seems to have a strength within her that releases in songs of emotional intensity, desire, and adventure. Rather than express herself in an ecstasy of dance and raw theatricality, she reserves acrobatics for the deep, soothing flourishes she undertakes with her extraordinary voice. In 2020, she released her first EP, For Broken Ears, which made her mark on the Nigerian music scene. The 2021 song If Orange Was a Place had an even stronger impact, which reverberated beyond Nigerian shores.
She has collaborated with heavy hitters in the American music industry like Khalid, Brent Faiyaz, Drake, and Future; so far, these overseas releases have been lucky. This doesn’t usually happen to African artists who, hoping to achieve big results, venture into the American music market. In most cases, in an effort to conquer new audiences, they seem to lose themselves and their creative spirit, in a game similar to Russian roulette. Many seek their fortune in America full of illusions and expectations. Of course, they also have to meet the changing demands of record labels and their managers. Divergent and often competing interests can drag artists down into a lack of success and even total failure. And once they return to Africa it may happen that they are no longer able to recover their audience, which in the meantime has followed new trends.

In the United States
Elaine, for example, the sensual South African R&B singer, left for the United States and returned without having a great artistic streak anymore. She has now embraced the amapiano, thus hoping to reconnect with her home audience. Several years ago, Nigerian megastars Davido and Wizkid also flew to the United States.
In particular, Davido came out with several pieces designed for the US market, which did well in Africa but did not achieve the desired results across the Atlantic.
In 2017, however, Davido hit the mark in the USA, as well as in Canada and France, with the hit Fall, a song that didn’t seem to promise much. It almost seems that Afrobeats, now one of the main ingredients in the programming of many Western radios, however, needs to be adapted to find wider acceptance outside Africa. In reality, numerous niche spaces have been created for Afrobeats as has happened for reggae. However, as long as the genre retains the mould and character of tropical Africa, it will lag behind Western pop music.

Davido in concert. CC BY-SA 4.0/Peter Verwimp

This in itself is not worrying. In fact, the biggest African stars, Davido, Burna Boy, Diamond Platinumz (Tanzania), Flavour, Rayvanny (Tanzania), Harmonize (Tanzania), Fally Ipupa (RD Congo), Sarkodie, Ferre Gola (RDC), Stonebwoy (Ghana), Shatta Wale (Ghana), and Wizkid have established themselves on the continent, in Europe, in South America, and the Caribbean – markets that are more than sufficient today for those who intend to build a lasting career. In Found, her song featuring Brent Faiyaz, Tems describes the inner turmoil between her and her lover, as they seek a solution to their differences. With her remarkable performance, Tems proved that she is capable of not selling herself short when she wants to engage with American listeners. However, she is not always like this. She has, among other things, composed a song for Rihanna and collaborated with Beyoncé and Grace Jones. Additionally, her performances and compositions have won numerous prestigious awards in the United States. In any case, the international musical scenario that many African artists have to deal with is certainly not easy. However, it will be interesting to see how Tems manages the challenge of an international career. What is certain is that there will always be new Afrobeats talents with fresh ideas, ready to take up the baton. (Open Photo: 123rf)

Sanya Osha


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