As America celebrates its independence, learn how the resounding rhythms of Afrobeats continue to connect Black people worldwide.
In pulsating rhythms, where beats fuse with soul and melodies that spark spirits, a musical revolution has emerged, carrying within it the power to unite and ignite the essence of the Black community worldwide. The irresistible musical genre known as Afrobeats has become a cultural phenomenon, transcending borders, erasing boundaries, and weaving together the diverse tapestry of the Black diaspora.
Recent years have seen a significant rise in Afrobeats’ popularity, manifesting in top-charting songs and viral dance trends. However, the Afrobeats sound we know and love today is an extension of Nigerian musician Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat. Emerging in the late-1960s to ’70s, the Afrobeat genre marries elements of jazz, funk, and soul with traditional African genres like Highlife — which, in turn, is inspired by musical traditions of the Akan and Kpanlogo people in Ghana and Nigeria, as well as Fuji, a Yoruba musical genre.
As the genre’s best-known pioneer, Kuti also admitted to drawing influence from famed African-American artists like James Brown. And as Afrobeat’s popularity grew in West Africa, it similarly rose to prominence in the United States as American jazz artists like Roy Ayers and Randy Weston and Talking Heads frontman and new wave pioneer David Byrne drew cross-cultural inspiration from the hybrid art form.
“After hearing the various types of music (in Africa), we in the United States were just simply an extension of Africa, being like almost the beginning of life itself and like it’s thrown itself out in different parts of the world.” said the late Weston, a pianist and advocate for African music’s influence on American music, per Billboard.
Fast forward years later to the mainstream emergence of Afrobeats. Similar to the sounds of Kuti, the modern iteration of the genre draws influences from traditional West African sounds while weaving in inspiration from hip-hop, dancehall, and contemporary R&B. Today, the genre of Afrobeats acts as an umbrella term for numerous subgenres from across Africa’s 58 countries.
“Afrobeats is a unique connector as much as an evolution of a constant practice of all of [the diaspora] being in dialogue with each other as we form our music tradition,” culture writer and critic Shamira Ibrahim told theGrio.
From the United States to West Africa to the West Indies, Black cultural practices, cuisine, fashion, dialect, and music heavily influence one another. Woven together by shared history and experience, modern popular music trends can be traced back to past generations.
For instance, the background vocals within Asake’s music hold nuances from the Negro spirituals that inspired jazz, blues, and gospel music. Similarly, soulful ’90s R&B sounds have been recently revived through artists like Burna Boy, who has sampled Toni Braxton’s “He Wasn’t Man Enough” and Brandy’s “Top of the World.”
Over time, the genre’s infectious rhythms, exuberant melodies, and catchy lyrical narratives have captured the hearts and souls of millions, attracting listeners from Lagos to London, New York to Accra, and beyond.
However, Afrobeats is more than just music; it is a celebration of African heritage and an affirmation of Blackness. Its captivating sounds have become a bridge, connecting Black people from all corners of the globe and reminding them of their shared history, struggles, and triumphs. It has given voice to our ancestral stories, dreams, and aspirations, fostering a sense of unity, pride, and solidarity that resonates deeply within the collective consciousness.
From the vibrant streets of Lagos, the debated birthplace of Afrobeats, the pulsating beats of artists like Burna Boy, Davido, Wizkid, and Rema now provide a soundtrack for that nation’s spirit of resilience and joy and have expanded far beyond Nigeria. Likewise, in the arrondissements of France, the rhythmic Afro-Pop sounds of Malian artist Aya Nakamura and Congolese descendants Franglish and Dadju serve as a global reminder of the Francophone history within Africa, infusing Maritinique’s Zouk genre into their sound. While these artists all fall under the Afrobeats umbrella, each possesses a unique sound inspired by the hundreds of musical genres that exist on the continent.
“We [all] have the same sound base,” Ibrahim explained. “So something can sound like Konpa [from Haiti]; can sound like Soukous from the Congo; can sound like Makossa from Cameroon; could sound like Kizomba from Angola because of that same rhythmic sound … and there’s something really beautiful about that.”
Creating a modern fusion of sounds from across the diaspora, Afrobeats has now become a cultural force, having empowered generations to embrace their roots and celebrate their African heritage with unapologetic pride. The rise of festivals like Afro Nation and AfroFuture (previously known as Afrochella) played a significant role in creating a welcoming cultural environment for African Americans to experience and learn about their ancestry.
For content creator and marketing consultant DonYe Taylor, her love for Afrobeats drew her back to the motherland. As a Maryland native, diving into the musical genre became a journey of self-discovery for Taylor, as, like many African Americans, she did not know much about her ancestry while growing up — that is, until the young entrepreneur was gifted an AncestryDNA test. After discovering her ties to Nigeria and Cameroon, Taylor found a tangible connection to her heritage when she took her first trip to Ghana in December 2022 for the annual AfroFuture festival.
“I looked at #DettyDecember & AfroFuture as the perfect introduction and opportunity ‘get my feet wet’ in order to experience a culture that was taken from me but returned back to me through music,” Taylor wrote in a blog-style newsletter recounting her trip.
Each year, thousands of people across the diaspora flock to Africa for what is known as “Detty December.” During this season, major cities across the continent like Lagos, Nigeria, and Accra, Ghana, turn into a kaleidoscope of joy as festivals and parties celebrate life, music, and culture — and one of the most popular stops on most revelers’ Detty December itinerary is AfroFuture.
Described as “the celebration of African culture,” the festival sprouted from founders Abdul Karim Abdullah and Kenny Agyapong’s desire to find a meaningful way to introduce and educate the world about their heritage and culture. Since its inception in 2017, this immersive experience has become one of Ghana’s largest festivals.
“AfroFuture is not an event without the community. So without the vendors, it’s just a concert, right? And we didn’t want to do a concert. We wanted to create an immersive experience which highlights the food, which highlights the art, the fashion and the people actually brought the fashion element to it,” Abdullah explained to theGrio. “And then, we provided the music performances … a combination of all of these things is what creates that experience that people enjoy so much.”
Beyond the shores of Africa, Afrobeats has infiltrated the global music scene, recently earning its own Grammy category and Billboard chart. The genre’s rhythms and energetic dance moves have become a staple in clubs, festivals, parties, and social media, creating spaces where people from all backgrounds come together, moving their bodies in unison, and celebrating the beauty of music and African culture. However, in the United States, Black American artists have primarily introduced Afrobeats to the mainstream.
“The first people to collaborate with Afrobeats artists early on were Black American artists. It was Chris Brown doing features with Davido, Drake, and Wizkid,” Ibrahim explained of the diasporic ties within Afrobeats. “Part of that is just diasporic connection, because black music has always been in dialogue with each other.
“That dialogue is something that is actually really special about black musical culture and black cultural production,” Ibrahim continued. “And the predominant insistence that we have our separate things that don’t interrupt each other is actually really counter to how our music has always evolved.”
“We need to start recognizing how similar our experiences are [across the diaspora] … but understand that the separation wasn’t all our fault,” said Abdullah. “We need to be able to recognize that, and that will bring us together. I think that will bring the unity back for Black people.”
Haniyah Philogene is a multimedia storyteller and Lifestyle reporter covering all things culture. With a passion for digital media, she goes above and beyond to find new ways to tell and share stories.
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