(Photo by Joseph Okpako/WireImage)

What Does the New U.S. Afrobeats Chart Mean For the Perception of African Music?

There's a lot of confusion about what African music is considered "Afrobeats" and whether the chart will take into account the vastness of African music.

On March 29, Billboard published the debut edition of its new weekly chart ranking the 50 most popular Afrobeats songs in the United States. The legacy publication made the announcement alongside Afro Nation, who serve as partners, a week prior. This development is coming nearly two years after Afro Nation partnered with the UK’s Official Charts Company to launch a 20-song chart spotlighting the most popular Afrobeats songs in the UK.

Just before that UK chart became operational, immediate reactions set-up another round of reckoning for the term ‘Afrobeats’, and what it means as a catch-all descriptor for music with African roots or, just generally, music being made by African artists. Coined in the late 2000s by UK-born and raised DJ Abrantee, Afrobeats first became an umbrella tag for the range of urban pop music emanating from West Africa, predominantly those from Nigeria and Ghana. In the following years, and as varying styles of African music trudged across the Atlantic to grab the ears of international audiences, the term was lazily applied to any and every sound regardless of sonic distinction.

Prior to its debut week in late July 2020, that UK chart shared a list of the top 20 Afrobeats songs in the preceding week, and the appearance of musically disparate songs like J Hus’ “Must Be,” Wizkid’s “Joro” and Aya Nakamura’s “Djadja” underlined the ambiguity and flattening effect of Afrobeats. Billboard didn’t publish a similar precursor list, nor did the announcement of a U.S. Afrobeats generate that much conversation on social media beyond celebratory remarks, but it’s worth wondering what the effect of this new chart will be on the very perception of music being made and pioneered by Africans.

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Nigerian Alté Pioneer Teezee is Living in the Moment

His debut EP, Arrested by Love, is a vibrant body of work containing groovy afrobeats, blaring and serrated trap, dancehall dalliances, and more.

In music, nine years between projects is basically an eternity. Nigerian rap-fusion artist Teezee made his solo debut back in 2013 with his mixtape, The Fresh Prince of Las-Gidi, a glossy showcase to prove his artistic bonafides after initially entering the local music scene as one-third of the pop-rap group, DRB Lasgidi. For the rest of that decade, Teezee was pretty much AWOL in terms of new music, hopping on the stray feature and spare DRB releases, while focusing on a myriad of other creative ventures.

“I’ve just had a lot going on,” Teezee explains to OkayAfrica over a Zoom call with the cameras off. “I’ve been working with other artists, the DRB stuff, we started NATIVE, and I had my headspace in a place of doing stuff for my community—that’s bigger than me.” Shuffling between Lagos and London these days, the artist and entrepreneur has committed to playing a role to connect the music and creative scenes between his two cities of residence, “whether it’s through our Nativeland festival and bringing in artists to perform, or it’s working with Skepta and them on “Bad Energy” and other records.”

Focusing on solo music was a secondary assignment for Teezee until Covid-19 stunned, froze and held the entire world hostage. Cordoned off to the walls of his apartment by the pandemic, Teezee’s creative attention, which had been divided amongst several interests, shifted and concentrated on making music, leading to a recording burst that would form the basis of his new EP, Arrested by Love. Inspired by a 2005 Nollywood film of the same title, the 9-song set is a timely return for an artist that helped lay the foundation to the alté movement.

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