Why Nigerian Artists Are Dropping the Label ‘Afrobeats’

"Afrobeat" has evolved to become a general term used to describe African music, encompassing various styles and sounds within the African music scene.

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 Why Nigerian Artists Are Dropping the Label ‘Afrobeats’

Within the Nigerian music industry, renowned artists like Wizkid and Burna Boy are distancing themselves from the widely used label “Afrobeats.” Wizkid, whose real name is Ayodeji Balogun, recently made headlines by declaring his departure from the Afrobeats genre, echoing sentiments expressed earlier by his colleague Burna Boy.

Wizkid emphasized his growth as an artist and urged fans not to associate him with Afrobeats using words like “I am not an Afrobeats artiste. Don’t call me that,” “If you like Afrobeats please don’t download my album, I’m not Afro anything.”

This move comes on the heels of Burna Boy’s critique of Afrobeats in 2023, where he highlighted its perceived lack of substance and emphasis on portraying a carefree lifestyle over real-life experiences.

“Not even experience, because half of them, like 90% of them, have no real-life experience that they can understand.” “That’s why you hear most Nigerian music, African Music, or Afrobeats, as you people call it, is mostly about nothing, absolutely nothing.” – Burna Boy

Afrobeats, which gained international recognition in the late 2010s, championed by artists like Wizkid, Davido, Tiwa Savage, and Burna Boy, have not only dominated African music charts but also received global acclaim. Burna Boy boasts an impressive array of accolades, including six foreign awards and a Grammy for Best Global Music Album. Similarly, Wizkid has garnered international recognition, with numerous BET nominations and a Grammy win.

However, the recent disassociation of Wizkid from the Afrobeats label raises questions about the genre’s identity and its representation of African music. With the rise of sub-genres like Alté and Afro-fusion, artists are increasingly seeking to define their sound on their terms.

Is it fair to say that it’s time all African music stopped being boxed into the Afrobeats categories just because it’s music by Africans regardless of which other genre they produce? Davido shed light on this question during an interview with Ebony, in his words;

“That’s the thing. Afrobeat right now is a general term used to describe African music. So for example, we got rappers back home in Nigeria, that do Hip-Hop. You’ll be like, oh they’re from Nigeria. When they come out they’re still gonna say they’re Afrobeat artists. I don’t think it’s a kind of music, I think it’s a general term now that they used to describe us African musicians. I don’t think it’s a type of sound but originally Afrobeat is a type of sound of African music. Afrobeat is a sound that Fela started, Fela Kuti. It’s a certain type of music but then, in the UK, when I think D’banj had Oliver Twists going on, they were looking for a term to describe African music and they just went with Afrobeat and I’m not mad at it, to be honest.”

By pigeonholing all African music into the Afrobeats category, do we risk oversimplifying and erasing the nuances and complexities that make each musical tradition unique?

Furthermore, the global success of African artists cut across a wide range of genres—from hip-hop to reggae, from blues to folk music. For example, Nigerian-born British singer, Sade gained critical acclaim in the early 2000s for her soulful music, also King Sunny Ade was the first Nigerian Grammy to be nominated for a Grammy award with his Juju music which was widely received in Europe and North America in the 90s. 

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