Afrobeat, the dancehall-dipped pop music of African origin, has arrived, and with its huge, burgeoning market, the whispers that it could be muscling out reggae and dancehall music are getting louder. In 2012, Afrobeats was said to be “the new sound of the UK underground, reworking the African pop of Fela Kuti for kids reared on grime and hip-hop”. Seven years later, this bastard spawn of the respected Afrobeat, the style championed by Nigerian music and cultural icon Fela Kuti, has gained so much traction that at last summer’s BET Awards, Afrobeats proponent Davido significantly mounted the stage to receive an award for Best International Act. Before this, African winners received their BET awards backstage, much like the treatment of reggae winners at the Grammy Awards. Music watchers on that side of the globe say that Davido’s televised acceptance speech served as confirmation that African pop music was here to stay.
Noteworthy here is that Afrobeats, with the addition of the letter ‘s’, is different from Afrobeat and has carved out what is seen as “a whole new chapter in global pop music”.
In a recent interview with Grammy-nominated producer and music industry guru Cristy Barber compared what happened with the advent of reggaeton to the current situation with Afrobeats. Barber stated: “The same thing that happened when reggaeton made its appearance is happening all over again with Afrobeats. The stations in the UK are slotting in Afrobeats in what used to be reggae slots.” That simply means that reggae music is actually taking a far back seat.
“As someone who has done radio for 28 years, this hurts,” she said, indicating that she is not beating down Afrobeats in any way.
Reggaeton, also called the ‘dem bow’ from Shabba Ranks’ big-selling 1991 hit song, is the fusion of reggae and dancehall with Latin American beats. Daddy Yankee, a Puerto Rican singer, songwriter, rapper, actor and record producer, is credited with coining the term. It borrows the distinctive drum programming and forceful bass patterns from dancehall and has spread to Latino communities in the United States and the Latin American and Central American audience. Critics feel that while reggaeton gives credit to reggae, by way of its name, Afrobeats doesn’t acknowledge this foundation.
Billboard-hitting producer Jah Snow Cone noted that with the size of the market and the regularity with which artistes are putting out hits, Afrobeats has solidified. “We have to accept that it is the dancehall beat that [blew] up Afrobeats; however, Afrobeats is consistent, and it is a bigger market, so that alone has given them a strong foothold,” he stated.
Another prominent Afrobeats figure is British-Ghanaian singer-rapper Fuse ODG. He has broken on to the top 10 UK singles charts several times, becoming the first Ghanaian to top the iTunes World Chart. His Dangerous Love single features Sean Paul. Addressing Afrobeats’ rise in a 2018 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Sean Paul, dancehall’s biggest star, noted, “The influence dancehall has brought to the table is evident right now in Afrobeats.”
Kingston-based producer Jahboy boasts co-production credits on Davido’s hit song Ekuro. He is currently working with another Nigerian star, Wizkid, on new music for 2020. In an interview last month, he pointed out that he was making his name in the Afrobeats market, aligning himself with some of the genre’s leading producers and artistes. Jahboy said Afrobeats was taking over and even offers beatmaking classes in the genre at his Jahboy Bailey Productions studio in Kingston. Davido’s most recent collaboration with Popcaan – Risky– is already a hit. The official video amassed over 3.6 million views in one week, and, up to Friday, it was No.4 on trending in Jamaica.
Snow Cone pointed out that the dedication with which Afrobeats artistes approach their career is admirable. “A dancehall dem love. Shatta Wale came to Jamaica, the home of reggae and dancehall, and lived here for a year, absorbing the culture and the music. And look at Stonebwoy, look how much dancehall artiste him collaborate with?
A Ghana-born producer and reggae-dancehall musician, Shatta Wale’s official YouTube channel labels him the ‘King of Dancehall and Afrobeats’. He sits at the top of a July 2019 list of the ‘Top 7 Richest Dancehall Artistes in Ghana’ and is followed by Stonebwoy.
Several publications worldwide have alluded to what they term ‘the rise of Afrobeats’, and this, they say, has been marked by high-profile features beginning with Wizkid on One Dance and a series of big record label signings. In October last year, streaming giant Spotify announced the Afro Hub section as a showcase for the music of Sub-Saharan Africa, and by January 2019, it had over 400,000 subscribers.
Jah Snow Cone, however, is confident that reggae and dancehall music can claim their rightful place in the global sphere, but he emphasises that the genre’s artistes need to “unite and stop giving away the music to international people”.