With the 20th anniversary of the MOBOs ready to kick off in the UK on 4th November, global media attention has turned to the categories that are being featured and the list of nominees. While the Black Entertainment Television (BET) awards in the US managed to generate a storm of controversy by forcing African music artists to receive awards ‘back of the stage’, the MOBOs look set to put Afrobeats stars front and centre. Africa Fashion asks, “Can the latest wave of African talent shake up the American music industry to the fact that it’s audience is now dancing to a new rhythm.”
Born in 1969 through a powerful combination of music and politics in Nigeria, Fela Kuti and Tony Allen created the unique sound of Afrobeat – and their legacy carries on to this day through Fela’s sons Femi and Seun.
Later, other artists added in a blend of Highlife, Fuji, Jùjú, RnB and traditional Yoruba music – before the final addition of Hip-hop – to create modern Afrobeats.
Afrobeats now incorporates drum and bass instruments as well as native and English lyrics to bring about an upbeat, native dance music that is winning over the heart of US hip hop.
In the past, British children of African decent believed the music belonged to the older generation, but now a new wave of young UK talent is leading the charge across the Atlantic.
Artists and stars such as WizKid, Olamide, Tiwa Savage and Davido, to name a few, are all finding success in the USA – both as solo artists and in collaboration with the likes of Hip Hop and RnB sensations Drake, Fetty Wap and Ty Dollar Sign.
The music genre’s all time high came after 25 year old Nigerian sensation WizKid featured Canadian rapper Drake and British grime artist Skepta on a track called Ojuelegba, which peaked at number 1 on Capital Xtra’s Afrobeats Chart back in February 2015.
More cynical fans believe that Drake attached himself to the Nigerian-born superstar in order to increase Drake’s own global appeal – having already conquered North America.
Drake disagrees, saying “I just did it because I was in the moment. I wasn’t thinking like, ‘Oh man, I gotta get my brand up in Nigeria’. Not to say that’s not important. I’m super-honored to be on that song”.
And it looks like WizKid is gaining the respect of a variety of hip hop legends as well. Chris Brown recently branded him as his ‘little brother’ and moments after RnB mogul, SwizzBeats shared Wizkid’s album on Instagram and recommended it – his wife Alicia Keys shared a video of herself dancing to WizKid’s 2013 hit, Caro. Teen sensation, Kylie Jenner also posted a film of herself dancing to Ojuelegba on social media.
The rise of Afrobeats in the US however has seen its struggles. Specifically because the past two Black Entertainment Television awards in America failed to fully acknowledge and recognise its music. While this popular annual show featured performances by superstars like Chris Brown and Nicki Minaj, the BET Afrobeats awards were kept separate, instead being given out backstage.
Social media erupted, with many British fans complaining that this was a huge sign of disrespect from the African American music industry towards Afrobeats.
Rather than shrinking away, Afrobeats artists seem to have taken the BET sleight as a challenge and have pushed even harder to prove the value of their music in the US and global markets. Progress was made when MTV agreed to host its first African Music Awards in South Africa back in July.
The pressure has been applied and the US market is responding – with Afrobeats stars selling more records, doing more remixes and concerts and being seen at more award shows.
Whether Afrobeats ever manages to truly take over the American scene, it will always be powerful in Africa and the list of this year’s nominations for the MOBOs shows that is has a huge core following in the UK.
When Africa Fashion met with MOBO CEO Kanya King at the presentation of the Diversity survey results in London, she told us that her organisation was going to be extremely busy in the coming months, “We are trying to create platforms and more opportunities”.
We wish all of these artists the best of luck!