In this first of a two-part series on how Afrobeats is changing the global musical landscape, Yemi Babalola* looks at the movers and shakers of the new genre whose roots can be traced to the Nigerian Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.
There is no way one to talk about Afrobeats as a music genre and not give credit to Afrobeat. Note that Afrobeats is distinct from Afrobeat.
Afrobeat is a genre of music traced to the legendary Nigerian musical icon Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. This style of music is a combination of jazz, funk, Ghanaian highlife, psychedelic rock and traditional West African chants and rhythms. The sounds of the talking drums are a necessary element to make it perfect and listenable.
However, the icon Fela is not the focus in this article but the inspired musical babies of the Afrobeat legend.
In recent times, musical talents from West Africa, especially Nigeria and Ghana, have been making themselves known on the musical map of the world through a new form of Afro pop music Afrobeats.
One way they have been able to do this is by fusing Afrobeat into the West African pop music. Whereby, the Afro pop tunes and beats have become catchy and attention keeping. Some artists have mastered doing this and are recognised as among the best musical talents to come out of Africa.
Flute-trotting singer D’banj (Dapo Oyebanjo) was one of the pioneers in fusing the Nigerian pop music with the Afrobeat element. He took it further by also dressing shirtless with the slim fitting flared trousers in live performances like his self-proclaimed musical mentor Fela.
D’banj was able to successfully infuse some elements of Afrobeat into his catchy Nigerian pop sound. This influence can be found in his albums No Long Thing, RunDown Funk U Up, The Entertainer and King Don Come.
Another notable mention in the steady growth of Afrobeats in the world today is musical genius Ayodeji Balogun, professionally known as Wizkid. His melodious voice is one of the first things that would capture the attention of a listener of his sound. Combining that with the well-crafted Afrobeat element to his feet moving songs, you just must move to his songs.
Wizkid has three studio albums to his credit. These are Superstar, Ayo and Sounds from the other side, all of which are heavily Afrobeat infused. His talent no doubt has caught international recognition and has seen him collaborate with musical big names like Drake, Chris Brown, Akon, and recently with musical powerhouse, Beyoncé to mention a few.
Nii Armah Mensah Jnr, better known as Shatta Wale, is arguably the current Ghanaian King of Afro pop. The leader of the Shatta movement became so noticeable on the global music stage that he caught the eyes of the Queen of Music, Beyoncé, and was featured on her last project. He was a key element in Beyoncé’s Black is King album and his song Already was the unofficial lead single of the album.
Calling Shatta a dancehall or reggae musician would not be wrong. But Shatta in his genius has been able to perfectly infuse Afrobeat into his style thereby making him one of the Afro pop musicians you cannot but give his flowers while he can still smell them. His albums – After the Storm, Cloud 9, Reign and Wonder Boy – are all a true testament to this musical genius who deserves all accolades accorded to him.
Burna Boy is another trail blazing Afrobeats star who is making himself known to the world. In the earlier stages of his musical career, one could arguably place Burna as a reggae and dancehall artist. This is because his earlier works (L.I.F.E, On a Spaceship, Outside) were heavily leaning towards those genres of music. But then came the album African Giant that sealed the doubts in the minds of music lovers as to where to place Burna Boy musically.
The album got him a Grammy Awards nomination to which fans are still upset that he lost. He was able to absolutely give fans that Afrobeat feel, alongside other genres of music simultaneously. Building on that was the release of his Twice as Tall album produced by hip-hop mogul Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs.
Burna has also made his mark and that can be seen in his international collaborations with Coldplay, Sam Smith, Jorja Smith, Ed Sheeran, Pop Smoke amongst others.
Some notable mentions in this current tide of Afrobeats today are Davido, who has very catchy sounds that would make you dance. The melodious Joeboy whose EP Love & Light caught the attention of many. His songs are quite rhythmic and lovers of Afropop are eagerly awaiting the release of his album.
The YBNL prince of the moment Fireboy whose current album Apollo is a must listen for lovers of Afrobeats.
One noticeable aspect of this article is the spotlight on the male musicians and singers who have influenced the rise of Afrobeats. The next part would look at the female influencers of Afrobeats, who have been a part of its steady rise on the musical map of the world.
Yemi Babalola, a Media and Communication student of Technische Universität Ilmenau, Germany, is an intern at the African Courier Media