I’m at a traffic light, downtown Atlanta last summer and I notice a car that has also stopped for the light beside me playing really loud music. I initially can’t make out the song they’re playing but I can feel the vibration of the bass. Naturally, I turn to see who’s having a party on Peachtree Street and wanting to bother the rest of us well-behaved citizens with their newly acquired sub-woofers, and not to much surprise it was a group of youngins. Looking closer I notice there are 4 or 5 girls in the car and they were not just dancing, they were singing along in what I can only describe as hyper-turnt mode. I smile and look away waiting for the red light to turn green so I could be on my way but then the music was so loud that I was forced to notice the melody, then it hit me. Wait a second, that’s a familiar melody I thought, and just as I was about to roll my window down to be sure, the light turned green and they zoomed off. Luckily, they stopped right beside me at the next traffic light and I got to hear the song they were listening to properly, just as I rolled down my window I heard them singing “I’m looking for my Johnny, where is my Johnny, do you know Johnny“. It immediately put a noticeable grin on my face and I gave them the head-bop of approval as they waved back. What was peculiar about this was not the fact that they were seriously vibing to an African song but that all of them were caucasian. I looked harder into their vehicle in an attempt to spot the African influencer who had forced these more than likely southern girls to listen to her playlist, but all I saw staring back at me were young and excited white girls. I couldn’t be more proud, not only because Yemi Alade is someone I witnessed kick off her music career but because I could finally see our music crossing over, and organically too. I had the privilege of working with her on her first single “Fimisile” about 6 years ago and I’m truly proud of her success.
Since I retired from recording music, I haven’t been as active as I once was at nightclubs. I typically only go out on special occasions, but I have noticed over the past few years that more and more mainstream nightclubs in Atlanta are beginning to play more and more African music. I’ve experienced the playlist grow over the years from that one off Psquare or D’banj record, to thirty-minute sets, to some clubs even playing African music almost all night long. One of the reasons for this surge of African music I imagined is because Africans are big spenders at nite clubs and were beginning to influence club DJs’ playlists. I also noticed more and more African DeeJays transitioning from only deejaying at Afro-Caribbean nite clubs, to mainstream nite clubs, and still playing a lot of African music during their sets. I’ve also witnessed more and more non-Africans singing along when the big records come on, and while this may not be a big deal to many, it is very interesting to me. I feel that way because I am truly excited to be alive to witness something I could only dream of in 1999 when I began my music career while at the university of Lagos. I’ll tell you about my story in another post, this one is not about me, so yeah, let’s move on 🙂
Long story short, we have witnessed not just a noticeable presence of African music in the diaspora, but an organic and rapidly growing fan base. I believe the growth to be mostly organic in the US because there is little or no deliberate record label or PR efforts to rotate (aka force-feed) the content here.
In a little over a decade, we have gone from 5% of the spins on local radio in Lagos to about 75%. From absolutely no spins at all, to having African music sets in mainstream nightclubs across the continental US. Many would even argue that Nigerian music has since woken up the music industries of most other African countries and influenced their sound.
Some may attribute the success of African music in the UK and most of Europe to the large population of Africans in those countries but with less than 2 million African immigrants in the US altogether (about 6% of the total population), and considering how powerful the media machine is here, it is quite laudable breaking into mainstream nightclub playlists without major label support. It is nothing short of extraordinary. You’ll be amazed at how many Afrobeats songs are on otherwise strictly mainstream music playlists. I’m not a fan of the Afrobeats tag but that’s a topic for another day. Digital globalization has made it possible to consume content from anywhere, Africa is benefiting a lot from it, and that’s all that matters at the moment.
It comes as no surprise that the major record labels have noticed the rise of contemporary African music and are swooping in to capitalize. Following artists like D’banj, Asa, and Nneka who navigated their way into getting signed by international labels, we have since witnessed Davido, Ayo Jay, Wizkid, Patoranking and others getting signed to majors as well. Other notable African artist with significant international acclaim include Fuse ODG, Sarkodie, Yemi Alade, 2baba, and many more. The thirst for this new genre is so compelling that some labels are beginning to send A&Rs to Africa in an effort to sign more artists. Not only is African music starting to become recognized and accepted globally, it is beginning to influence the mainstream sound as well. 2016 saw Wizkid collaborate with Drake on what has become the biggest song of Drake’s career. Many artists (as expected) have jumped on the bandwagon attempting to replicate the unique elements of the song, which even though Caribbeans attempt to claim, is undoubtedly Wizkid (Naija) influenced. There are even rumors that Wizkid, Sarz and DJ Maphorisa created the song and sent over to Drake’s camp shortly after Drake featured on the remix of Wizkid’s monster hit “Ojuelegba”, earlier in the year. Please don’t quote me on that rumor o…lol.
The global penetration of contemporary African music is also evident in the appearance of a number of Nigerian songs on the Billboard charts. This week saw Wizkid’s “Daddy Yo“, Runtown’s “Mad Over You” and Olamide’s “The Glory Album” debut on the Billboard charts. It is very likely that Drake’s “One dance” will win a Grammy this year, presenting us an opportunity to witness another groundbreaking feat, the first Grammy win of a contemporary African artist. International collaborations were once a big deal for African artists but those didn’t add as much value to the African artists in the US market as it did their (mostly paid) collaborators in Africa. To see African artist breaking ground with African music and with little to no help from their international counterparts is truly amazing. Granted, some of the Billboard appearances are in the world music and social media categories, you can not deny that the top 100 is only a matter of a little more deliberate promo effort.
As a matter of fact, Wizkid is currently the number 41 most streamed artist on the planet according to Spotify, with 1,087,948,223 total streams (as of today, January 9, 2017). He actually peaked at number 3 a few months back. This can be attributed to some of his recent features including “One Dance” (the most streamed song ever in Spotify history), “Boom” which he features on alongside Major Lazer, and “Mamacita”, another feature alongside fellow Nigerian artist Tiny Tempah. No one can deny that he is about to have a massive year as a solo artist. His new single “Daddy Yo” is not only currently topping PlayDataCharts’ most played songs on Nigerian radio, but global iTunes and Spotify charts as well.
I am pretty confident that at this pace, and in due time, African artists would not only have created a medium to express a more genuine African story, but the rest of the world will come to appreciate our talent, resourcefulness and rich culture. In conclusion, I say again that I am excited to be alive, to bear witness to the inevitable cross-over and appreciation of modern African culture, one that is seldom celebrated globally. I stand proud today knowing that I played a significant role in its infancy, and nothing makes me even more proud than to witness what was once only a dream, finally coming true. I’d like to know what you guys think in the comments section. Please share your stories if you live in the diaspora as well. My name is Lanre eLDee Dabiri, I am NOT a writer, I’m just excited to share 🙂