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So You Want to Listen to Afrobeats? Here’s Where You Can Start.

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Afrobeats finds its traditional roots in music created throughout West Africa and the diaspora. With strong ties to Ghana, Nigeria, and the U.K., Afrobeats has expanded globally through increased collaborations with artists of varying genres and international origins.

The musical genre began early in the 20th century through an intersection of Ghanaian and West African music with Western jazz. First being known as highlife, this combination of sounds developed over several decades with additional influences garnered from modern Western styles. Fela Aníkúlápó-Kuti, a Nigerian musician, created a band called Nigeria 70 after playing highlife for several years, and in doing so, debuted an album that created the fundamental sound of Afrobeats.

Several other popular artists that established Afrobeats as a genre include drummer Tony Allen, Roy Ayers, and Antibalas. In all, the genre is characterized by its inclusion of several genres, including elements of African music and funk, creating a structure more similar to jazz or fusion rather than pop.

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For those looking to be a legend on aux at the next function, here are a few songs to add to your repertoire.

1. “Essence” — Wizkid ft. Tems

“Essence”’s rhythmic style has catapulted both the song and Wizkid into both Afrobeat and worldwide acclaim. Featuring Tems’s euphonious voice, “Essence” climbed the charts for its modern R&B/Afrobeats fusion and a trademark sensual style. Since its release, Wizkid has won five BMI awards and a Grammy in 2022 for Best Global Music Performance for this song. Most importantly, however, the song holds a prestigious spot on Monique’s Apple Music top 10 listened to songs of 2021 and 2022.

2. “Calm Down” — Rema & Selena Gomez

“Calm Down” is currently topping Billboard’s US Afrobeats chart, and has remained in this position for the last 48 weeks. Although she is an artist not traditionally known for her involvement in Afrobeat tracks, Selena Gomez accompanies Rema’s light, energetic, and metrical style to form this instant hit. Being one of the youngest songs on this list, 2023’s “Calm Down” presents an ongoing trend in Afrobeats: openness to explore modern music trends and styles.

3. “Drogba (Joanna)” — Afro B

Afro B is a British singer and songwriter widely known for his hit “Joanna,” peaking at number 23 on the Billboard US R&B/Hip-Hop Charts. “Joanna” combines the traditional steady rhythm of Afrobeats with the strong back beat of a R&B hit.

4. “Peru” — Fireboy DML

A Nigerian singer signed to YBNL Nation and raised in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Fireboy DML was not only the first Afrobeats artist to perform on the BET Awards mainstage but also the voice behind hits like “Bandana,” “Sere,” and “Playboy.” From his 2022 album “Playboy,” “Peru” is the perfect song to slow whine to when the lights are dim and the bass thrums a tad too heavy.

5. “KU LO SA- A COLORS SHOW” — Oxlade

If you’ve ever wondered what summer sounds like — look no further. Less than three minutes long, Oxlade’s “KU LO SA” is a brief but bright combination of tipsy longing, sunburnt cheeks, and the sensation of locking eyes across a crowded rooftop bar. Not only has the track peaked at No.5 on the Billboard Afrobeats U.S. Chart and garnered over 159 million streams on Spotify alone, but it’s on a heavy rotation in Anya’s personal playlist — which is obviously the true marker of success.

6. “Free Mind” — Tems

The recipient of countless accolades — a Grammy Award, three NAACP Image Awards, two BET Awards, and multiple American Music Awards, to name a few — Tems has carved out a space of her own in the Afrobeats scene. While virtually any song from her discography deserves a place on this list (“Higher” deserves an honorable mention), “Free Mind” is a slowed R&B-esque reminder to value moments of peace in a world that never seems to take pause.

7. “Last Last” — Burna Boy

It wouldn’t be an Afrobeats playlist without the king himself: Burna Boy, who is ranked No.197 on Rolling Stone’s 2023 list of the top 200 singers of all time, is a cornerstone of the Afrobeats genre. “Last Last,” a hit single off of his most recent album “Love, Damini,” is a heartbreak anthem for anyone who feels tempted to stray to their vices in the darker times.

8. “Bloody Samaritan” — Ayra Starr

The lead single off of Nigerian singer-songwriter Ayra Starr’s debut studio album “19 & Dangerous,” “Bloody Samaritan” layers melodic verses over punchy Afro-pop. A mix of smooth violin, drum beats, and an easy flow, “Bloody Samaritan” wards off bad energy and reminds listeners of the power of authenticity.

9. “Fall” — Davido

Davido, an American-born singer and producer with Nigerian roots, made his debut in year with the group KB International and since then, has signed with Sony Music, created his own record label Davido Music Worldwide, and signed with RCA Records. “Fall” comes from Davido’s electric album “A Good Time” and quickly became the longest charting Nigerian pop song of all time in Billboard history.

—Staff writer Anya L. Henry can be reached at anya.henry@thecrimson.com. Check out her Spotify @yanyahenny.
—Staff writer Monique I. Vobecky can be reached at monique.vobecky@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @moniquevobecky.

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