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THE STORY OF AFROBEATS IN 7 SEMINAL SONGS

In the month of Nigerian independence and Black History Month, we pluck out some nostalgic, important and current bangers.


African music, like Latin music, has always placed in the ‘World music’ section of most streaming sites, meaning that the scene is too often misunderstood as being one sound. Well, that was never the case. In Africa, each countries’ own cultures and subcultures have sprung different sounds from Tanzania’s Bongo Flava to the very popular West African alté scene.

And now that the music finally has an umbrella term called afrobeats to encompass the diversities of the continent’s music, which is fronted by Nigeria and its rich scene. This Black History Month and on what would be Fela Kuti’s 83rd Birthday – we look at the journey of afrobeats, from its wonderful beginnings to its huge current success.

Fela Kuti, ‘Obe’ (1969)

Afrobeats had to have originated from somewhere, and that is afrobeat, the sound created by the godfather of African music, Fela Kuti. As a well-travelled man between Nigeria, Ghana, and London, he was able to make alté (Nigerian for alternative) music to the scene around him called highlife. Highlife, originating from Ghana, is a genre that moved Kpanlogo music of the Ga people onto Western instruments, but Kuti lived to blend this with the jazz and blues he was exposed to while travelling.

A popular sample and Nigerian classic, ‘Odo Nowom O Waee’ is something everyone – no matter if you’re not of African heritage – will find themselves singing. because its chorus is just one of those that sticks in your head due to the phonetic nature of Yoruba. Although you may not understand it, the melodies created through the rhythm of the lyrics is forever being interpolated and sampled. One of the UK’s most iconic examples is chart-topping Tion Wayne’s ‘2 on 2’ with fellow pop star One Acen. One of those classics you play at any and every gathering, ‘Odo Nwom O Waee’ still lives on today.

Kofi Nti featuring Ofori Amponsah, ‘Odo Nwom O Waee’ (2004)


Remember highlife, the genre that inspired Fela Kuti? Well, it hasn’t necessarily kept its true form in the afropop of today. However, the genre has had a momentary comeback with Flavour’s popular gathering classic ‘Nwa Baby’. High-energy with thumping drums and repetitively rhythmic lyrics, this track helped remind afrobeats of its roots and is one of those classics you keep in your back pocket for when you want that nostalgic moment. It’s also surprisingly similar to 90s dancehall music: see how the diasporas intertwine. ‘Nwa Baby’ is the homage to the genre that was the catalyst to the world’s favourite rising scene.

Flavour, ‘Nwa Baby (Ashawo Remix)’ (2005)


MTV Base is one of those TV channels that have fuelled the musical passion of many artists and musical personnel of today, and when MTV Base Africa became a thing, M.I Abaga – as well as the huge Ghanaian rap representative, Sarkodie – utilised the opportunity to be like their American rap inspirations and rap on the channel. But what made M.I Abaga stand out was the way he pastiches the golden era of hip hop with ‘Safe’. In the music video, he looks like a knockoff version of Kanye’s earlier ones. He masks his Nigerian accent with this fake American one (that’s understandable), but pushed forward the idea of genre and culture blending throughout the African music scene.

M.I Abaga featuring Djnee, ‘Safe’ (2008)


Release via Ye’s G.O.O.D Music label, this oldie is an afrobeats classic. With a dark, moody sound that sounded unique to whatever there was released in 2012. With the UK’s first-ever afrobeats song to reach the Top 10, D’Banj craved a path and showed a group of Black British kids and Africans everywhere that it is possible to break through to the mainstream in the Western world. Breaking a musical scene that gets quite stuck in its music taste, D’Banj is cited as an inspiration for the next artist in this list.

D’banj, ‘Oliver Twist’ (2012)

After the viral smash ‘Azonto’ took over the African diaspora all over the world and becoming a huge dance craze, British-Ghanaian Fuse ODG was a pivotal figure in getting afrobeats to the mainstream of the UK, a place it has always had roots in. This single was his debut on a major label, which reached Number Seven on the UK singles chart, blazing a pathway for more afrobeats-sounding tunes to shine through and become popular, before the afroswing craze followed.

Fuse ODG, ‘Antenna’ (2012)

This track was the second single for then-emerging afro-pop superstar Davido’s debut album ‘Omo Baba Olowo’, and it catapulted Davido’s career, turning him from an underground secret to a rising afrobeats star – a bit like the next two entries in this list. To be the best, they all had to start somewhere, and ‘Dami Duro’ represented this point for Davido. It earned him the Hottest Single of the Year at the 2012 Nigeria Entertainment Awards, and also the prestigious Best Video By New Artiste at the Nigerian Music Video Awards. ‘Dami Duro’ was the launching pad for Davido’s work today, which is ever-changing but always has a nostalgic hark back to the original afrobeats sound.

Davido, ‘Dami Duro’ (2012)


And Many More Hit songs..............

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