Black History Month: How Afrobeat Music Has Helped Popularize African & Black Culture

Many aspects of African culture have gone mainstream these days. Whether it’s our food (see article on Jollof rice), our clothes or our language. African culture has gained a lot of visibility around the world, and rightfully so! Every country in the continent boasts its own unique culture that is rich in history and traditions. One of the biggest aspects of African culture that has made its way to mainstream media is the music--notably, Afrobeat.

Afrobeat is a popular music genre originating in West Africa.  It has been around since the 1960s but has now found its way to mainstream Western audiences. Afrobeat is a fusion of many different genres--traditional African genres, house music, R&B, and more. While twenty years ago it would have been rare to hear a Nigerian artist on the radio in Canada, there are now several artists from the continent topping the Billboard charts every week.

Many Afrobeat songs have become popular outside of Africa. Although the genre merits the popularity it is receiving now, it is important to recognize that it is largely the collaboration between African artists and American hip-hop artists that now has Afrobeat playing in everyone’s heads!

Afrobeat began gaining popularity in the 2000s, but it is in the 2010s that it was popularized in North America. Several Afrobeat tracks were already receiving steady airplay in North American radio stations, but there is one song in particular that introduced the world to the genre.

WizKid. Image: The Guardian

Drake’s “One Dance,” a collaboration with Nigerian singer Wizkid, was a mega-hit that helped Afrobeat gain international mainstream appeal. The song is a blend of Afrobeat and dancehall, with the influence of other American genres. Although Afrobeat is already a blended genre on its own, “One Dance” demonstrates the beauty that is created when black artists of African, Caribbean, and North American descent work together and their cultures intersect.

“One Dance” was Spotify’s most-streamed song in 2016 and was number 1 in 15 countries. Since then, Drake has used Afrobeat in many more of his songs, making the unique sound universally recognizable. Although we do not want to give Drake all of the credit in popularizing Afrobeat, he did prove to be a way for other people to learn about the genre and become interested in discovering other Afrobeat artists.

Burna Boy. Image: Refinery29

Burna Boy is another Afrobeat artist who has become popular in recent years. The Nigerian singer and rapper has been extremely successful, being the first Nigerian to be nominated for back-to-back Grammys. He is arguably the biggest African artist in the world. He has brought his signature Afrobeat sound song collaborations with other popular artists of all genres, such as Ed Sheeran, Jorja Smith, Vybz Kartel, and many others. He does not restrict himself to African audiences but ensures that he represents Africa in everything he does.

The most recent, and possibly largest visibility that Afrobeat has received, is through Beyonce’s beautiful visual album Black Is King. For this project, Beyonce collaborated with Burna Boy, Tekno, and other African artists to create a collection of Afrobeat-inspired tracks. The result is a portrayal of blackness that brings together various aspects of black culture to showcase to the world.

Image: Rolling Stone

In the end, although Afrobeat will always have its roots in Western Africa, the genre now belongs to the world. The fun, joyful, and audacious Afrobeat sound was created by intersecting the sounds of traditional black music genres around the world, and in return, it has proven to bring together black people of all cultures.