Afrobeats tours the world as Nigerian artists grab spotlight

Barely hours before he was to make history as the first Nigerian artist to headline a show at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, Burna Boy, Nigeria’s Afrobeats star, stopped by ‘The Daily Show’ to chat with Trevor Noah.

On The Daily Show, Burna Boy had special praise for his fellow internationally recognised countrymen and the role they have played in his success.

“One thing I’ve truly loved is how Nigerian artists have taken Africa to the world,” he said. “You’ve blown up the continent. Everybody is trying to emulate what Nigerian artists are creating.”

On April 28, Burna Boy not only bossed the show at Madison Square Garden with electrifying performances, but the crowd of Afrobeats worshippers was also almost uncontrollable in their adulation of each song and dance step. Reports say the event organisers sold over 157,000 tickets for the show.

Nigerian A-list artistes are almost getting used to parked-out venues, frenzied crowds of Afrobeats lovers, and growing international collaborations. Wizkid, Davido, and Burna Boy have all posted record attendances at the 02 Arena. In 2022, Femi Kuti parked out the Le Fontaine in France whereas Asa took over the Royal Albert Hall in the United Kingdom.

Experts say the increase in overseas tours and parked-out venues is driven by the growing popularity of Afrobeats on streaming services. As of December 2022, CKay’s track ‘Love Nwantiti’ emerged the most streamed song on Spotify with over 250 million views. It was also the most Shazamed song worldwide and hit the top 5 songs in Canada and many other countries. The song has also generated 1.4 billion views on YouTube overtaking the likes of Afrobeat stars Burna Boy, Wizkid, and Davido.

Wizkid, Burna Boy, and Davido top the charts in terms of most-streamed artistes in Nigeria, according to Spotify’s 2021 Wrapped results.

In April 2022, Spotify released a report that ranked artistes such as CKay, Wizkid, Burna Boy, Tems, and Mr. Eazi among the top 5 exported local artists from Nigeria on Spotify.

The streaming success presents an opportunity for the artistes to explore new opportunities outside the continent, says Tobi Akinkunmi, head of marketing and commercial manager at Universal Music Group (UMG). UMG is now one of the global music brands that now count Nigeria and Africa as one of their major markets due to Afrobeats.

Akinkunmi says embarking on tours is only smart from a revenue and an engagement standpoint as the artistes are able to perform as well as see the fan base.

“It is easy for them to see if they have a fan base in a particular country when they look at the backend of the streaming platforms like Spotify or Apple Music. That allows them to plan where they go,” he told BusinessDay.

The COVID-19 pandemic had threatened the foreign tour opportunity with lockdown effectively shutting down physical venues and denying fans the opportunities to come to see their favourite artistes perform.

The streaming services, however, changed the narrative with increased investment targeting Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and the cradle of the Afrobeats on the continent. Between 2020 and 2021, Nigeria has seen new investments from global players such as Spotify, Apple Music, Audiomack, and Boomplay.

“Afrobeats in 2016 and today are literally different,” said Phiona Okunmu, head of music at Spotify. “It is a kind of a commercial driver for Africa. It is a container for what we describe as African music.”

With the post-COVID-19 era restoring some normalcy and doors of venues opening across the world, fans are making their way back to the halls, buying up music tickets like the pandemic never happened.

It is, however, Nigerian-born Afrobeats that have grabbed the attention of the fans, and concert organisers are taking notice. This was evident with the inclusion of Davido in the theme song for the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Davido, CKay, and Lojay are also billed to headline the Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai for the AfroWorld concert scheduled for June 2022.

Burna Boy recently branded himself as a touring artist performing and headlining in cities and countries such as Germany, Greece, Paris, Amsterdam, Dublin, and most recently was the first Nigerian artist to headline the Madison Square Garden in New York.

These top artists have seen the potential in touring the world as they spend a lot of money to plan and set up events in huge arenas like the O2 in London. David recently said in an interview that he spent about £400,000 (N200 million) on the production of his O2 Arena show.

Mariam Abass, Malc Agency’s director of brand partnerships and manager to Joeboy, a Nigerian Afrobeats artiste, who is currently on tour in the US, said for artistes going on tours, it is better to be abreast of the data within all the digital streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple and know where their growing audience is, so they can nurture that market by organising shows for those set of fans who won’t normally see these artists so they can connect physically.

“One of the reasons why it seems like there are more streaming revenues coming from users abroad is that we couldn’t access some of these digital service providers in Nigeria before; Spotify just came to Nigeria. We also have subscription issues; it’s cheaper for people in other countries to be online and stream your music,” Abass said.

According to her, Nigerians consume a lot of pirated music since music lovers download illegally, making data collection difficult in the country. She also noted that musicians don’t want to limit their reach to local audiences and want to reach out to a wider audience, which is why they need to tour other countries.

“For example, we did shows in Zambia and Zimbabwe, and it was pretty much stadium size, fully packed and everybody was singing along. The reason why that also works well is that they are not used to seeing them all the time and only get to see them once a year. Right? So there is a thirst for these artists,” she added.

Abass said Afrobeats artists sometimes make the mistake of underestimating the influence of home-grown fans as they are the key to widespread acceptance of Afrobeats in other parts of the world.

“A lot of times you’re popping in Nigeria, you’re going to start finding your name in the UK, US, and other European countries; we’ve had shows in Dominican Republic, Haiti and will soon have shows in Australia, and the reason for this recognition is that sometimes Nigerians in Nigeria are speaking about it on social platforms like Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. Nigerians in these countries tell their other African friends and it spreads,” she added.

Afrobeats artists are looking to leverage the culture of music tours in the summer as that is the peak period for music festivals and tours for music fans in Europe and America. Burna Boy will headline his ‘Love Damini’ tour later this year at locations including the State Farm Arena in Atlanta, the Toyota Center in Houston, the Pavilion in Dallas, and six additional sites, with over 80,000 tickets expected to be sold if all venues are sold out.

Afropop artist Davido will also headline his ‘We Rise by Lifting Others’ tour in June, with venues like History in Toronto and House of Blue in Boston already sold out. The singer artist will also be looking to sell out centres in Brooklyn, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

During the summer, Nigerian singer Asa will headline four gigs in France and one in Manchester to capitalise on the cash generated during the peak live performance season in both countries.

While the touring business in Nigeria is alive, it is mostly restricted to urban cities like Lagos, Abuja, and Port Harcourt. Tomi Akinkunmi explains that the touring business in Nigeria lacks the type of infrastructure that the artistes are used to when they go abroad.

For example, there is a venue constraint in Nigeria, with some of the biggest venues only having less than 10,000 capacities. While stadiums are available for concerts, experts say the security situation in the country discourages organisers and sponsors of these music concerts.

Read also: International artistes tap Afrobeats collaboration to boost digital sales

Foreign tours are also attractive because of the availability of a structured event industry in some of these countries. In line with the structured event industry is the influence of show promoters or booking agents who ensure that these artistes get the best deals.

The artistes partner with the show promoters who are responsible for booking out different venues and pulling the crowd to the show. The parties can agree to share profits from ticket sales or sponsorship as the case may be.

The agreement is usually straightforward: the artiste, represented by an agent, commits to play for a certain number of minutes in a specified venue on an agreed day. While the deal is relatively simple, it’s hard to nail all the details – especially given the fact that the show is usually booked from 8 to 24 months in advance, depending on the scope of the venue.

Akinkunmi, however, notes that doing tours around the world does not necessarily mean that the artiste is better than the rest.

“It just means that people in other parts of the world like your sound. Those people might be 200 people or 100 people, or they might be 10,000 people,” he said.

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