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Everything you need to know about Afrobeats

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From Lagos to London to Los Angeles, a new style is taking dance clubs and music charts by storm. Chances are, you’re already familiar with the sound, even if you haven’t heard the name.

Afrobeats, a music genre from Nigeria, is shaking up the global music industry. Growing since the early 90s, the genre really took off in the international music scene with Drake’s 2016 hit “One Dance,” featuring Nigerian artist Wizkid. Other US artists, including Ciara and Major Lazer, have incorporated Afrobeats sounds and featured African artists in their music.

The success of Afrobeats continues to grow and it looks like the style is here to stay. So we’ve put together a guide of everything you need to know.

The Sound

Afrobeats gets its distinct sound from a couple of different influences. The style is anchored in West African music styles, particularly highlife music. American jazz and funk are also added to the mix, creating a hybrid sound from across continents.

You’ll know when you’re listening to Afrobeats from complex rhythms, heavy percussion, repeating vocals, and Pidgin English. It’s no wonder this music is taking-off internationally — the upbeat, fun, and energetic melodies get people dancing in clubs around the world.

“This is music that has come a long and joyous way in a very short time,” says Nigerian-American author Teju Cole. “Dance to it—note its persistent tone of joy—then come back and listen to it.”

Don’t confuse Afrobeats with Afrobeat, the style pioneered by Fela Kuti. Afrobeat is a highly political, non-commercial music style, making it really different from Afrobeats!

The Artists

There are plenty of artists creating hip-shaking hits, so it’d be hard to list every artist out there. If you’re just getting into Afrobeats, there are a few acclaimed artists to start with, and plenty more to discover from there!

Wizkid became internationally known with “One Dance,” but his success as an artist goes far beyond that hit. His 2011 debut album Superstar earned him immediate recognition, with several singles coming from that album. His rise in popularity was clear in 2014 when he became the first Nigerian musician to get over a million followers on Twitter. To date, he is one of the most recognizable Afrobeats artists, earning him the nickname “Star Boy.”

Tiwa Savage is one of Nigeria’s leading female Afrobeats singers. As a female singer, she struggled to gain popularity in the male-dominated music scene. Despite the obstacles she faces, she’s become one of the most prominent Afrobeats artists today. She even won Best African Act at the 2018 MTV Europe Music Awards!

Davido quickly rose to popularity in 2011 with his debut album Omo Baba Owolo, continuing his success with his second album, The Baddest. He won Best International Act at the BET Awards in both 2018 and 2014, and was the first African artist to receive his award in person on the BET stage.

Other popular artists include Burna Boy, Mr. Eazi, Tekno, and 2baba. You can find all of these artists and more on Quartz’s Afrobeats playlist on Spotify.

Combating Piracy

Despite growing popularity, many artists struggle to achieve financial success from their music. Piracy — selling illegal copies of an artist’s work — is one of the biggest challenges African artists face. Piracy makes it incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to make money from selling their music.

Many artists rely on live performances, endorsements, and digital streaming to make money. Some artists are also profiting from ringback tones — for a small monthly fee, you can pick a song for someone to listen to while they call you, instead of hearing a traditional ring. With streaming services widely unavailable, ringback tones have generated over US$100 million in Nigeria’s music market.

The Future of Afrobeats

Recently, Sony Music and Universal Music Group opened offices in Lagos, hoping to sign local artists and further their success. These labels are also tackling piracy, which will secure better legal ownership and rights over music.

Afrobeats artists paved their own way to international success. Now that major music labels have taken notice, these artists have nowhere to go but up.

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