The music industry, much like the rest of the world hasn’t been able to keep up with a rapidly changing, internet-driven, cross-cultural world. Thanks to increased migration, travel and advanced technology, the world has never been as inter-connected as it is now. With that, often comes confusion, complexity and nuances in culturally mixed societies.
Contemporary African music has been trapped between the blurred lines of musical genres, as it has reached somewhat of a golden age since circa 2010. African music has been able to rise to its current state and popularity in the world due to a series of events which began in the late 60s by a few great artists from Africa and the diaspora. Legendary African artists who have contributed to the creation, distribution and world appreciation of African music include the following:
All of the above artists contributed in popularizing different kinds of genres, from Soukouss by Koffi Olomide, Mbalax by Youssou Ndour, Jazz by Hugh Masekela, Salsa by Africando and of course Afrobeat, created by Fela Kuti and popularized in the 1970s to differentiate Fela’s music from Soul artists such as James Brown. Musically, Afrobeat is a combination of traditional Nigerian music, Ghanaian music, Jazz, Highlife, Funk, and chanted vocals, fused with percussion and vocal styles. This style shouldn’t be confused with what is now known as Afrobeats.
These legends paved the way for what now is the new movement in African music propelled by technology and social media. Even though the above artists were all greatly recognized around the world, most of their music had always landed under the classification of “World Music.” Currently, the majority of songs that are made by African artists, especially Nigerian and Ghanaian are labeled as “Afrobeats.” This name was coined in the UK by DJ Abrantee in 2011 when he began his radio show of African music in London and “Afrobeats with Abrantee”
As African music reaches global audiences, international record labels such as Sony and RocNation are signing artists, and ‘afrobeats‘ can be heard everywhere around the world even on the streets of Jumeirah Beach in Dubai. However, the name Afrobeats seemed to have been rushed and oversimplified to cater to a Western audience. I am left to wonder how to classify music out of Africa as only one genre. Although I don’t necessarily have the answer to this, I do believe it is something artists, industry leaders, and fans need to seriously think about.
Naming of genres is becoming harder across music because the lines are getting blurred in music and artists are creating new fusions of music where Hip-Hop meets Gospel, and works beautifully, as proved by artists like “Chance the Rapper.” Furthermore, with the help of social media, music has now become global; a hit in South Africa, Ghana or Nigeria can also be a hit in the UK or the US. So, how do we classify a song by a Nigerian artist which mixes highlife, hip-hop, and jazz as all Afrobeats? or do we need another name?
Davido once referenced to his music as afro-fusion, so perhaps that’s a good alternate name as many genres/ sub-genres can fit on this. What do you guys think? Can we come up with a more fitting name for what African music represents in 2017?
Leave your comments below!