Around 2007 or 2008, a new wave of description for African Contemporary Pop music was brewing. They called it ‘Afrobeats.’
Afrobeats, The BackStory: Why Ayo Shonaiya’s documentary is important [Pulse Editor’s Comment]
The documentary was created by a Nigerian who lived 'Afrobeats,' who has knowledge, back stories and the context.
The narrative was led by the British-Nigerian/Ghanaian contingent of DJ Abass, Ayo Shonaiya, DJ Abrantee, DJ Edu and more. It was a time when Africans in the UK started to grow increased affinity with their African roots. In the previous years, embracing your African roots wasn’t as cool, lest people call you ‘fufu’ or make fun of your accent.
Tiwa Savage alluded to this brand of bullying during her interview with Ebuka in the Black Box.
“We were all claiming to be Caribbean, because they were the cooler type of black people. It wasn’t because we were scared, but the combination of being a kid, systemic racism and black tribalism was crazy for young Africans,” Headies-winning British-Nigerian singer Moelogo tells The Terms and Conditions Podcast in 2021.
Till this day, the British Urban broken english, which originates from inner-city London circles, still contains a wicked amount of Caribbean-influenced words like ‘ting,’ or ‘likkle [little]’ and more. Only recently did words like ‘nyash’ start to resonate, and travel, because it’s now cool to be African. In consequence, West African culture - especially - is getting adopted.
This was the reality that the people who created the nomenclature, ‘Afrobeats’ saw, when they created it. Nigeria - as the musical reactor - of Africa’s pop music, had started to find its pop sound. Although Soukouss, Makossa and Hip-Life had penetrated certain parts of mainstream Europe to varying degrees, with acts like Awilo Longomba, Magic System and more, African music was only clawing for attention, as Pop, Eurodance, Grime, Flamenco and more, dominated these spaces.
But with the advent of the internet, access to African music changed, when music blogs democratized access to African music to incredible impact. They also started documenting history as it was happening. Hence, discovery started happening and Africans in diaspora started growing a sense of pride in their heritage, as afforded by art. They were not to be maligned anymore.
As the shift started happening, African music needed an identifier and an umbrella term. History has shown that a genre/identity can sell a movement. It has happened with K-Pop, Latin-Pop and more. These identifiers were not exactly enough to properly describe those genres, but they were enough to sell them on a global scale.
At the root of African music is our percussion, which is unlike no other. When a listener hears African music, he will know, regardless of the genre or its country of origin. This is the common denominator to African music. Instead of trying to educate a predominantly white audience about genre dynamic to futile endeavors, they created an identifier that properly described the variations of African music with the ‘beats,’ while it contained the prefix, ‘Afro,’ as a point of reference.
It didn’t only create an identity, it created a brand that could resonate with a white audience. Which in turn created a channel of revenue and funding for African music. It’s no coincidence that African artists continue to get signed to foreign record deals, while major record companies, label services companies, streaming platforms and distributors continue to make inroads into the African market.
Back in Nigeria, commentators, journalists and anyone who mattered, rejected ‘Afrobeats,’ particularly because it was coming from outside of Africa. It felt like another instance of slavery or the infamous ‘mungo parking,’ an act where a white person would claim to discover an already existing African phenomenon or concept. But we were wrong. ‘Afrobeats’ was actually a conception by Africans, to own theirs before it was adulterated.
“London is actually the 37th state of Nigeria,” jokes DJ Abass, during an Instagram Live conversation with Ayo Shonaiya, this writer, Weird MC, Gbenga Adeyinka and more, on June 28, 2022.
A Wizkid feature by Edwin Stats Houghton was published on GQ. Although Houghton presented the most impressive account of a Nigerian artist by a non-Nigerian on a foreign publication up till that point, the article still had holes, that portrayed Houghton as either trying too hard to prevent another half-baked account or not having sufficient context to properly tell his story, despite being an incredible storyteller with picture-esque effects.
This writer proceeded to hail the article, and Houghton’s effort, but also argued a case that Nigerians stories of that magnitude, be told by Nigerians. This wasn’t a case of exclusion of ‘white people,’ but was more about retaining context and authenticity of origin stories from the eyes of those who lived it.
That tweet split opinions and many people thought this writer was simply advocating for a byline on foreign publications. But a few months later, a Billboard article remotely appeared to credit Beyonce and Drake for the rise of Afrobeats, and Africans screamed. While the writer of that article didn’t appear to intentionally exclude pivotal Africans in that story, that was what happened.
And this was because the person was only telling the story from their perspective and chapter, when the story has 1,000 more chapters.
Shonaiya privately premiered two episodes of his much talked-about documentary, ‘Afrobeats Backstory’ at an intimate cinema in Lekki. What immediately stood out was the detail with which it was done. More importantly, the scripting stood out. Particularly, the story of the five-beat pattern, which Shonaiya told through three countries: America, Nigeria and Ghana.
He traced the origin of Contemporary African Pop music back to Kpanlogo, a traditional Ghanian sound, which represents the background percussion of African pop music, regardless of BPM or sonics.
Secondly, it affirmed the importance of 98/99, as the pivotal year for Contemporary African Pop Music. While the story significantly heralds Afrobeats from the Nigerian perspective, it gleans important parts of Africa, to present rounded perspectives. The story also presents the interesting reality of how pivotal IJGB culture is, to the story of Nigerian music.
Obi Asika, Dayo Adeneye, Kenny Ogungbe, and more of the capitalists, who contributed to the growth of Afrobeats, were returnees from the UK and US. But their presence was so important, as foreign record labels began to exit the country or significantly reduced their outlay on an increasingly unstable country and region.
Thirdly, the episode called ‘Local Rappers,’ pinpoints the importance of Rap music and Hip-Hop culture to the sound, brand and outlook of Nigerian music. Hip-Hop didn’t just populate Nigerian airwaves in the 90s; it didn’t just become the grounding of the earliest Nigerian pop hits; hit didn’t just form one half of Hip-Life; it didn’t just influence the behavioral patterns and fashion of Afrobeats stars, it is who they are.
Fourthly, it also tells the story of the rise of Afrobeats in the UK, vis-a-vis how Africans found pride in their own identity, and the work it took to put the pillars down.
More importantly, the documentary was created by a Nigerian who lived 'Afrobeats,' who has knowledge, back stories and the context.
It creates a veritable ground of Afrobeats stories. In 50 years, some people will have more money to shoot better videos. But the story of Afrobeats will forever be best told by those who lived it, and captured the raw emotions as it happened.
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