As music from Africa gets its deserved global recognition, everyone (including myself) will generally refer to the music category as “Afrobeats”. Is it because anything coming from Africa should be generalized as one term (I see you, colonizers *lol*), or are we just too lazy to start categorizing the numerous sounds coming from Africa? As for me, it’s the latter. I am too lazy to explain the types of African music I play to my listeners so I just say Afrobeats and your average uneducated music listener would easily comprehend this as a likely outcome of rythms that possess people to dance. I could also say I play Hip-Hop, Drill, Chicago House, R&B, Afro-Pop, Afro-fusion, Amapiano, Gqom, Fuji, Afro-Juju, and I will immediately get this look…
…especially as I mention the last 3.
Yes, I admit that my lazy persona is uninterested in explaining sub-genres but I also have a passionate music persona that just wants to geek out. Depending on the day and mood, you are likely to get one of those personas but both of them actually have reasonably fair points when I am caught in a cognitive dissonance between the two.
My lazy side.
This is just me saying united we stand as we need all the power we can get under one umbrella name. Let’s just use one name because we are still in the struggle to get people to recognize us and stop referring to our culture as world music. Last time I check we still need visas to enter most countries so are we even really “world”.
Amapiano, Gqom, Deep House, Soul, Alté sounds – I will call you all Afrobeats so people quickly get the point and start to acknowledge you as a big force. I have taken the liberty to add “afro” to your name so people know that you are just an African version of something similar they heard. The “beats” is also placed perfectly so people know you are coming with force! They must dance and be happy!
The culture can only be pushed when all genres combine to form mighty megazord like in power rangers. I meeeeeaaaann…..You never saw just one ranger beat the bad guys. They always had to come together under one name, Mighty Megazord but in this case – Afrobeats!
My Passionate side.
The passionate side storms into the room where my lazy side is just chilling and yells “WE DON’T WANT TO PUSH THE CULTURE, WE WANT PEOPLE TO RESPECT AND APPRECIATE IT!!!!”. Lazy me goes – “bruh why are you even shouting, we are in the same head man”.
We should respect the art because these genres are incomparable and have different histories. Amapiano must be called Amapiano because its for South Africans who broke all the rules of house music to create a spiritual fusion of drums, whistles, chants and surprise basslines. It’s not for Nigerians to add vocals and it’s added to some Afrobeats top 50 playlist on spotify. When people are educated about these stories, they are able to respect the art and in turn the artists are respected within their specific niche group.
Lazy me sits up after speech .. “nah this ain’t it chief”
Types of African Music.
So what types of music does Africa even have? A lot, and to be honest I don’t even know all of them, but here are some I can distinctively tell apart:
Afrobeats (Nigeria/Ghana) – Notable artistes include Fela Kuti, Femi Kuti, Bantu Crew
Afrobeats/Afropop (Nigeria/Ghana) – Notable artistes include Wizkid, Burna Boy, Tems
Alté (Nigeria) – Notable artistes include Amaarae, BOJ, Teezee, Lady Donli
Amapiano (South Africa) – Notable artistes include Mr JazziQ, Focalistic, DBN Gogo
Bongo Flava (Tanzania) – Notable artistes include Alikiba, Diamond Platinumz
Coupé-Decalé (Côte d’Ivoire) – Notable artistes include Magic System, Douk Saga
Gqom (South Africa) – Notable artistes include Distruction Boyz, Babes Wodumo
High Life (Nigeria/Ghana) – Notable artistes include Victor Uwaifo, Amakye Dede
Jùjú (Nigerian) – Notable artistes include Sir Shinna Peters, King Sunny Ade
Kizomba (Angola) – Notable artistes include C4 Pedro, Don Kikas
Kwaito (South Africa) – Notable artistes include Mandoza, Zola
Kuduro (Angola) – Notable artistes include Cabo Snoop, Buraka Som Sistema, OS Detoria
Makossa (Cameroon) – Notable artistes include Dora Decca, Petit Pays
Soukous (Congo) – Notable artistes include Awilo Longomba, Koffi Olomide, Fally Ipupa
These are just the few I’m familiar with but music streaming platforms and record pools refer to all them as “World”, “Africa”,”Others”, “Dancehall” or “Afrobeats” because it’s easier to categorize that way even though It’s as ignorant as reciting “Wakanda Forever” when you see anything remotely African.
The Afrobeat you don’t know.
Alas! My Lazy side is winning the battle and the world is calling it Afrobeats but we don’t realize the origin. You may have viewed the notable artistes under Afrobeat and thought ..errr so where are Wizkid, Davido, Tiwa Savage, Tekno.. right?
Now that’s why I am sat here writing this post about African music under the ironic guise of a cold American beverage, listening to BBC radio and pretending to have my wits about music history and composure. Nothing African here (well, except me). Basically, this music you think is Afrobeat is not really what you think it is.
The Pulse.ng defines Afrobeat as a “combination of traditional Nigerian music, Ghanaian music, jazz, highlife, funk, and chanted vocals, fused with percussion and vocal styles, popularized in Africa in the 1970s.” This genre was popularized by Fela Kuti with the common theme of a band, politically provoking and satirical lyrics. However, Afrobeats – as it is currently used – is rumored to have been a name coined by music influencers in the UK around 2008-2009 to categorize mainly Nigerian music in its infant stages of popularity in the UK.
So what do we call it?
I really don’t know. Lol.
Let’s continue with Afrobeats. Even though the origin of Afrobeats was from the likes of Fela, it’s not fair to deny Wizkid songs that term because it sounds different. It’s like saying Drake isn’t hip hop because he doesn’t sound like Grandmaster flash or Rakim. However, Fela is not necessarily the music history for other African countries and may not be a key influence on their genres.
Fine, let’s do sub genres. On the other end of the stick, we may decide to enforce the sub genres in conversations but where does that leave rappers and singers from Africa? Sure, let’s add “Afro-Rap” and “Afro R&B” too with the proliferation of popular music genres in Africa. Afrobeats just saves the need to adopt a popular genre and make it African by adding an “Afro” prefix.
Just listen. At this point just support the culture by listening and sharing but be curious enough to know the artists and what they are about. However if you want to add “Amapiano” to your DJ, producer or dancer bio, then don’t just listen. Immerse yourself in that world so you can respect what you are benefiting from and teach more people about it so these genres don’t just wash away like a trend.
Anyway, my beverage is finished and I have to head off now to see a dog about an afro-bone so I will stop here. Please share your thoughts on naming African music, and also let me know if I got any facts wrong.
Majority of this post was written in 2018 and republished with some edits for today’s readers. I am not a professional writer and while I express my thoughts in writing, it is not to say that I am 100% accurate or will not change my thoughts when I feel like.
Thank you for reading!
While you are here, listen to some of my Afrobeats or Afropop music mixes?