Nigerian soft power comes into its own at the Grammy Awards

Afrobeats, the Nigerian musical genre that has been flooding African airwaves for a decade and now those around the world, will be in the spotlight this year at the prestigious Grammy Awards ceremony on Sunday February 4 in Los Angeles

Nigerian soft power comes into its own at the Grammy Awards

Afrobeats, the Nigerian musical genre that has been flooding African airwaves for a decade and now those around the world, will be in the spotlight this year at the prestigious Grammy Awards ceremony on Sunday February 4 in Los Angeles. The greatest representatives of this globally successful musical style, coming straight from Nigeria, the most populous country on the continent, dominate the brand new category rewarding “best African musical performance”.

Of the five nominated songs, four are performed by Afrobeats superstars. The presence of Asake, Burna Boy, Davido and Ayra Starr at this high mass of the music industry testifies to the growing influence of Nigeria's soft power, via music but also cinema and fashion, according to officials of these sectors questioned by AFP. “We’re at the peak right now. Our work for Nigeria to impact the music industry began decades ago,” Titilope Adesanya, director of operations for the Africa branch of the American label Empire, told AFP.

One of the most popular musical genres

With more than 223 million hours of listening and 7.1 billion streams on Spotify in 2023, Afrobeats is one of the hottest music genres in the world, according to figures published on the platform's website -form of listening. In recent years, big names in afrobeats, including Burna Boy, Davido, WizKid, Tems and Rema, have filled the biggest concert halls in the world and collaborated with global superstars like Ed Sheeran, Beyonce, Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber.

“African music has been dominant for years. You ask me if we should have been recognized before? Certainly. Things take time,” Davido told France 24 in an interview about the Grammys this week before performing at the packed Accor-Arena in Paris. He is in the running with his track Unavailable, which singer Rihanna said in December was her “track of the year 2023”.

Nigerian artist Ayra Starr hopes to win her first Grammy with her famous song Rush. For his part, superstar Burna Boy, who has already won the Grammy for Best “World Music” Album in 2021, is nominated in four categories and will sing live during the ceremony. Nigerians Asake and Olamide are also in the race with their song Ampiano, referencing the South African style of house music. “This can only be a blessing for Africa as a whole,” Motolani Alake, music coordinator at Virgin Music Africa, told AFP.

In 2021, Wizkid, another afrobeats giant, received the Grammy for best music video for his participation in Beyoncé Brown's song Skin Girl. In 2023, singer Tems became the first Nigerian artist to win a Grammy Award for co-writing Rihanna's Lift Me Up for the film Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

The importance of the diaspora

Afrobeats, which mixes traditional African rhythms and contemporary pop, finds its roots in Nigeria in the 1970s under the influence of artist Fela Kuti, founding father of afrobeats (without "s"). “Contemporary Afrobeats has been around for about twenty years thanks to Nigerian artists like D’Banj and the group P-Square. The genre is today carried by a whole generation of Nigerian artists,” Olivier Laouchez, group boss of the music channel Trace, told AFP.

Nigeria, with a population of 200 million, enjoys a large diaspora which plays an undeniable role in the growth of Nigerian music. Beyond his music consumption, his presence in key positions in the United Kingdom and the United States has allowed Nigerian artists to access international markets, explains Abuchi Ugwu, CEO of the Chocolate City Music label.

Over time, Afrobeats stars have become ambassadors of Nigerian fashion, thanks to their numerous public appearances and their clips viewed billions of times on YouTube. In addition to music and fashion, Nigerian cinema is also a major tool of influence. Its industry, Nollywood, is the second largest film producer in the world after India's Bollywood.

Today, major streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have fully incorporated Nigerian blockbuster films into their content. Obi Asika, director general of the National Council for Arts and Culture, hopes that Nigeria's soft power success will continue and spread to other sectors such as video games. “One thing we will have is an endless supply of talent,” says Asika. Over the next five years, I hope to see more connections with the general public. »

Verdict expected Sunday evening, where Nigerians will perhaps be dubbed, Sittin'on Top of The World as in the flagship title of Burna Boy's latest album.