Afrobeats pays Nigerian artistes as the world listens

Nearly 45 years after Fela Kuti debuted Zombie, the album that gave the world a new music genre, Afrobeat, a new generation of proteges from Nigeria now has many music lovers around the world addicted. All thanks to a digital world where almost everything including music album launches takes place on a mobile phone.

For Kuti, building cult-like followership for Afrobeat meant tapping into the unspoken, visceral spirit of his audience through his lyrics and deeply interactive songs.

However, for today’s Nigerian artistes, it is mostly about plugging into a thriving streaming market backed by deep-pocket investors and a growing young population with an insatiable appetite for mobile gadgets and innovations that have simplified and even monetised music sharing.

Today, Afrobeats sounds are not only breaking the ceiling on streaming services, gathering huge followers on social media platforms like Tiktok, Instagram, but it is also getting all the love from international music artistes like Robyn Rihanna Fenty known as Rihanna, Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter (Beyonce), Sean John Combs (P. Diddy), among others.

The year 2020 was particularly a defining moment for the Nigerian music industry in terms of announcing itself on the global stage. Hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, a lockdown, and economic meltdown, the industry sought an alternative. With concert venues shut for almost the entire year, the internet became the new stage, the venue, and the revenue collector.

Interestingly, artistes heavily biased to Afrobeats thrived the most. David Adedeji Adeleke, known as Davido, Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun (Wizkid), Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu (Burna Boy), and Olamide Adedeji (Olamide) led the industry’s resurgence in the pandemic.

Burna Boy, who shut into global consciousness in 2019 with his Outside and African Giant albums, a mixture of afrobeat, dancehall, pop, and hip pop, once again announced his genius with ‘Twice as Tall’ in 2020.

This time, Twice as Tall released in August 2020 broke many ceilings on various streaming platforms. In its first month, the album was streamed 175.3 million times across all platforms. It had 25 million streams on YouTube; 50.2 million on Audiomack; 34.5 million on Spotify; 18.4 million on Music Africa; 31 million on Music World, and Boomplay 10.5 million.

It was adjudged the most-streamed album of 2020 with 64 million streams by Spotify, double the 31 million streams garnered by second-placed Wizkid’s Made in Lagos. As of November 4, 2021, all 15 songs on the Twice as Tall album have received about 1 billion views on YouTube.

On the global music boards, Twice as Tall topped various charts, peaking at No 1 in the World Albums category on Billboard charts.

Wizkid, however, took the record-breaking to a whole new level. Starting from 2016, when he was featured by Drake alongside Kyla on the hit song One Dance, Wizkid has seen a transformation unprecedented for any artiste in the Afrobeats genre. In 2019, he was recruited for Beyoncé Brown Skin Girl from the Lion King: The Gift. The song also featured Blue Ivy Carter and SAINt JHN.

The two songs gave Wizkid his Grammy debut; a Grammy nomination (One Dance) and a Grammy win for best music video (Brown Skin Girl).

Wizkid’s biggest strides however are on the charts and the streaming platforms his songs keep very busy. Essence, a song he released on October 30, 2020, has the entire music world hooked. The remix of the song featured Justin Bieber and Tems, another Nigerian music sensation. Essence entered the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 Chart making him the first African artiste ever to have a song in the Top 10 Billboard. The Billboard Hot 100 is the music industry standard rating in the United States for songs published weekly by Billboard Magazine.

Essence became the song of the summer – a position that was conferred on it by RollingStone – an indication of the coming of age of afrobeats on the global music scene.

On Wednesday, November 4, 2021, Wizkid became one of the highest nominees for the Soul Train Awards, 2021 by BET. He bagged five nominations in the categories of Song of the Year (Essence), Album of the Year (Made in Lagos), Video of the Year (Essence), Best Collaboration (Essence), and The Ashford and Simpson Songwriter’s Award.

“These are significant because they are in the mainstream categories. African artistes used to get nominated in the “world” or “international” or “African” categories. So, it’s a first. Breaking Afrobeats into mainstream (and that’s without making music to fit their African stereotypes of war, suffering, poverty and dictatorship). The point is while these things exist, it’s important to show that we also live normal lives – love, club, build family, build career, build businesses, etc. And that’s the point this wave is making,” says Temitayo Lawal, an African music expert.

In the beginning, was Fela, then others

The old Afrika Shrine located at Empire Hotel, Mushin, Lagos, in 1977, that housed Fela’s Egypt 80 band and most of his performances was notorious for many things including becoming a Mecca of sorts for young people seeking to get ‘high’ on Marijuana.

Its biggest product, however, was the songs – the trance-like beating of the drums, the perfect blend of the assorted percussion instruments, the trumpeters, the raw energy of the women dancers, and Fela’s voice resonating always minutes after the symphony had begun and soaked the adulating crowd. Every song was like observing a solemn oblation to a deity.

“It’s called the Shrine because he asks for a minute of silence to pay homage to the ancestors and the gods,” says Dele Sosimi who was a member of the famous Egypt 80 band. He was also a part of the Positive Force band with Femi Kuti, with whom he performed from 1986 to 1994. In both bands, Sosimi was a keyboard player.

Fela’s brand of afrobeat was hinged on heavy instrumentation and lyrics of resistance. Most of the songs start as simmering instrumentals, methodically layering little rifts and long-line melodies into a strong groove; they make way for the messages he sings, then surges ahead with even more urgency.

“Fela was Afrobeat,” a senior executive of a global record label told BusinessDay. He pleaded anonymity because he wasn’t in a position to speak for the company.

