time will tell

Afrobeats in 2023: Olamide, Asake, Ruger, Burna Boy…

By Dami Ajayi

Posted on February 4, 2023 10:00

 © Photo still from  
Reima’s ‘Calm Down’ vide. The song has made history by becoming the most-viewed Afrobeats music video on YouTube. (photo: twitter)
Photo still from Reima’s ‘Calm Down’ vide. The song has made history by becoming the most-viewed Afrobeats music video on YouTube. (photo: twitter)

A lull for the West African music genre Afrobeats was expected in the first month of 2023. This much can be predicted for the first quarter of 2023, a necessary spell of relative silence and rest from the dashing throttle of the last few months of 2022. 

Detty December, the usual month-long itinerary of concerts and parties that heralds the end of 2022, is prime time for show business — and Ghana is fast becoming the preferred landing for the major sponsors of this period, the comparatively well-off returnees from the Diaspora who would make Marcus Garvey and Kwame Nkrumah smile from the afterlife.

2022 was another excellent year for Afrobeats with predictable wins: massive global hits, sold-out international concerts, and two decent documentary film series chronicling its key moments and players. No one expected producers like Pheelz and Young Jonn to switch roles, successfully abandoning the console for crooning.

Their frequent collaborator, rapper, singer, and songwriter Olamide earned his stripes as a record executive with a Midas touch after his latest signee Asake soared with his melodious take on Street Hop cocktail Fujipiano, unleashing hit song after hit song. A stampede at Asake’s concert series at O2 Academy Brixton in December, a consequence of poor crowd control, led to the loss of two lives, souring both his meteoric rise and that of Street Hop.

Controversial musician Portable’s public persona did not wane in 2022; it is likely to even soar in 2023, despite his propensity for courting trouble by issuing verbal threats to his colleagues co-nominated for the Headies Awards or bullying a dissenting audience at a concert in Agege, a Lagos suburb. Bad behaviour is hardly sanctioned in Nigeria’s showbiz industry if the trajectory of stars like Burna Boy and D’Banj is examined.

Superiority wars

Late arrival to concerts is the least deadly of their sins. Lampooning their audience is a tad transgressive, but assaulting a crowd member at his show is where Burna Boy should draw the line on his dissocial behaviour. With another Grammy nomination in his bag for his sixth studio album, Love, Damini and an RIAA platinum certification for the lead single, ‘Last Last’, as positive reinforcements, we should not expect contrition.

Rivalry has been mobilised to favourable effect if the perennial banter on Twitter between Ruger and BNXN fka Buju is reflected upon. On the eve of new releases, it is not unusual to find these two sparring about superiority. Ruger had a better solo run in 2022, starting with his smash hit luxury-good praise song ‘Dior’. He ended the year with the boastful, politically intoned, and timely ‘Asiwaju’, which trounced his mate’s ‘Traboski’ from the top of the local charts, enjoying massive airplay into the new year.

The first quarter of 2023 is for elections in Nigeria. ‘Asiwaju’ is the flagship song for presidential candidate Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who incidentally wears the eponymous chieftaincy title, Asiwaju. Another of his titles, Jagaban, lent itself to a massive hit song by emcee Ycee released in 2015, another election year.

Soulful singer and songwriter Brymo may not have a political jingle to pawn. Still, he has been tweeting a great deal of ethnic hate against the Igbo in support of Tinubu’s presidency. In response, a petition was raised against his nomination for the All-Africa Music Award for Songwriter of the Year. It garnered more than 47,000 signatures, marking a “Ye” moment for Brymo, a double entendre for the Yoruba morpheme for expressing displeasure and a nod to Mr Kanye West.

Afrobeats is a tricky genre to predict, but another Grammy for an album would be welcome this Q1. It is also an excellent time to catch up with the numerous songs and records released during the end-of-the-year glut. While Runtown’s 13-track experimental LP Signs packs psychedelic sparks with his rheumy vocals, old-timer Waje updates her vocal superiority with her album, The Misfit — both records should not be slept on. There is no better time to rinse and repeat Ghanaian Drill breakout star Black Sherif’s debut record and check out Odumodublvck’s subversion of Drill called Okporoko Rhythms. Alté lovers should catch Ajebutter 22’s breezy third LP Soundtrack to the Good Life.

@odumodublvckOKPOROKO RHYTHM. E SWEET O ⚡️?⚡️♬ original sound – odumodublvck

Relentless experimentation

‘Soso’, a resonant single from Omah Lay’s sleeper debut LP Boy Alone, has crept back into the local charts, while Rema’s ‘Calm Down’ has become the most streamed Afrobeats music video on YouTube and the first song to spend 22 weeks locked to the number one spot of the Billboard Afrobeats Chart. Rema restores his claim as Wizkid’s heir apparent with these unprecedented milestones that took his predecessors miles and sweat to achieve.

Burna Boy and Wizkid, the standout stars of the most successful cohort of Afrobeats musicians, have vacated smaller venues for stadiums for their tours in 2023. The amiable Davido marked 2022 with a devastating personal loss, but made a delightful cameo at the World Cup Finale in Qatar. Wizkid has hinted at a joint tour this year with Davido, who may eventually release his much-awaited album.

The triumvirate of Asake, Magicsticks, and TG Omori launched the new year with ‘Yoga’. Its crisp video has raked in close to 2.9 million views on YouTube in 48 hours while Seyi Vibez continues to perfect his disruptive and incantatory take on Street Hop, garnering incessant comparison to Asake, whose understanding of melody may be superior. Afro-Adura is posited as a new subgenre for which Seyi Vibez is the lead, but this Adamic expedition of insisting on a proper noun might be a branding exercise.

It has been a few years since Nigeria jacked Amapiano from Soweto townships, finessing that percussive groove that lends itself to relentless experimentation with successful results. While Fujipiano, a coinage describing the fusion of Fuji and Amapiano, holds sway in the Street Hop realms, the Amapiano drums have become a standard fare for the Afrobeats genre; only time will tell if 2023 will be the year of its decline and eventual disappearance.

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