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How Afrobeats is changing the Grammys

A backup singer at a show celebrating Fela Kuti
Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye
A backup singer at a show celebrating Nigerian legend Fela Kuti.
  • Sarah Todd
By Sarah Todd

Senior reporter, Quartz and Quartz at Work

Published Last updated

Artists like Olivia Rodrigo, Taylor Swift, and Jon Batiste are up for trophies at the 2022 Grammy Awards on Sunday. But one winner is already clear: the genre of Afrobeats.

To be sure, Afrobeats doesn’t need the Grammys’ recognition. Percussion-heavy and highly danceable, the genre (which originated in Nigeria) has an increasingly massive global fan base.

But it’s nonetheless noteworthy that Afrobeats artists have racked up Grammy nominations for three years running, including this year’s nomination of Wizkid’s Made in Lagos for Best Global Music Album and Wizkid’s song “Essence” (ft. Tems) for Best Global Music Performance. Last year, Afrobeats star Burna Boy took the global album award for his album Twice As Tall, while Wizkid shared a Grammy with Beyonce for “Brown Skin Girl” as Best Music Video.

What Afrobeats’ rising popularity means for African artists

The Grammys’ embrace of Afrobeats music matters because it’s introducing the music industry establishment to a wide variety of African music and artists, even beyond the genre itself, according to Beninese singer-songwriter Angélique Kidjo, who’s also nominated in the global album and performance categories this year. (While not an Afrobeats artist herself, her new album Mother Nature pairs her with a number of Afrobeats stars.)

In a recent interview posted on the Grammy Awards website, Kidjo explained:

I think the Academy has, for the first time, a grip on the complexity of the music that’s out there. Today, we have a vehicle, and it’s Afrobeats. Because if you take any music from any part of Africa and put it in Afrobeats, it gives you a different flavor of Afrobeats.
The music that we do can make people say, “Oh, this language is different, or this aesthetic.” But because you have the pulse of Afrobeats in it, you can consume and discover music from north to south, east to west, and central Africa in a way that we haven’t [before]. The Afrobeats is underlining all those traditional rhythms.

In this way, Afrobeats appreciation at the Grammys opens the door for the Western music industry to gain a better understanding of just how diverse African music really is.

🎧 For more intel on African music and new artists, listen to the Quartz Obsession podcast episode on Afrobeats. Or subscribe via: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google | Stitcher.

That’s an important step, not least because the Grammys has historically had a pretty narrow view of what constitutes global music, as producer Ian Brennan recently wrote for NPR. “Over two-thirds of the 197 nominations in the history of the global categories have been shared by just six nations: Brazil, India, Mali, Nigeria, South Africa – and the United States,” Brennan observes. He also notes that while the African continent has more than 50 countries, only 14 have had artists nominated for a Grammy.

Want to learn more about all things Afrobeats? Check out our Quartz Obession podcast on the music’s history and future, and listen to our Quartz playlist on Spotify below.

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