As African popular music continues to segue into radio playlists all over the world, much is heard but little is known about the UK’s Afrobeats scene. The first time Afrobeats came under cross examination came after critics and purists alike kicked against the labeling of post-modern Afropop music as Afrobeats, as if to seemingly imply the foreigness of anything called Afrobeat (without the S) and doesn’t scream and shout Fela. A few sources on the internet have referenced British-Ghanaian disc jockey, DJ Abrantee as th first person who first used the term to describe the wave of African popular music (MoHits crew, Wizkid, etc) he first started playing during club nights in London.
After the backlash that followed the Abrantee’s all-encompassing and vague genre description, the DJ tried to clarify his role in the growth of on a ‘Afrobeats’ genre saying, “I cannot say I invented Afrobeats. Afrobeats was invented before I was born. It was invented by Fela Kuti. But what you’ve got to remember is the genre of music artists themselves are now producing — the likes of WizKid, Ice Prince, P-Squared, Castro, May7ven — are calling their music Afrobeats. So that’s what I call it when I put them on my mix tapes.”
Despite the frontal rebuttal of the narrative by Fela scholars and music op-ed writers, what began as a buzz word for Afropop mixtapes, became what is now recognized as the UK Afrobeat scene. Today the UK boasts of the likes of JHus, Yxng Bane, Kojo Funds and Maleek Berry amongst others who have put themselves at the forefront of Afrobeats, by slipping into the global mainstream charts with sounds inherent in their Africaness but save for a few samples, bear no mark of the Afrobeat Fela pioneered. The insistence of British artists of the genre’s validity is reflected in how strong ties to the origins of their music is sustained with collaborations and performances across the continent.
The curious thought however is that Afrobeats bears a lot of similarities to African popular music from different bends. Though Afropop music is often circled out of orbit with mainstream western pop, the sounds share the same production ethos: Genre-blending of easily relatable themes and popular sounds until a perfect harmony is found. Afrobeats lends the same concept, drawing heavily on the hip-hop, grime, R&B, and Afropop. Language and songwriting variations may ultimately set Afrobeats apart from Afropop, but there are obvious parallels between their themes that make it nearly impossible to discern the sounds. The success of British-born artists like Fuse ODG within the continent, the UK and beyond is perhaps the longest standing proof of how both soundscapes overlap their sound and audiences.
So why don’t we all just agree on a single genre definition? The Afropop of today was borne largely due to the rise of a digital age that allows artists reference influences outside their geographical locations. An ideal future for music would be a world where global popular music bears mark of a multiplex of influences and origins are inconsequential. How does one therefore blame a rapper who was raised up in Stratford but discovered Fela on Apple Music from calling himself an Afrobeats artist? The unwillingness of Afropop artists to tag their music Afrobeats however may remain the greatest conundrum here. Nonetheless it is important to note that though the conversation of Afrobeat vs Afrobeat(s) has been concluded, the latter genre borne of straws of the former is still thriving. African popular music as we know it is no longer alone in the list of genres crossing out of the continent into the mainstream and the survival of either genre may be dependent on how its pioneers can work together, after all as the saying goes, divided we fall.