Afrobeats, the generic term used to categorize the contemporary sounds coming out of Africa most especially Ghana and Nigeria is slowly emerging as a genre to reckon with on the international scene. The term does no real justice to the variety of styles and flavors emanating from Africa that include afro-pop, afro-dancehall, afro-rap/hip-hop and more traditional styles such as highlife and Fuji with a modernized twist. It has however become a household name in the UK where it rose to prominence after the viral success of D’banj’s “Oliver Twist” and Fuse ODG’s “Azonto/Antenna” circa 2011. The genre has since seen massive success as evidenced by the development of the “destination Africa” radio show on UK BBC 1Xtra, the signing of Afrobeats artists by major UK labels and the various Afrobeats festivals and shows, which cater to a multicultural/racial audience. It has also led to an explosion of new UK based acts that are creating Afrobeats music on their own terms with an audience that is not necessarily African.
The truth of the matter is that the United States is the tastemaker of the world in terms pop culture. Styles and new trends rarely become global phenomena until they become relevant in the United States. Reggae/Dancehall took a similar trend with Afrobeats in that after rising to dominance within the Caribbean islands, it migrated to the United Kingdom where it rose to relevance. It did not however become globally recognized until it was well received in the US and now everywhere from Japan to Sweden reggae /dancehall music is not only recognized but it is being created and performed by indigenous non-Caribbean artists. One of the major barriers to the recognition of Afrobeats in the USA is the lack of a solid homegrown US Afrobeats scene.
Part of the success of Afrobeats in the UK has been due to the fact that the artists are creating music not solely for the continent of Africa but have developed a homegrown scene that caters to both African and non-African youths. Artists like Fuse ODG, Moelogo, Sonaman, Mazi Chuks, Ezi Emela, and Kida Kudz are making a name for themselves by creating music that articulates the duality of their personalities as both 100 percent African and 100 percent UK artists. One of the most interesting artists emerging from the UK scene is Timbo who is a rapper turned singer/Afrobeats crooner. He has set himself apart by developing a UK road man/ “stree n*gga” brand of Afrobeats (afro-hop) that is slowly placing him as a go to artist for catchy hooks and choruses for UK rappers. These UK artists are able to perform and make a name for themselves while at the same time paving the way for non-Africans to get introduced to more indigenous African music by artists such as Wizkid, Davido, and etc.
The lack of a scene in the United States is partially due to the fact that most artists here seem to view repatriation and recognition back in Africa as the ultimate goal. There is no clear or visible attempt at creating a market within the US meanwhile the population of Africans alone in the US is estimated at 3,183,104. The black population of the UK, which includes both those of Caribbean descent and African descent, is only about 1,877,000. There is no shortage of talent in the US as artists like JayCube, Chibbz, PhreyTunez, Detox, Awon Boyz, Big Klef , Sukiyaki, Izzy and a slew of up and coming artists are slowly making a name for themselves. Talented producers such as J. Omega, ODH, Melvitto, and Rowllins are also putting out impressive sounds that rival those of their African-based counterparts. The major problem they are facing is a lack infrastructure and support from their fellow Africans in diaspora. There is a strong sense in which African artists from Africa are awarded a higher status than Africans in the US hence why talented artist such as Ayo Jay and Davido seemed to receive greater support and awareness in the US only after going back to Nigeria. Perhaps another major challenge is the lack of unity among the community of African artists where every man is an island and the sense of community and collaboration is limited.
The honest truth is that not every artist will successfully go back to Africa and flourish. Given the unstable nature of African economies amidst other crises and the fact that almost every household can boast of at least one “upcoming” artist or producer, the scene back home is highly saturated and competitive due to limited resources. In the United States however, artists who are able to build a sizable following can generate income from a variety of sources and ultimately sign to record companies that are looking for the next big thing. Afrobeats is the next big thing but there is a need for unity and cooperation among the artists and producers as well as support from the African community in diaspora. Artists need to develop relationships with club Djs and radio Djs who play support African music in the US such as DJ Chris Styles (@djchrisstyles) of WPGC 95.5 (DMV)/Sirius XM or Dj Arc (@IamDjArc) of WCDB (New York.).
US Afrobeats artists can learn a lot from the success of US based African comedians such as Foxy P, Chief Obi, SamTakesOff and etc who have successfully utilized social media to build an online following that they have monetized through performances and merchandizing. They have found success not by moving back home but by taking advantage of a wide open lane in the United States. One positive step taken in the right direction towards supporting and pushing Afrobeats created within the US include the DMV African Entertainment Award which took place in Maryland and celebrated the achievement of DMV based Africans in the entertainment industry. Hopefully other vibrant regions in the US such Atlanta, Houston, and New York will follow suit. United together, artists will not only create a space to tell their unique story as Africans in America but will also be a catalyst in taking Afrobeats and Africa as a whole to the world.