The Afrobeats Invasion Has Begun

by Ayanna Jacobs-El

About two years ago, I stumbled upon a genre of music that I would later learn was called Afrobeats. Not to be confused with the Afrobeat, a genre created by Nigerian artist Fela Kuti. Afrobeats fuses African rhythms and instruments with Dancehall influenced beats, top-notch production, catchy lyrics and melodies; and often auto-tuned vocals. This genre is meant to make people dance and I have noticed a lot of similarities between Afrobeats and American pop music. In the last year, there have been a few American artist who either were featured on tracks or performing on Afrobeats tracks of their own, such as Drake, who collaborated with Nigerian superstar Wizkid on “One Dance” and “Come Closer.”

The exposure and popularity that Afrobeats is getting in America is great and helps to humanize and shine a positive light on a continent that many people either think poorly of or know very little about or both. It shows that the music industry, in countries like Nigeria, is thriving and has the ability to make an impact in global markets. As more American artists start to adopt this genre and use it to propel their commercial success; I hope they pay respect and acknowledge where the original creators of the genre come from. It would be great if American artists feature Afrobeats artists from countries like Nigeria and Ghana on their tracks. These features will help bring African artists to a global audience, while also serving as an indicator of where the genre originated.

If you have little to no knowledge of this genre, have no fear! I am going to give you a few tracks to listen to, in order to start your Afrobeats journey.

The first Afrobeats song I heard was “Johnny” by Nigerian vocalist Yemi Alade. This song was recently featured on the latest season of the British comedy Chewing Gum; and even though it came out way back in 2013, it remains a huge hit around the world. The song speaks about an unfaithful, sleazy guy named Johnny who cheats with multiple women. The beat to this song instantly makes you want to dance and you can’t help but sing along “I’m looking for my Johnny!”

A more recent track is “Do Like That” by Nigerian singer-songwriter Korede Bello. This song has a lot of elements of American production from the prominent synths and 808s to the auto-tuned vocal delivery. I especially love the ending where the groove completely switches up to a trap-infused and vocally chopped version of the song.

On the more Dancehall (an up-tempo style of dance music from Jamaica that is derived from Reggae) side of Afrobeats, there is “Dance for Me” by UK-based Ghanaian artist Eugy and Nigerian artist Mr. Eazi. A straight-up dance track, “Dance for Me” lyric’s are about some of the most popular dance moves from around the time the song was released in mid-2016. The lyrics mention African dances like the Alkayida and Shoki and even the American Dab.

One thing I love about Afrobeats is how seamlessly the African artists switch between English and their native languages. One track that illustrates this is the festive song “Kukere,” which means Don’t Worry, by Nigerian artist Iyanya. This song switches between the Nigerian Efik language and English and instructs the listener to not worry and just dance.

Pana” by Nigerian artist Tekno features a plucky guitar line interlaced with snappy snares and plenty of percussion that provide a distinctive rhythmic accompaniment to Tekno’s vocals. The song is about a relationship, of course, but even though the lyrics cover familiar ground the production of the song makes it a standout to me.

These songs are just an introduction to the exciting and interesting world of Afrobeats. If you are frustrated by the homogeneity and sometimes insulting commercialism of American pop music, you might be interested in experiencing the pop music of another continent. There are many more artists to explore such as Davido, Di’Ja, P-Square, Timaya, Flavour, Tiwa Savage, and Fuse ODG, to name a few. Check out this Spotify playlist I created if you are interested in listening to more Afrobeats!

ARE YOU INTO AFROBEATS? TELL US YOUR FAVS IN THE COMMENTS!

About the Author

Ayanna Jacobs-El
Ayanna Jacobs-El is a composer, producer, songwriter, singer, alto and baritone saxophonist, and DJ dual majoring in Contemporary Writing and Production and Professional Music with a minor in Writing for TV and New Media. You can learn more about Ayanna and hear her music by visiting www.ayannajacobsel.com.