Let’s Talk About The Afrobeats Name

Hip-hop, Pop, R&B, Rock, Country are the musical genres that surround us in the US and have become part of our natural every day musical lexicon. Of course, there are countless components that come into play for a genre to be successful – the most important being music that is compelling to both the heart and soul of listeners. Still, the name a new music style gives itself carries more weight than one can imagine and can make the difference between a style that becomes its own genre and one that fades away. Anyone remember Vapowave or Kapuka? They went the Myspace route. As an African who grew up in Kenya and now lives in the States I’ve seen African urban music steadily come centre stage.

Right now, there’s a beat spreading faster than an airborne disease that is lighting up the global charts. French Montana’s performance of ‘Unforgettable’ at this year’s BET awards saw the Ugandan dancers and the beat from that genre add a magical layer to his act. Drake set an all time Billboard awards record, thanks in part to his collaboration with Wizkid on ‘One Dance’, the beat once again heavily borrowed from this genre.

Some call it Afrobeat while others call it Afrobeats but while Africans are contesting the addition of an ‘s’, music streaming services like Spotify and Apple music have put this music under the ‘World’ genre which is code for ‘other’ or non-western music – without proper distinction. This is despite the fact that Afrobeats music has been climbing the billboard charts while some of these services have curated their  playlists for this genre. Spotify  has an official ‘Afro’ playlist curated by Tuma Basa titled ‘Afroheat’ in addition to personal playlists created by fans, Apple music has ‘Okada Afrobeats’ & ‘Afrobeats’ starter kit. Pandora has an Afrobeats radio station. This yet to be defined genre of music is gaining so much traction that the 2017 South by Southwest Festival (SXSW) – one of the largest and most influential global music industry events of the year – featured not one, but an eclectic mix of established and up and coming  afrobeats artists curated for, and by Africans. It’s spun out of mainstream events to having its own bonafide events that sell out arenas throughout the diaspora.

DJs co-existed with performing artists in an organic and beneficial way throughout SXSW, the PXP festival at the Cedar Street Courtyard was hosted by DJ Fully Focus. The PXP had a line-up of performing artists including May D,  Ayo Jay, Ali Kiba, and Charly Black and a set of DJs that included DJ Slim, DJ Ecool, DJ WaxFiend and DJ Fully Focus. Another event, the Sounds from Africa and the Caribbean was presented by W&R Projects and hosted by UK based Congolese comedian, Eddie Kadi at the Belmont. The Sounds from Africa and the Caribbean included DJ Black Moses, DJ Juls, Silvastone, Moelogo, Demarco, DJ Obi, Maleek Berry, Konshens, Christopher Martin, DJ Edu, Tune Day, and Mr Eazi.

The crowds that gathered for these events were placed under the African spell, proving how catchy African rhythm is even if the name of the genre remains a hotly contested subject. Whether we call it Afrobeat, Afrobeats, Afropop or Afrofusion, one thing that remains consistent is the fact that this sound is injecting African culture into the global stage, revealing Africans as the multidimensional beings they are with relatable experiences globally.

This distinctive sound is what drew people to Nigerian Ayo Jay’s ‘Your Number’ helping it climb the Billboard charts. At the same time, other Afrobeats artists are drawing millions of views on YouTube in this undefined genre. The distinctive sound is what will allow booking agents to get artists on shows by being able to give some musical point of reference in the form of a genre description. It will help the music industry understand audiences better so that it will reach the right listeners every time, increasing the  musicians chances of success through appropriate marketing of the music and promoting live shows. This distinction that the genre has achieved will help musicians (and their representatives) choose the right label or even help them decide if they need a label at all.

While it is very important for Afrobeats to give due credit to its root – namely the Afrobeat genre birthed by the remarkably talented Fela Kuti – as Afrobeats continues to cultivate talent, it will become critical that the genre makes a name for itself in order to better communicate its appeal to the masses. When this name is agreed upon, opportunities in the genre will be maximized, opening doors for its different sub-genres to be recognized on streaming services and other platforms. Then the likes of Spotify, Apple music, Tidal and Youtube amongst others will be able to better tap into the diverse music market that is Africa.

Can we simply accept the word Afrobeats as it was arguably made popular by UK DJ’s Edu and DJ Abrantee? Or should Afrobeats continue to contest Afrobeat and dwell in that ambiguous space of ‘World’ music based on a misplaced “s”? Or will we agree on a name that propels its already established accomplishments?  Or, worst case scenario, will Justin Bieber’s next album feature Afrobeats while he claims it as his new sound like he did in rebranding Ragga as tropical House? Let us decide.

Read more stories in our #AfroNation series here.