Nigeria leads the proliferation of Africa’s new sounds in the West.
In an Africa fresh from economic liberalization, music found a new voice, thanks to social media and platforms like YouTube, Spotify and Apple Music, which streamed thousands of African songs into the homes of millions in the diaspora.
The western world, suddenly, was introduced to Africa’s new sound, Afrobeats. Free from the shackles that had previously plagued the Nigerian movie industry, known locally by the moniker, Nollywood, artists, now empowered with this new distribution platform, could begin to experiment in different languages, sounds and genres that had, until then, remained confined to only regional pockets.
The past few years, however, have seen a rapid evolution of the Afrobeats scene across Africa and Nigeria is leading its explosion globally.
Events such as the One Africa Music Fest, an African musical experience showcasing Africa’s best and brightest talents, have solidified Africa’s position in the global entertainment industry.
Afrobeats has not only captured a new western audience but has also influenced the sounds of some of America’s biggest artists.
“Afrobeats is absolutely taking over. In 2016, Drake’s One Dance, which featured Wizkid, was arguably one of the biggest sounds globally. Then you had French Montana with Unforgettable, which was also huge and both videos were shot in Africa. So, this thing is becoming a movement,” says D-Black, a Ghanaian Afrobeats artist and founder of Black Avenue Muzik record label.
It’s almost impossible to attend a party or wedding in Africa and not be treated to one of Afrobeats’ ubiquitous chart-toppers.
With hits from artists like Davido, Wizkid, Yemi Alade and many more pounding out of speakers across the continent, the movement of Afrobeats not only covers major cities in Nigeria, but also some far-flung locales.
“You cannot really talk about Afrobeats without talking about Lagos. The music scene is very fast-paced and colorful. Each local area has its own unique sound. On the mainland, we have the heart music being pushed by artists like Small Doctor.
“We also have the live Afrobeats scene and then the Alte scene, which is a different music on its own. People like to identify Alte sound with the western crowd and mainly people who live on the island,” says Paul Yusuf, DJ and founder of Music Revolution Nigeria.
But that doesn’t mean that the artists are benefiting from the buzz. Similar to Nollywood, piracy remains rampant making it impossible for artists to sell their music.
“There are several ways of accessing music locally in Nigeria, from the streets, where you have street vendors selling illegally obtained music or in a well-known tech hub called computer village, where consumers can download thousands of illegally obtained new music onto their hard drive from as little as N2,000 ($5),” Yusuf says.
“In Africa, the model is different. It is all about putting out as much free music as you can without necessarily charging, then you become a big artist once you have enough hit songs and then make your money back from being booked on shows. When you think about it, some of the biggest stars in the United States make most of their money from tours,” says D-Black.
Despite these challenges, the advent of Web 2.0 and community marketing mean the Afrobeats scene has been digitalized, providing savvy entrepreneurs like Don Jazzy, with a new revenue model.
“Back in the day, we didn’t care too much about online streaming platforms like YouTube, Apple Music and Spotify, but now it is a major focus for generating revenue. Nigeria still lags behind on online platforms but there are people in the diaspora who because of the growth and exposure of the Afrobeats music patronize us online by buying from these streaming platforms.
“The numbers from Nigeria is not big because most people prefer to download from free sites and most of them use Android, boom play apps and others to get access to the music,” says Jazzy.
Born Michael Collins Ajereh, he is a record producer, singer, songwriter and entrepreneur. He is also the founder of one of Nigeria’s most successful record labels, Mavin Records, with a roster of stars including Tiwa Savage and Korede Bello.
He pioneered the proliferation of Afrobeats into countries like the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US) when he created his first record label, Mo’ Hits Records, with former partner, D’banj. The pair was signed by US music mogul, Kanye West, to his GOOD Music imprint, at a time when the industry was still in its infancy bringing global attention to the world of Afrobeats.
“Everything changed with D’banj. Oliver Twist opened up the labels to want to invest in Africa because that was the first single that was pushed by a label properly. Kanye West signed D’banj and Don Jazzy and that was big news. When Mo’ Hits came out with their sound, it was easy to get the world’s attention on Afrobeats, coupled with improved production and quality music videos,” says the London-based DJ Flex.
According to Jazzy, the digital revolution of the Afrobeats sound has led to the proliferation of the music into the diaspora, leading to different sub-categories like Afro-pop, Afro-dance and Afro-reggae. This has also affected the revenue model of the business.
“When it comes to Afrobeats, we have to look at two main revenue streams. The type of songs that impact the clubs and Nigeria locally; and secondly, the type of sound that moves numbers online, thus digitally. So, you have to be very conscious of the type of music you make at the moment. You have to consider whether you are trying to do this song so that you will be popping in Nigeria and thus offline or are you doing the song for international.
“For example, Korede Bello has Godwin, which was a very big song offline and translated into him going for more shows and getting club plays and party plays. But a song does like that, if you go on YouTube, Spotify and Apple, the numbers are ridiculously crazy because the diaspora market preferred that kind of sound and they streamed it more. So, you definitely have to be conscious about what you want to achieve,” says Jazzy.
Social media has played a big role in this new trend by making artists connect with audiences outside Nigeria. It has also influenced the new sound of Afrobeats by giving Nigerian and African artists a window into the world of pop culture in America by removing geographical barriers.
“You no longer have to travel to the US to see what your favorite artists are doing because they are all vying for attention on social media platforms out of fear of dying out,” D-Black says.
With a population of 180 million in Nigeria, its music industry is projected to grow, buoyed by the increase in smartphones and platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, the global recorded music market grew by 8.1% in 2017, reaching $17.3 billion that year on the strength of digital streaming revenue.
The big question is, with a largely unregulated industry, how are these artists making their money?
“Money comes in when you have a good product and you make FX from digital sales and when that artist starts growing and you go for shows, then they get paid and you split the proceeds, depending on the sharing ratios you have with the artist.
“Different artists have different sharing ratios and that depends on how long you have been with the artist and how badly perhaps you want the artist. There are also endorsements from brands as well,” Jazzy says.
His Mavin Records label recently made news for securing an undisclosed investment from Washington DC-based investment firm Kupanda Capital, a firm with the goal of creating, capitalizing and scaling up pan-African companies.
“We are trying to build a long-term structured platform that can connect African music on the continent and beyond for further global consumption. We intend to use the investment for distribution of our own music, product development and hire new staff to take the brand to the next level,” Jazzy says.
The alleged multimillion-dollar investment by Kupanda into the Nigerian record label presents yet another compelling case for the Afrobeats genre, which presents revenue generating opportunities that are too big to be ignored.