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Black History Month: The Evolution of Afrobeats and Its Impact on the Next Generation of Music

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Words by Youth Music NextGen writer Elizabeth Oyetunji | @journalwithtee

Music has been a powerful tool amongst Black people for years. It has acted as a form of expression and a means of storytelling, amplifying the voices of a community. It tells the stories of where we’ve come from, where we’re going and where we are now. And as such, the influence and impact of our music has left its mark on popular culture.

Some of the most popular genres within our community include Hip Hop, Grime and Afrobeats, to name a few, and although they act as a source of enjoyment, they are so much more.

While these genres vary regarding their musical properties, they all have a rich cultural history. Each has provided an impactful means through which young Black musicians have been able to take agency and challenge social norms of injustice and oppression.

The impact of political narratives and storytelling has become an integral element of ‘Black Music,’ and it is consistent from Afrobeat through to UK rap. Rap artists such as Dave comment on the politics of the UK in the same way Afrobeats icon Burna Boy comments on the politics of Nigeria. In the song ‘Three Rivers’, Dave states: “Imagine a place where you raise your kids/The only place you live says you ain’t a Brit/They’re deportin’ our people and it makes me sick/’Cause they were broken by the country that they came to fix.”

In response to the Windrush Scandal, Dave, through his music, simultaneously amplifies the voice of a community, captures personal narratives, and enables the visibility and exposure of Black stories to maintain a legacy of impact through his music to influence the next generation.

Afrobeats has taken its place in the limelight recently, drawing in 13 billion Spotify streams in 2022 alone. As such, the impact of Afrobeats transcends the reach of Africa to tell our stories globally, with young musicians such as Youth Music NextGen Fund artists Viv Latifa and Danny Cliff harnessing the genre within the UK.

The heritage of Afrobeats can be traced to Nigeria through trailblazer Fela Kuti in the 1960s. Afrobeat was political, a form of resistance, a medium for challenging pervasive norms. In the context of colonialism and Nigeria’s perverse military government, Fela Kuti encouraged a sense of conscientisation in an endeavour to break away from colonial brainwashing. His revolutionary music fused American bluesjazz, and funk with traditional Yoruba music, blending sounds with their own respective political origins and influences.

Kuti’s work followed the influences of traditional Yoruba music, which has recently become popularised, including Apala, Juju and Fuji - highly percussive styles of music preserving their cultural roots by relying on traditional instruments often resisting the incorporation of western instruments. Apala, for one, originated as a form of cultural rebellion to the British Empire’s colonial rule over Nigeria hence its significance as an influence on Fela Kuti’s highly controversial Afrobeat. A legacy that has been carried on by the likes of Burna Boy through his music in light of songs such as ‘Another Story’ which states: “The British didn't travel halfway across the world just to spread democracy/Nigeria started off as a business deal.”

A valuable legacy of meaningful music has been left behind by the pioneers of the Afrobeat movement and this has now become a major influence in the music created by young Black artists today. Music has often been used as a tool by the Black community and has remained a gift of expression and release for such a heavy-laden people. Its relevance isn’t bound by borders or limited to one experience of Black culture, but has a layered and widespread reach throughout the world.

While the stories that have been told historically haven’t lost meaning, the stories birthed within this generation are almost more pertinent. They not only challenge systems but they tell personal stories, and as such, young Black musicians continue to harness the voices of their community. Through music, a community this often disregarded is afforded the opportunity to be seen.

Pictured: NSG

Through the music of young artists today, lived experiences are uncovered, addressing everything from the hardship and struggle of the Black experience to the bliss and joy of it. Their stories are more than political, they are personal and heartfelt, a form of therapy and that’s what makes it beautiful. In a community where notions like therapy aren’t as well received or accessible, music is a form of release. For the artist and the young listener alike, it’s an opportunity to be seen; a powerful tool used by musicians like Wretch 32, Dave and Abra Cadabra.

Like the artists before them, the talent that young Black musicians possess is powerful, important and influential, and as such the legacy of Afrobeat has been able to live on. This legacy is preserved through the recognition Afrobeat has received in mainstream music. By fusing Afrobeats with a number of genres, the genre has increased its reach, becoming blended with a number of cultures and sounds. Thus, whilst established in Africa, Afrobeats has spread its influence globally, finding dominance in the genres of Afroswing in the UK, with artists such as Not3s, NSG and J Hus serving to testify the evolution of Afrobeats and the influence it has had.

Music is an incremental element of Black culture; a meaningful inheritance. Its historical and cultural significance lives on through generations and generations of musicians, from the founding fathers of traditional African styles of music, to the conception of Afrobeat and the impact of Grime. These are all culture-shifting moments in the musical heritage; a culture that has been inherited by the current generation of young musicians experimenting with sounds and fusions, creating a new era of music, and starting a new story.