“Afrobeats to the world.” For the better part of the 2010s, that statement was a mantra in the African music industry. More than just empty words, it was a rallying cry to every member of the African music community to ensure that the genre went global. Through consistent and conscious efforts, it’s safe to say that the world has, in turn, come to Afrobeats. And the Grammys has followed suit, also.
How was Afrobeats formed?
Afrobeats is the general term for modern music emanating from the African continent today. It is often conflated with Afrobeat, a different genre from Afrobeats. Although cut from the same cloth, they differ in the sounds they incorporate.
The latter was developed in the 1960s and 1970s, with influences from indigenous styles like Yoruba Fuji, Apala, and Igbo/Ghanian Highlife, mixed with American Jazz and Funk. Nigerian multi-instrumentalist political activist Pan-Africanist Fela Kuti, alongside his longtime partner, drummer Tony Allen, are usually credited as pioneers of Afrobeat.
Afrobeats, on the other hand, is a fusion of contemporary Afrobeat sounds and Western sounds like Jamaican Dancehall, British House, American R&B, and Rap, etc. It was formed in the 2000s and 2010s in Nigeria, Ghana and the UK. It is an umbrella term that denotes all the forms of music from Africa that have crossed into the Western market.
With its signature drum beat pattern, melodic tunes, and lyrics delivered in pidgin English or local dialect, Afrobeats has quickly become a globally appreciated export. This is reflected in how well it performs in international charts in the US, UK, and the rest of Europe and how Afrobeats artists sell out shows in several arenas. Now, Afrobeats has found a new fan in the Grammys.
Why Afrobeats loves the Grammys
The Grammys is arguably the world’s most prominent and prestigious music award show. Since its inception in 1954, the American awards show has grown in global acclaim, with many world-class music artists vying for and snagging Grammys. Today, it features 94 categories offering awards to vocalists, songwriters, producers, mixers, and mastering engineers.
With the award categories mostly in American mainstream genres, it would always take a lot of work for African artists to win it. However, more than 10 African acts have won it since 1966 till date, namely Miriam Makeba, Burna Boy, Ali Farka Toure, Sikiru Adepoju, Babatunde Olatunji, Masa Takumi, Youssou Ndour, Tems, Wizkid, Soweto Gospel Choir and Angelique Kidjo, with the latter being the biggest winner with five.
Angelique Kidjo won in 2007, 2015, 2016, 2020, and 2022 in the “Best Contemporary World Music Album” category. Like her, most of the winners have succeeded in the same category, with only a handful like Tems, Makeba, and Wizkid having won in the other categories.
Owing to Afrobeats’ international success, the American awards show has made categories for the genre in its awards system – the first of its kind.
Before now, the closest Afrobeats got to the Grammys stage was via the Best World Music album (which was changed to Global Music album in 2020). Takumi is the current recipient, while Kidjo won in 2020 and 2022, with Burna Boy stopping a trifecta for her in 2021.
Ahead of the following annual awards show in 2024, the Grammys introduced a new category solely for Afrobeats – the Grammy Award for Best African Music Performance. The inaugural nominees include Asake & Olamide (Amapiano), Burna Boy (City Boys), Davido & Musa Keys (Unavailable), Ayra Starr (Rush) and Tyla (Water). This marks a historic achievement for African music and is a testament to how far the sound has grown. Afrobeats, indeed, to the world!
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