With the ‘s’ in afrobeats, Nigerian artistes charm the world

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AKEEM LASISI writes on the dynamics of the rise and rise of afrobeats on the global stage

 

On a global scale, it had never been this rosy for Nigerian music. In the past, you could have a Fela Anikulapo-Kuti breaking into the world’s consciousness. You could have a King Sunny Ade rocking the stage across continents. But, at present, Naija voices are ruling en masse and the reign is not a flash in the pan. From the ever bubbling, multicultural Lagos domes to the prestigious O2 Arena in London, State Farm in Atlanta and biggest halls in Barbados, Nigerian sounds are blasting, penetrating the minds and souls of all races and breaking new frontiers with a magical spell.

Almost all of a sudden, Nigerian artistes are dominating global charts and raking in big billions in streams. Where Nollywood, which first acted itself into universal reckoning, is still garnering wit to win, say, the Oscar, the songbirds are earning Grammys, BETs and other international laurels while their tickets are selling out before concerts.

That genre giving the Naija music the winning vibes often has its root in afro beat, the music that legendary Fela Anikulapo bequeathed to the country, and to the world. But because the talents, voices and technologies have multiplied, the music can no more remain the same. Its soul has since opened up to forms within forms. Now popularly called afrobeats, it is a genre of multiple genres that is ever rich, fresh, intoxicating and epidemic. Because of the innovations and effrontery that many of the musicians are injecting into the trade, rebellion sometimes pops up, with some folks claiming they are not afrobeats singers. In a 2022 vibe, one of the leading lights, Burna Boy, distanced himself from the fold, saying his own music was afrofusion. But discerning ears know that as resourceful and experimental as the Grammy Awards winner is, much of his art bears the tribal marks of afrobeats.

 

Afrobeats billionaires

Interestingly, the online music market, which is the kernel of the strength of the reigning wizards, is an open one. Every initiate can calculate almost what every artiste earns daily. Indeed, to paint how rosy life has become for a good number of the Nigerian afrobeats artistes, one just has to take a look at their charts on giant music platforms like Spotify, Apple, Audiomack and Boomplay. Being the Nigerian biggest wizard on Spotify, Burna Boy, for instance, commands some 16.5 million monthly listeners on the unifying platform as of January 2023.  This translates to about 200 million streams and around $500,000 monthly. Overall, Wizkid appears to be the biggest and most acceptable across platforms; but, on Spotify, he has a little over 9 million listeners monthly.

On a more general note, as of July 2022, 10 of the leading musicians were said to have earned N17.94bn on Spotify alone. These comprise Wizkid, with 4.4 billion streams, earning him an estimated $15,312,000 (N6.42bn); Burna Boy – 2.7 million live streams worth $9,674,400 (N4.06bn); Mr Eazi – 1.3 billion with estimated earning of $4,628,400 (N1.94bn); CKay – 1 billion streams with estimated earning of about $3,549,600 (N1.48bn); and Davido – 909 million streams, with an estimated earning of about $3,163,320 (N1.32bn). To prove that the fortunes are not static, Davido has seen hit the billion-mark streaming on Spotify.

Others flying high on the platform radar are Maleek Berry, Tems, Rema, Fireboy DML and Tiwa Savage, reportedly earning between N753.26m and 394.15m as of last year.

 

Spotify’s Top 8 African Tracks as of January, 2023

  1. Baby – Aya Nakamura
  2. Alone — Burna Boy
  3. SMS – Aya Nakamura
  4. Ballin — Pheelz
  5. Money and Love — Wizkid
  6. For My Hand — Burna Boy, Ed Sheeran
  7. Calm down — Rema, Selena
  8. Emiliana – Ckay

 

Top 10 as of October, 2022

  1. For my hand – Burna ft Ed Sheeran
  2. Electricity – Pheelz ft Davido
  3. KU LO SA – Oxlade
  4. Calm down – Rema ft Selena Gomez
  5. Emiliana – Ckay
  6. Last Last – Burna Boy
  7. Solid – Burna ft Blxst and Kehlani
  8. VIP – Aya Nakamura
  9. You – Ckay
  10. Cloak Dagger – Burna ft J Hus

 

No wonder, the beautiful dollars keep rolling in on other platforms too. This is the case of Wizkid whose 2021 album, ‘Made in Lagos’, continues to be among the top-streamed on Apple, with reports indicating that it has earned him some cool N2.11 billion. How does it happen? He is said to earn an average of $00.01 per stream, which, multiplied by millions upon million streams, becomes the billions bubbling in the artiste’s accounts. This is despite the fact that the streaming companies take their own percentages, an average of 30 per cent.

