As people move, so does music, borrowing and blending to reflect the different pieces of our global identities.
Music is dynamic. In Nigeria today, this is afrobeats, a broad term used to describe Nigeria’s pop music. Rooted in Fela Kuti’s afrobeat, afrobeats plays with a broad array of genres, including hip hop, dancehall, grime, highlife, and local rhythms. The result is an upbeat, can’t-help-but-get-up-and-dance sound that is as catchy as it is popular.
Quickly crossing borders and dominating airwaves around the world, afrobeats is introducing Nigeria to the world as an important music market. Artists on the continent have long since known this, collaborating across borders to cross-pollinate, but the last 6 years- ever since D’banj was signed to Kanye’s GOOD Music & released Oliver Twist- have gradually seen an increase in collaborations between Nigerian artists and those in the west, including: Davido and Meek Mill. Wizkid and Drake. Ayo Jay and Fetty Wap. D’Banj and Snoop Dogg. P Square and Rick Ross. P Square and Akon. P Square and T.I. While on the surface, this might suggest that the Nigerians are “rising to the level” of their western counterparts, the truth is that these collaborations are as beneficial, if not more, for western artists, opening up new opportunities for brand expansion, touring, and relevancy. Afrobeats is “hot”, and by collaborating with the most popular of afrobeats artists, western artists claim their own trendiness.
The result is a slow mainstreaming of afrobeats in western spaces that’s erasing those that pioneered and continue to shape and mold the genre. Now that western artists know fans will happily respond to afrobeats and being backed by record labels that have the money and industry mechanisms to fuel such projects, western artists no longer seek the co-sign of afrobeats artists, nor do they offer acknowledgements of where the music came from. This “columbusing” results in a whitewashed, watered down sound that’s the sonic equivalent to any number of ethnic foods that have been made “not too spicy” in order to appease white palettes.
Resistance to this columbusing means expanding your musical palette. Sure, Drake, Alicia Keys, and Ed Sheeran are making fun music, but push yourself to go a little deeper. Listen to Nigerian artists. Explore the diversity of afrobeats. Support those whose music you like. While names like Wizkid, Davido, and P Square might be becoming familiar, here are 6 others (in no particular order) that are worth adding to your playlist below.
Yemi Alade – “Johnny”
Olamide – “Bobo”
Wande Coal – Baby Hello
Tekno – Pana
Patoranking – “My Woman, My Everything”
Runtown – “Mad Over You”
And special for the hip hop heads: MI – Illegal Music 3
Nora helps creatives use their platforms for social impact and project-manages people’s dreams so they achieve their goals. She first heard afrobeats in clubs in Liberia, where she was managing a hip hop artist. Send her your favorite songs on Twitter at @norarahimian.