How Afrobeats Is Drumming Up A Storm in America

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The Hottest Coalition of Nigerian DJs was founded in 2006 by a group of young Nigerian musicians. Artists from the country and the expanding diaspora around the world made up the group. Their goal was to promote the music of P-Square, 2Baba, and D’banj, which were popular in West Africa at the time. These were songs with electronic and dance music components set to African percussion and undertones of highlife, dancehall, hip-hop, and R&B – genres with roots spanning the African diaspora.

The type of music they were pushing became known over time as Afrobeats, which describes the most famous music coming out of West Africa. Afrobeats (with an “S”) is a term coined in the 2000s that is similar to the Afrobeat music popularized by Fela Kuti in the 1970s but differs in origin and flavor.

African artists are now rapidly altering the sound and texture of pop music, with Afrobeats having just had its most successful year ever. Burna Boy and Wizkid, two of Nigeria’s biggest stars, won Grammys this year, and American pop stars flocked to the scene in droves. Tems, a fellow Nigerian, released one of the year’s best singles with her EP, If Orange Was a Place, following a stunning cameo on Drake’s Certified Lover Boy. There was also Amaarae, a Ghanaian American Afro-fusionist whose Kali Uchis-assisted remix of her 2020 track “Sad Girlz Luv Money” became an internet anthem for independent women.

Cameroonian artists have also been making tremendous contributions to the music scene, bringing a blend of unique talent not many nations can claim. A rapper like Boy TAG has seamlessly fused three or more languages (French, English, and even Bamileke, to name a few) into his flow. Locko is an Afrobeats singer who began his career covering songs on YouTube and has since been labeled the Cameroonian Drake. Not to mention performers like Tenor, Mr. Leo, Jovi, and Askia, who also have a high chance of breaking into the international Afrobeats scene. Salatiel is a rising super star who featured alongside Pharell Williams in “Water” from Beyonce’s latest album; The Lion King-The Gift with over 15 other African artists. As founder of Alpha Better Records, Salatiel is making a mark in African music crossing genres from Afro-Pop, Afrobeats and Hip Hop.

According to Pew Research, the number of African immigrants in the United States more than doubled between 2000 and 2015, surpassing 2 million. It was the world’s fastest population growth rate at the time. Nigerians account for the most significant proportion of that population. Many of these folks now have children who grew up straddling two cultures, precisely the type of listeners the Hottest Coalition sought to target in 2006. They are, however, now a far more visible element of pop culture.

Western viewers are more accustomed to encountering African culture than ever before. Trevor Noah, a South African comedian, is one of America’s most famous comedians. On a world-stopping track, Beyoncé sampled Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Afrobeats
Source: Unsplash

​​It’s no minor achievement that Afrobeats has become such a powerhouse in the United States.

There’s more evidence now that Afrobeats is gaining traction in the United States. For example, Burna Boy became the first African solo artist to headline the Hollywood Bowl last October. He’s also set to perform at Madison Square Garden this year, marking the first time a Nigerian musician has headlined the legendary New York venue.

Tunji Balogun, CEO and Chairman of Def Jam Records, assisted in curating Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panther: The Album in 2017, created for the Marvel film about a futuristic African nation. The album featured South African musicians such as rapper Yugen Blakrok and gqom singer Babes Wodumo and luminaries such as Kendrick Lamar, Jorja Smith, and Khalid. The following year, Beyoncé was the driving force behind The Gift, an album accompanying the Lion King remake. The project dubbed her “love letter to Africa” featured stars from Afrobeats and other African genres.

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