By Clinton Akporherhe
The songs usually start with a mesmerizing mix of snares, kicks and shakers, all combining to create an intense sound, full of percussion and a groovy bassline which could both be the amazing back and forth riff of an electric piano and the soothing call/response of a tenor saxophone or in some other instances, mellow guitar renditions. As the singer jumps on the track, his or her voice merges seamlessly with the production above and the resulting synergy transports any listener to a utopia where the music becomes a soundtrack to an endless array of gleeful fantasies.
In Nigeria, western Africa, music has become more than just a form of sound. It is the new religion and its top stars, the new gods. The Nigerian musical experience transcends all the aspects of its everyday life, including the diversity in the country’s art and culture alongside its never-ending political struggles.
Historically, music has always been an integral part of the Nigerian society. At the very root of its numerous religions are spiritual songs, chants and dance performances aimed at appeasing its different pantheon of ancient gods. A very good example of this is the “Igbe” religion of the Urhobo people which is known for its close ties with music and dance as a form of worship.
As of this moment, some of the known dominant/traditional genres of music in Nigeria include: Afrobeat, Highlife, Fuji, Tungba, Juju, Apala, Afrojuju, Oghene, Bandiri, Waka music amongst others. These individual genres all have their distinct musical patterns, so they exist as solitary genres in their own rights. In recent times however, modern hybrid genres have been pioneered by visionaries in the Nigerian music industry who have expertly infused elements of the traditional genres above with other dominant musical genres like R&B, Rap, funk, country, soul, pop, dancehall, reggae, EDM and a host of other genres from the US, UK and Jamaica to create an array of different sounds that currently dominate the Nigerian music sphere.
While this article does not aim to provide an in-depth analysis of how far Nigerian music has come or the different pioneers that have paved the way in terms of musical experimentation, It hopes to correct the use of the word, “Afrobeats” in qualifying all forms of modern popular music in Nigeria by foreign media outlets, especially those in the UK and the USA.
Afrobeat, as created by the great Fela Kuti is a sonic compound of Juju and Highlife, infused with Jazz and little elements of funk to create a conscious and spiritual musical experience which explores Nigeria’s political struggles. Even though some modern Nigerian songs have tried to retain the musical elements of Afrobeat, they’ve for a large part digressed from Fela’s original intentions of live-band musicals, extensive use of instrumentation and political consciousness.
However, something that is still common between Fela’s Afrobeat and modern Nigerian music is the ability of its creators to combine different genres (local or foreign) to create unique musical blends. Fela combined elements of Highlife, Juju and Funk – each one, an independently recognised genre to create Afrobeat. In similar fashion, Modern Nigerian music producers like Kel-P, Don Jazzy, Pheelz, Kiddominat, Sarz etc, have been able to combine different genres and styles of music like Amapiano, R&B, Afrobeat, Rap, soul e.t.c to produce an eclectic mix of songs which have dominated Nigerian pop culture over the years.
The original afrobeat created by Fela kuti still exists today in a class of its own. While not achieving mainstream success like the hybrid genres, the musicians in this category, which are mostly Fela’s offsprings – Femi kuti, Seun Kuti and more recently the uber-talented Made Kuti have stuck to their father’s original sound thereby ensuring Fela’s glowing legacy lives on. These three musicians also enjoy the international recognition, respect and class that is enjoyed by a few of their colleagues who are currently plying the mainstream route. Femi kuti has been nominated for four grammys, followed by seun who has bagged one nomination for his album, black times and recently Made kuti who got a grammy recognition for working on Coldplay’s album.
Most of the Nigerian musicians that have achieved any form of mainstream success have had to create what can be called – musical hybrids. Pioneers like Tony Tetuila, Plantashun Boiz, Eedris Abdulkareem, Lord of Ajasa, Danny young amongst others have infused foreign genres in their music, some of which now serve as a precursor to most of the popular Nigerian music out there. A notable example of this blend is Danny Young’s crossover hit “Welcome” which was released fourteen years ago.
Recently, Amapiano, a South African genre characterized by its distinctive percussive baseline, synth rhythm and high-pitched piano renditions has been heavily infused into most popular songs. Hits like Highway by DJ Kaywise and Phyno, Kilofeshe by Zinoleesky, Squander by Falz and Niniola are notable references. This recent occurrence also mirrors the 2014 to 2018 experience where Ghanaian Pon pon was used by Superstars like Mr eazi, Runtown, Tekno and a host of others to create successful radio-worthy hybrids.
Music juggernauts, Wizkid and Davido alongside their various direct and indirect proteges like Mayorkun, fireboy, Omah lay, Joeboy, Rema, Reekado banks, Teni and a host of other great acts gunning for the dizzying peaks of Nigerian music have created bangers over the years by displaying versatility in blending different foreign genres with their Nigerian musical experiences.
Distinct creatives like Niniola, Wurld, Lady donli, have also combined elements of South African House, Soul and alternative jazz respectively to form a unique blend of songs that also have elements of R&B, hiphop and sometimes Afrobeat in them. A worthy addition to this list is Talented Heartthrob johnny Drille who sings rich, country music effortlessly, while infusing Yoruba and Pidgin in his lyrics, the result being a unique musical blend which unfortunately doesn’t get the proper attention it deserves.
The Nigerian alternative music scene also boasts of talented recluses like Santi, Odunsi the engine, Amaarae and a host of others who infuse different elements like trap, jazz, alternative rock and a host of other genres to their songs. A notable example of this is Odunsi the engine’s Fuji 5000, a rather quirky song which blends a chorus sang in Fuji with a heavy trap production.
Due to the high number of hybrid songs being churned out by the Nigerian music industry, foreign media outlets and some local media houses have sometimes generalized all these sounds under one umbrella genre – Afrobeat. This generalization is wrong and misleading as Afrobeat itself is still a separate genre enjoying decent amounts of both local and international recognition.
A more fitting name for these numerous blends would be AFROFUSION.
Just recently, The Grammys gave a fitting description of modern Nigerian music when they recognized Burna boy’s critically acclaimed Twice as Tall album for the Global music album category. The Grammys described Burna boy’s twice as tall, “… as a masterclass in the vibe and hustle that have made Burna boy an international musical force. He continues to torch limitations, seamlessly blending styles and genres and fearlessly fueling the fire, heating the melting pot of Pop, Afrobeat, dance hall, reggae and more.”
Evidently, there is hardly a better word out there for the description made above than AFROFUSION.