What’s Missing From the Afrobeats Conversation?

A look into the evolution of the Afrobeats genre

Afrobeats is a genre that is taking the world by storm. From constant hit singles, amazing collabs, and performances all over the world, Afrobeats is clearly a global sensation that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Despite its popularity in other parts of the world such as Africa itself, Europe, and Latin America, Afrobeats’ impact in America is only beginning to be felt. With Afrobeats’ surge in popularity in the U.S. have come conversations about the future of the genre and how the genre came to be. Former Okay Player Music Editor, Ivie Ani, described much of what’s currently going on in America, in regards to Afrobeats, as a new Scramble for Africa in terms of media and entertainment. With that being said, let’s discuss what’s missing from current conversations and how we can talk about the genre differently.

Drake’s recent comments to Rap Radar regarding Afrobeats, and his take on being accused of cultural appropriation, stirred up a ton of controversy recently. In his interview, he said, “Yeah, I mean I’m inspired by music from all over. That’s how I end up doing like funk records from Brazil and like I’m obviously always like deeply invested in the dancehall space and ya know Afrobeats has become one of the biggest genres in the world…ya know.. no credit.” He continues to say, “Yeah I mean, I think that ’Come Closer’, ’One Dance’…first of all of the music those artists make in that space, there’s nothing better than that…so I’ll never sit here and say oh ‘One Dance’ is the best Afrobeats record ever. But I do think that this genre deserved to get this popular and I’m very happy that I was even able to be a part of that conversation.” Some people interpreted this as Drake attempting to claim being the reason or impetus for Afrobeats’ popularity in the West. Others argued that his words were being misconstrued. Chronologically, the amount of Google searches for Afrobeats in the U.S. did spike around the time that “One Dance” and “Closer” came out in 2016 and 2017, respectively. It’s hard to doubt the visibility Drake gave the genre through his collaborations with WizKid. However, Afrobeats already began picking up steam with WizKid’s “Ojuelegba,” and there were other talents before Drake that worked with African artists.

Although WizKid and Drake had a huge influence on Afrobeats’ popularity, there was another artist that was gaining traction in the States that same year — Yemi Alade. In 2014, Alade’s song “Johnny”  garnered millions of views on YouTube, making her the most subscribed female African artist on the platform. In many of the current conversations surrounding Afrobeats as a genre, women and their contributions are often left out. They are not invited to the same panels as Davido and Afro B despite how important and beloved their voices are. That’s not to say that Davido and Afro B’s contributions to the genre and success for songs like “If” and “Drogba (Joanna)” aren’t important and appreciated. That’s just to say that women’s contributions should be acknowledged too.

In addition to excluding women, conversations featuring artists like Davido and Afro B such as their panel at Complex Con, perpetuate a number of counterproductive narratives about the genre. Despite Afrobeats being widely received throughout the world, these conversations reinforce the idea of Afrobeats being an “up-and-coming” genre. Davido himself shared, “I just think they need to stop treating this genre…it’s not an experiment. People work hard creating music. We shouldn’t be having this talk next year…this has been going on…panel, panel, introducing, introducing, nobody’s getting younger.”

As Davido highlights, even with Afrobeats clear success, it’s still being treated as a fleeting experiment. The idea that a genre needs American approval in order to be valuable and successful clearly rings throughout these conversations. While America has played a significant role in dictating what is popular throughout the world, the Internet and social media have allowed artists across the globe to shift that paradigm. Afrobeats is a prime example of that.

By also focusing coverage on a few artists, there is a continued perpetuation of Africa as a monolith that limits both the genre’s current stars and the up-and-coming independent artists that are hot on their heels. Africa has 54 countries and every region has its own distinct sound and influences. Afrobeats as a term itself doesn’t even capture the dynamics of the music coming out of the continent, which is why more people are pushing for Afrobeats to be referred to as Afropop or Afrofusion instead.

Despite the individual successes of artists like Davido and AfroB, Africa is a continent that is still largely stereotyped and rebuilding from centuries of being robbed of its people and resources. Afropop truly has the potential to shift Africa’s future and current perception. However, it is partially up to us as music lovers to research, discover, and support artists that are women/and or coming up from other parts of the continent. It is up to us to treat Afropop as what it is a genre that is here to stay. 

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