It was the summer of 2016. Bars were packed with groups of friends, long weekend getaways were a breezy roadtrip away, and barbeques were sizzling. It felt like any other summer, given one exception: Drake’s newest song, “One Dance” was hitting every soundsystem possible. Whether it was 2pm or 2am, “One Dance” fit any setting and lifted moods every time.
“One Dance” was a phenomenon that took everyone by surprise. It became Spotify’s most played song ever, with more than a billion individual streams to date. It was (and remains) the longest-running #1 single of the millennium. Needless to say, there was a catchiness to the track that made it special; between its hip hop roots, dancehall syncopation, relaxed tempo and background percussion, it represented the beginning of a now mass trend in bringing Afrobeats, a style of music originating from West Africa, to Western culture. It also helped that Drake had tapped Wizkid, one of Afrobeats biggest artists, to feature in the song.
Though introduced to Western pop culture in 2016 with “One Dance”, Afrobeats is far from novice. Like many other genres, there are thousands of artists, millions of fans and a lifestyle that surrounds it. Afrobeats superstar, Burna Boy, was nominated for a Grammy in both 2020 and 2021 under the “World Music” category. But Western access to Afrobeats has remained limited to artists of super-stardom level; and when Spotify exists in only a few countries in Africa, how does the rest of the world tap into this exploding music scene?
Enter: Boomplay, Africa’s leading music streaming platform. The Lagos-based startup is growing - and fast. They reported over 50 million monthly active users as of October 2020,, already outpacing Spotify and Apple Music user base in Africa. Like its music industry, the African tech scene is also growing wildly. Largely untapped by Western “big tech”, startups are rising and adapting, positioning themselves as go-to hubs for Africans. Boomplay focuses mainly on African music, with thousands of curated playlists and charts. They give a platform for millions of artists and musicians across the continent access to audiences once thought inaccessible. The demand for this music is ripe; with the rise of Afrobeats and its artists, the world is hungry for what this long-neglected continent has to offer.
We wanted to explore this movement further so we tapped Elizabeth Ntiamoah, Country Manager of Boomplay Ghana, to help provide context to our insights and share how Boomplay is helping to bring Afrobeats to the global stage. And we wanted to look at the music itself. Taking a look behind the curtain, we used Musiio Tag to tag and analyze Boomplay’s Top 100 Africa chart from September - November 2020, looking at the musical trends and themes within Afrobeats.
Playlist Analysis & Interview with Elizabeth Ntiamoah
Of the 100 tracks tagged, it’s no surprise that Afrobeats is the dominant genre. What’s more surprising are the other genres that come up. We’ve got Hip Hop, Dancehall, Pop, Gospel and even Indian tagged as primary genres. (This is what an Afrobeats song sounds like with elements of Indian music - it’s amazing).
It’s worth noting that “Afrobeats” is a very broad term used to describe the new wave of African music, but there are countless sub-genres that define what we’re hearing. “I love Hip Hop / Rap, also known as Hip-Life in Ghana,” explains Elizabeth from Boomplay. “I grew up listening to rap… most of the artists I have met started off as rappers too. The continent is very heavy on gospel as well.”
When listening to Afrobeats, listeners can hear the mountain of influences and sounds being pulled into a track. Whether it’s Reggae (12.8%), UK Grime (10.3%), Latin Pop (5.1%) or Electronic (2.6%), Afrobeats draw inspiration from other percussion-based genres that ooze with groove and soul. But the way that Afrobeats artists mix these together to create sounds that are unique and organic, yet effortless and cool, is what makes this genre standout. “Afrobeats is homegrown,” says Elizabeth. “It’s very specific to us and our culture. Dancehall and hip hop have a lot more other cultural influences.”
What Elizabeth points out here is that many of the genres we hear in Afrobeats (hip hop, dancehall), are actually influenced by African sounds. And while Afrobeats is a modern genre, Afrobeat (without the s) is a genre originating from the 1920s rooted in African rhythms and percussion. It exploded in popularity in the 1960s and 1970s with Fela Kuti, a music icon who integrated jazz and funk into the genre. So it makes us think; although we’re hearing Afrobeats with elements of Western music, perhaps it was the Western music that was initially drawing inspiration from the original Afrobeat.
One of the many reasons Afrobeats is making such waves today, is because of the inherent positive vibes weaved throughout so many of its hits. “There’s so much going on in Africa, the last thing people want to hear is sad music,” says Davido, one of Afrobeats’ biggest stars. And we can see this reflected - almost exactly - in the playlist’s Mood Valence, where 86% of the tracks are Positive, with only 2% being tagged as Negative.
Where Fela Kuti's music functioned to wake Nigerians up, making them aware of the injustices around them, the younger generation is shaking up the outside world's perceptions of Africa, alerting them to the continent's abundant beauty, joy and, most importantly, impeccable style.
Jessica Kariisa for RedBull
The dominant moods are also on the positive side, with Quirky (29%), Relaxed (26%) and Happy (16%) tagged as the top three. “The tone of Afrobeats for generations has been very euphoric and merry; it is just who we are as Africans,” explains Elizabeth.
It makes sense then, that the primary BPM range for Afrobeats is between 100 - 110. It’s the sweet spot for easy going vibes with a slightly uptempo beat. It’s calm and cool, yet fun. “According to our end-of-year stats for 2019, our peak times for listening to music is around 7 - 8pm. These are times when people are getting back from work, or in traffic. I believe people listen to certain types of music to calm their nerves, to enjoy a ride home or just wile away in traffic.” This is a great scene to imagine; that while in the chaos of commuter traffic, car stereos in Africa are playing the joyful and relaxed tunes of Afrobeats.
The artists behind this global wave have their work cut out for them. Now in high demand, “they are now cross marketing to every part of the world, collaborating and putting themselves out there,” says Elizabeth, who, in addition to her role at Boomplay, has been working with emerging artists throughout her career. “The internet has made this easy and platforms like Boomplay provide data and insights on where music is being streamed from and even gives the fans and artists a section to interact. This helps artists in knowing which markets to direct certain resources to in regards to pushing their music. You know what they say about the world being a global village; this is definitely the time.”
And now is the time. With the rise of startup culture and tech industries joining hand-in-hand with the explosion of Afrobeats, Africa is finally bound for global super-stardom.
Boomplay is available for all to use around the world. Download the platform or use the web browser for access to all things Afrobeats.