 

Apple’s Top 10 African Tracks as of January, 2023

  1. Miracle No Dey Tire Jesus — Chizie, Festizie and Moses Bliss
  2. Sweet Us — Timaya
  3. Oshey Boys — Mayorkun
  4. Amina — Mavins, Rema, Ayra Starr
  5. Turkey Nla (Remix) — King Perry, Tekno
  6. Only You — Stany, Tchami
  7. Alarm — Mayorkun
  8. No Love — Ajebo Hustlers
  9. Bounce (Remix) — Lexsil, Rayvanny
  10. Pounds and Dollars — Yemi Alade

 

CKay’s resurrection

Part of the beauty of the billion game is that afrobeats does not go stale in the hearts of its global audience. New songs are reigning, but old songs are still being courted in several cases. CKay – Chukuka Ezeani – exemplifies the sweet irony in this regard, as he broke into worldwide limelight with ‘Love Nwantiti’ (2019), some two years after the song was originally produced. As of June 2022, CKay had surpassed 1.2 billion streams to become the second most streamed Afrobeats artiste behind Burna Boy, who by then flaunted 1.4 billion streams. The never-say-old song’s versions in terms of audios, remixes and videos have generated over 1.5 billion streams from Spotify, Apple music Boomplay, Audiomack, and YouTube.

 

Sell-Out

At concerts, the Nigerian stars receive treatment rosier than what royal brides get. Their adventures at London’s 02 Arena sum up the level of acceptance, as the audience – black and white – swoop on their tickets, regularly giving them sell-outs before the days of performances.

Among those who have spun the magic at the 20,000-capacity Arena are Wizkid, Burna Boy, Davido, D’Banj and Tiwa Savage. The feat is being recorded in other parts of the world, with Burna Boy recently becoming the first African artiste to sell out the prestigious State Farm Arena in Atlanta.  His tour had started in Barbados and moved on to seven US States where he recorded historic turnouts in Detroit, Minneapolis, Chicago, Houston Texas, Irving Texas, Boston, Montreal.

The world also remembers the hullaballoo that greeted the failure of ‘Buga’ singer, Kizz Daniel, to grace the stage the day he was to perform in Tanzania in August. Besides, the extent to which dignitaries across the world, including Presidents, First Ladies and clerics caught the ‘Buga’ fever is a testimony to how far afrobeats has penetrated the world.

 

Global Partnerships, Global Awards

A music promoter, Kingsley Uche, says the coming of independent radios in the 2000s signposted the new fortunes for Nigerian music. This is as he recalls the impact of the legislation that demanded higher Nigerian content, saying there was an initial shortage of such local contents.

“In the 2000s too, foreign artistes started to strategically eye the Nigerian market, which is a huge one. This is how Akon, Puff Daddy and others got into collaborations with the likes of PSquare and Wizkid, with the Nigerian guys too eventually riding on the back of the partnerships to establish themselves abroad. The multinational companies too were doing endorsements and shows that supported the economy of the artistes, giving them more leverage and economic power to do promotion,” Uche says.

The glory is also reflected in the rising number of international artistes collaborating with the great Nigerian singers. While D’Banj had, in recent history, signposted the regime with his collaboration with Snoop Dogg in ‘Endowed’; in the past few months, Omah Lay has featured Justin Beiber, Rema, Chris Brown; and Skiibi, Tory Lanez.

In terms of awards, afrobeat is proving that it is far from being a push-over. In 2021, Burna Boy won the Grammys. Wizkid and Tems have also earned it, even if the latter is as a feature with Beyonce. While Tems is the current ‘title holder’ of BET Awards, the likes of Wizkid, Davido and Ice Prince have earlier won it, and the same sterling authority is often exerted on other competitions such as Apple and MTV.

 

Boomplay’s African 10 Top Tracks as of January

  1. Cough (Odo) Ft EMPIRE — Kizz Daniel
  2. Rush – Ayra Starr
  3. Puuh ft Jay Melody — Billnass
  4. Girlfriend – Ruger
  5. Buga (Lo Lo Lo) ft Tekno
  6. Asiwaju — Ruger
  7. Bandana ft Asake — Fireboy DML
  8. For My Hand ft Ed Sheeran — Burnaboy
  1. Kwikwi – Zuchu
  2. Chitaki — Diamond Platnumz

 

The Power of that s…

A critical look at the global penetration of afrobeats will, however, reveal some mixed factors as aiding it. These factors may be the essence of the plural marker, s, in the genre. The first is the country’s rich, cultural and poetic heritage that many of the musicians are tapping from. There has been the fear that the young generation is detached from tradition and culture, with many of them not being able to speak their mother tongues. But, somehow, the new-generation artistes have largely found a way round this, as they lace their songs with indigenous idioms that, come to think of it, do not hurt any listener but rather enrich the verses being dished out. It is thus not surprising that, while an Olamide and a Phyno have respectively tapped stardom from Yoruba and Igbo languages, even non-Yoruba speakers will normally inject into their songs words from the language (Yoruba) to flavour the songs. Close to this is the influence of pidgin, which itself is an international code. The implication is that the music many Nigerian artistes serve is an ala carte of cultural and linguistic forms that appeal to listeners in different ways.

