Afrobeats is distinct from afrobeat, the west African musical style popularised by the likes of Fela Kuti in the ’70s, and which combined elements of higlife with funk and jazz.
The Afrobeats sound originated in Nigeria more recently, and it’s a lot closer in style to dancehall, reggae, hip-hop, and r&b.
It has crossed over into the mainstream via artists such as Wizkid and D’Banj, and Western music acts, such as Drake, have used the sound quite heavily, too, bringing it more attention.
Afrobeats is popular in loads of huge urban zones around the world, and many of the artists are based in London and other cities that have large African populations.
Artists such as Wizkid, Davido, Yemi Alade, and more are hugely popular outside africa and regularly tour the world, drawing huge crowds.
It remains a mystery to me how they aren’t household names outside African communities, which remain the main zones for the touring artists too.
This is modern-day pop music, with all of the readymade elements for success, so I’m suprised the crossover hasn’t been more pronounced.
The original Afrobeat sound wasn’t hugely popular until many years later, but Fela Kuti and co were uncompromising in their musical vision and the great work they produced was never likely to hit the mainstream.
Bob Marley adapted to a more traditional Western rock set-up with his band, before his own huge crossover, and though he remained consistent musically, until his death, the themes of unity in his music were matched with melodies that were made for the world to hear.
Bob Marley made lots of rebel music, but the traditionally huge pop markets of the UK and the USA never distrusted him in the way they would have feared Fela Kuti, NWA, Public Enemy, or others.
The marketing by Island worked perfectly, and Bob Marley became arguably the most recognised music star worldwide.
The Western music press are obsessed with greats such as Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones, but Bob Marley is probably more popular than them all in other regions, such as Africa, South America, and Asia. Michael Jackson was possibly the only artist who could come close to rivalling him here, though his legacy has been tarnished somewhat. Fela Kuti’s body of work rivals Michael’s and Bob’s, but it was never gonna be pop music that hit the mainstream in Europe or the USA.
The afrobeats sound is different. It’s as colourful, breezy, catchy and accessible as the best Bob Marley jams, and it is very much of the now. It’s 21st century soul music, which reflects a young generation of Africans who are now living all over the world. It’s music as informed by dancehall and hip-hop as by juju, and it’s often sung in English (a spoken language of Nigeria). The brief crossover, due to the likes of Drake and co, was fun, but why is it taking so long to go further? Afrobeats is a huge sound in clubs around the world, and our own Taboo night, in Dali, tomorrow, will be showcasing it to good effect, as usual.
African communities remain the base, but others have embraced it, too. Everyone loves this sound!
I can’t understand how Yemi Alade isn’t a huge star outside these communities. She has everything a pop star needs. Her lyrics, style, music and vibe are perfect, and while, elsewhere, J Balvin, Luis Fonsi, Ozuna, Maluma, and more, become huge, I’m expecting that, soon, the African equivalents, such as Yemi and Wizkid and Burna Boy, become even bigger.
I expect marketing is the main reason for the difference, and many of those South American and Hispanic crossover artists have come from a tradition of musically successful exports to the United States, in particular.
The new school of Africans, whether they be based at home or in Europe and America, have all of the ingredients needed for huge mainstream success, and I’m suprised that it hasn’t happened since I first wrote about it a few years ago. The new sound of Africa is coming, though, whether you like it or not.