Fela’s creative genius was such that scholars from the UK, the US, and other parts of the world would travel down to Nigeria for research on afrobeat, says Excel Joab, a music executive, entertainment podcaster, and A&R Consultant.

After his death, his sons Femi and Seun continued to push the genre and even introduced new adaptations to it. However, it is the new generation of artistes that has taken a little of Fela’s genius, Femi and Seun’s reformed versions, and different global sounds to create a completely new version of afrobeats.

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Some music experts now try to make a distinction between Fela’s Afrobeat and those being performed by artistes like DBanj, Olamide, Davido, among others. Some experts have described the new afrobeats as “Computer-driven pop-R&B” due to the visible influence of these genres in the new songs.

Nonetheless, the new afrobeats movement has grabbed the attention of not just music lovers but also global investors.

New money for afrobeats

While Afrobeat has become the biggest movement in the Nigerian music industry, it is not immune to the vagaries of the industry, one of which is generating income. The industry is faced with enormous challenges trying to ensure talents receive their due compensation.

Before streaming service happened, earning income would mean that artistes needed to take their Compact Disks to marketers at Alaba or Onitsha or Pound Road, Aba, to help push in the market or plead with radio stations to give it air time.

An artiste could hit the big time once listeners start demanding a repeat of the song on radio. Consistent playtime is usually the magic that unlocks the door to being invited to perform at different concerts and on some occasions headline a big show. Hence, artistes made money from performing at events, endorsements by brands, and going on tours.

The advent of streaming services has however changed how music is consumed and distributed. Importantly, it has presented the artistes with a new global market they could not access before and a new way to earn money from their sweat.

While streaming services have now eliminated the problems in the industry, it has enabled investors to realise the untapped market potential in the Nigerian music industry.

The music streaming market in Nigeria is today dominated by providers such as BoomPlay, which hits 75 million African users in July 2020. In October 2021, the platform’s data were added to the data that inform the Billboard Hot 100, Billboard 200, Artiste 100, and Billboard Global 200 charts, as well as all other Billboard US and global charts that include streaming data.

Spotify, Google’s YouTube Music, Audiomack, and Apple Music are also pushing up their investments in the market. At present, there are about 13 music streaming services in Nigeria.

Revenue in music streaming in Africa is expected to reach $271 million in 2021 and $493 million by 2025, according to data from Statista. Ironically, it is also expected that most of the revenue will be generated from consumers in the US.

“Nigeria has a rich musical heritage, cultural diversity, and multiple languages so this translates to a huge range of preferences in music that necessitates agility for any music streaming service to make relevant recommendations and enable discoverability across music genres, personal moods, and moments,” Phiona Okumu, head of music, sub-Saharan Africa, Spotify, told BusinessDay.

Apart from streaming investors, the industry is also drawing the attention of global record labels such as Universal Music Group, which came into Nigeria in 2018.

An expert says it is obvious UMG has seen the potential in the market and as market leaders, that’s why they came early. In comparison to other record labels, the global record label is the only one that has fully functional offices in Nigeria, which is a testament to the potential of this market. It also has offices in Ghana, South Africa, and East Africa.

New money, old problems

The arrival of investors and streaming services has not fully addressed the consumption and distribution challenges the market faces. The biggest challenge facing streaming in Nigeria is internet connectivity. The quality of the internet is still low and often does not encourage video streaming.

In Africa, South Africa has the largest market in terms of streaming numbers, although Nigeria has the most population and commands the biggest number of artistes on the continent.

Mobile broadband penetration in Nigeria is at 40 percent compared with South Africa that has achieved over 90 percent. Smartphone penetration is also at 46 percent, which means millions of Nigerians are not able to join the music afrobeat party or experience the growing strength of afrobeats artistes around the world.

Okumu of Spotify says the challenges of low data consumption, network instability, and the use of older mobile devices contribute to the prevalence of piracy.

“To counter these challenges, we created Spotify Lite: a smaller version of our unparalleled music experience, offering users a reliable way to fully enjoy their favourite music in areas with limited bandwidth, or if they have limited phone storage, and even if they do not have the latest smartphones,” Okumu states.

Afrobeat is not waiting for Nigeria

Despite the challenges the industry faces, stakeholders say the dominance of Afrobeats is just beginning and does not necessarily need to wait for Nigeria to achieve new heights.

Love Nwantiti, an Afrobeat song by Ckay, described as the biggest-ever hit song out of Africa by Bloomberg after it became the first song from Africa to top YouTube’s list of the most-watched music videos with 104.7 million streams. Ckay is also the first African artiste to appear on any of the top 25 lists for Bloomberg’s Pop Star Power Rankings in October.

On September 11, 2021, Love Nwantiti became the No 1 song on Shazam’s global charts. The chart tracks the most-searched songs in the world and ranks them on a chart.

Excel Joab told BusinessDay in September that Ckay could grow bigger than he already is. However, he thinks Wizkid could get a second Grammy for his song Essence. RollingStone also projects Wizkid’s Essence as one of the top contenders for a major category in the Grammy.

“Wizkid’s Made in Lagos has cracked the US via the power of Essence, and the album is getting nominations within their local award circuit. It is been nominated for Album of the Year at the Soul Train awards, further cementing its place in the African music hall of fame,” says Joey Akan, CEO of Afrobeats Intelligence.

While the artistes rise globally, experts say Nigeria would only benefit if internet connection is addressed. But Fela wherever he is would likely sleep peacefully knowing the light he lit many years ago is burning more brightly than ever.



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