Since the mid-2000s, Afrobeats have been on a steady international ascension with the music traveling to other neighboring countries before gradually finding its way to the Western world.
The invaluable contributions of pacesetters like 2Baba (FKA 2 Face), P-Square, and D’banj invariably laid the foundation for the groundbreaking feats of Ice Prince, Wizkid, Davido, Tiwa Savage, and Yemi Alade who further opened the international doors for Afrobeats.
Today, Afrobeats’ international reach has grown beyond scoring one rare collaboration annually and club performances. With the immeasurable contributions of the diaspora, decisive collaborations, streaming platforms, and social media, Afrobeats is now a globally recognized genre with dedicated music charts in the biggest markets.
Afrobeats superstars are selling out stadiums, headlining festivals, winning international awards, and collaborating with the biggest artists.
In commemoration of International Youth Day 2023, this article celebrates the contributions of the superstars leading Afrobeats’ global charge and exporting Nigeria’s culture.
1. Burna Boy
While the story of Burna Boy’s ‘YE’ and his coincidental rise to fame has been told and retold, that particular event captures his somewhat destined international ascension.
For an artist supremely talented beyond anything the industry has ever seen, Burna Boy had some personal forces that set him at odds with the industry and establishments. This led critics like the renowned music critic and culture journalist Osagie Alonge to question if it was ever going to happen for the Port Harcourt-born enigma given that talent, no matter how in abundance he possesses it, was never going to be enough.
Today, Burna Boy is Burna Boy. Despite reaching the international stages later than other stars, he holds many firsts of his own including being the first artist from the Nigerian music industry to win a Grammy, the first to headline stadium concerts in the UK, the US, and France, and the first to win 3 consecutive BET awards. When Afrobeats is mentioned to the average international listener, Burna Boy’s fame ranks second only to Nigeria’s and Africa’s music deity Fela Kuti.
Wizkid is Africa’s consummate megastar whose success and impact did not only open the international doors for Afrobeats but also greatly influenced the next generation.
When he made his debut in 2011 with the captivating school boy record ‘Holla At Your Boy,’ the industry acknowledged the refreshing talent he carried and the consensus was that he would go on to take Afrobeats to the level many believe it can reach.
Afrobeats’ international rise gained decisive momentum in 2015 and 2016 with the release of ‘Ojuelegba’ and Drake‘s ‘One Dance’ all thanks to Wizkid.
Whatever the height, expectations, and aspirations envisioned for Wizkid, he has surpassed them.
Today, he’s one of the most respected artists in the world whose fame and grace has endured for over a decade. A pacesetter in his own right, no artist from his generation wields the level of impact and influence Wizkid has on the Nigerian music industry. Little wonder he has a legion of maniacal fans who are always at arms to annihilate anything they consider to be an affront to his greatness.
The most followed African musician on social media, Davido is a world-famous megastar.
There are no superlatives left to capture Davido’s greatness. After arriving on the scene in 2011 as a fresh-faced bumbling teenager, Davido would deliver ‘Dami Duro’ in 2012 which renowned Author and Journalist Jide Taiwo classifies as the most important song in Afrobeats.
Having been born with a silver spoon there was, and to some extent, there’s still some notion that Davido was handed much, and for that, his path to success was clear. This cannot be further from the truth as Davido had to fight his way to the top through resilience.
His hit singles ‘Fall’ and ‘IF’ were early signs of today’s international success. In 2019, he made history when he became the first solo African artist to sell out the O2 Arena. A feat that will announce Afrobeats’ grand arrival on the international scene and influence other stars to fill up the venue that continues midwives of international superstars.
Today, Davido is at the forefront of the global exportation of Afrobeats taking with him Nigeria’s culture while sharing his wealth and success with listeners at home.
When Rema made its debut in 2019, listeners didn’t quite take warmly to his distinct style. While seasoned ears staked on his potential, several listeners were skeptical about his sound which some described as having some Indian (Bollywood) feel.
Rema’s response was to pose the question why can’t Afrobeats become big in India? The millennial-born superstar would answer this question himself with his global smash hit ‘Calm Down’.
Today, Rema’s ‘Calm Down’ is by its staggering global reach Africa’s biggest export. He now tours countries where a few years ago, Afrobeats was unknown.
Many people including Davido have stated that the future of Afrobeats lies primarily on Rema’s shoulders as he would take the music to a new height.
From topping charts in the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia, to reaching a NO. 3 peak on the Billboard Hot 100 and UK Singles Chart, it’s safe to say Rema is living up to the endorsement.
‘Essence’ is to Tems what ‘YE’ is to Burna Boy and just like Burna Boy, Tems has consolidated her place on the international stage.
Tems is the honeyed voice R&B singer who operated in the Nigerian Alternative music scene scoring an early hit in ‘Try Me’ which won her some mainstream attention.
After her defining contributions to Wizkid’s ‘Essence,’ Tems gained international attention and what followed was a surreal rise to the top.
Tems is a recurring figure in music festivals in the UK and US where her music has won her the attention of fans became the first female artist from the Nigerian music industry to win a Grammy, she has won 3 BET Awards all of them being major categories, American Music Award, and an Oscar nomination.
Tems is now a consummate international star whose success is inspiring other female artists around the world. And although she cannot entirely be described as an Afrobeats artist, her international success came via Afrobeats international rise making her one of the chief beneficiaries.
In 2022, Asake enjoyed an unprecedented run driven by a string of chart-topping releases and a record-breaking debut album.
Before Asake, several Street acts have enjoyed massive success but none like him, and surely none has recorded his international reach.
With the growing Nigerian diaspora community created by the migration wave (Japa), Asake’s music found a huge international audience that saw him sell out the O2 Brixton Hall within minutes on 3 dates.
To keep up his momentum, Asake released his sophomore album ‘Work of Art’ in June 2023 and he has been on the road since then headlining festivals and having Caucasian fans singing along in Yoruba.
Asake has his sights set on the O2 Arena where he plans to announce himself on the international stage as one of the superstars set to take Afrobeats to a whole new level.