Close to this is the influence of older musicians. Many of the new afrobeats heroes locate a goldmine in the oldies. Some genuinely smartly adapt songs from the repertories of legends of highlife, afro, juju, apala, fuji, sewele etc., while others are either careless or dubious about it, serving old songs in new voices, without due acknowledgement. Outright remaking has worked in some contexts, just as such musical adaptation and lifting have translated into billions in some other settings. Well, because intellectual property is also not meant to be a free-for-all food, the romance with the music of old musicians at times breed quarrels and even court cases.  In one of Davido’s popular songs, he injects, ‘Ojo k’omo m’oko/O wa dejo lona’, a folk verse that the late Prince Adekunle had sung years back. Dammy Krane once picked Wasiu Ayinde’s prayerful ‘E ma pe a se a/ Asee…’, while Qdot has found a whole career in the singing or adaptation of Haruna Ishola-laden apala.  Simi stirred the hornet’s nest with her viral ‘Joromi’, as highlife master, Victor Uwaifo, took her up, saying she pirated his evergreen ‘Joromi o jomi jo’. He had threatened to sue her for some N50m during an interview on the Nigerian Television Authority.

The most important issue here, however, is that the influence of the works of the veterans is showing positively in many instances. Wizkid’s ‘Ojuelegba’, in this regard, drips with success and it cannot be detached from Fela Anikulapo’s ‘For Ojuelegba…’, just as Oritesefemi also made a fantastic success of the afro legend’s ‘Double Wahala’.  As a matter of fact, Portable’s breakthrough song, ‘Zazu’ has been linked to fuji musician Kollington Ayinla’s 1980s’ ‘Kolawole gberunmu de/Sasuu/ Afrirunmu je jogi/ Sasuu…’ No wonder, the rascally but talented Portable recently paid Kollington a visit in his Alagbado, Lagos, home, weeks after tongues began to wag on the issue.

 

The socio-economic woes the country has been witnessing should, ordinarily, be a setback for the dreams of many folks – old and young. But it seems to be ironically working for afrobeats as some of its apostles, who are wounded by the bullets the educational system or economic situation are firing at the polity, are forced to discover the creativity in them. It is a sweet irony that the same system producing graduates ‘who cannot read or write’ is throwing up world-conquering artistes. This is not manna from heaven, though. Rather, the situation is pushing the guys to seek solace and a saviour in their harps and strings, making them push their dreams with all the energy, wit and sacrifice they can muster. In some cases, some sell all that are sellable to produce and market their works. Hip hop singer, Chike, recently noted that he sold his car to promote his music, while Brymo has also told a similar tale.

 

Business of the Business

It should be acknowledged, also, that the mastering of the business of music is a key factor helping the boys and girls. It is one thing to have the talent and produce good songs; it is another to master the business of turning such into money. The demand and dynamics of promotion and marketing are relatively sophisticated and are not a joke, as the artistes that have become great have found out. Although the likes of Kenny Ogungbe, Obi Azika, and Omorege had been laying the foundation for music business in Nigeria – after the eras of the likes of Sony, Isola Abioro, Phonodisc, Saliu Omo Aje, and Lati Alagbada – the coming on stream of the defunct Mo’Hits, founded by Don Jazzy and D’Banj, appears to have bred the business perspective that is now yielding gold. One very important fact that up-and-coming artistes should, as a matter of fact, bear in mind is that behind and around the successful ‘afro beaters’ are business networks that never sleep. In other words, producers, promoters, digital marketers also deserve to be amply credited for the rise and rise of afrobeats. They are accommodated in the phenomenal ‘s’ in the genre.

 

Digital Magic

The concluding factor, here, has to do with the ones above one way or the other: digital revolution. Multitalented artiste, Ropo Ewenla, is of the opinion that if it is only one phenomenon that has lavishly benefited from the globalisation of the music village, via technology, it is afrobeats. For years, Nigerian entertainers, including those in film and book industries, lamented the absence of structures. In the eras of cassettes and CDs/DVDs, musicians were at the mercy of marketers and pirates. But, magically, technology eased the process, taking music into the heart of digital economy. According to Ewenla, the artiste who produced his music in Omole or Ajegunle in Lagos, the one who did his in Port Harcourt or Dutse, now has the opportunity to instantly connect to the global audience.

“The result is the blessings that Nigerian afrobeats lords are enjoying, earning millions of the much-sought hard currencies in ocean-size streams, toppling billboards and earning trophies of variegated flavours,” he says.

One other interesting factor: the fact that the dynamics highlighted above largely remain constant indicates that the future is not just very wide open for afrobeats, but it is also pregnant with more global acceptance, more choice awards, more sold-out concerts and, indeed, more billions.