There’s a particular story that best captures the global phenomenon of Nigeria’s Afrobeats music: When Davido, one of Nigeria’s biggest popstars, performed in Suriname, a tiny country in the northeastern pocket of South America last May, 10,000 people turned up. Even Davido was surprised.
Over the past decade, a new generation of Nigerian pop stars, like Davido, Wizkid, Niniola and Tiwa Savage have seen the sounds of their Afrobeats music—not to be confused with the politically charged, big-band Afrobeat style of the legendary Fela Kuti—win fans far beyond Nigeria’s shores. The country’s music stars are selling out concert venues in New York, Paris and London, and performing at major music festivals.
Some of Afrobeats’ popularity is due to Nigeria’s vast—and affluent—diaspora around the globe. But crucially, social media, YouTube and access to global streaming sites like Spotify have also contributed to its spread.
And it isn’t just the audience that are loving the sound; world-famous music stars want in on Afrobeats too. Drake notably featured Wizkid on One Dance, a huge 2016 summer hit which topped Billboard’s Hot 100 for 10 weeks and DJs like Major Lazer and DJ Snake are collaborating with Nigerian stars. Migos’ Quavo is featuring Davido on his debut album and Ciara has credited Tiwa Savage as an inspiration for a recently released single.
Afrobeats has also made inroads at the world’s largest music labels. In the past two years, Sony and Universal Music have both set up shop in Nigeria, signing up several Afrobeats stars to publishing and distribution deals.
But that doesn’t mean the artists themselves are all benefitting from the attention. Piracy remains rampant, making it near impossible for artists to make money from actually selling their music, leaving live shows and endorsements as the major revenue streams.
That’s one of the problems Ezegozie Eze, head of Universal Music Nigeria, says the global giant is looking to fix, not just in Nigeria but eventually across the continent too. While the global rise of Afrobeats is a fascinating cultural trend, the local opportunity remains too big to be ignored.
If you’re interested in checking out more Afrobeats music, check out the playlist we made on Soundcloud.
Quartz News is a weekly video series bringing you in-depth reporting from around the world. Each episode investigates one story, breaking down the often unseen economic and technological forces shaping our future.
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