Earlier this month, Selena Gomez posted a photo of herself and Nigerian singer Rema on Instagram, captioned: “This man has changed my life forever. Rema, thank you for choosing me to be a part of one of the biggest songs in the world. Love you forever.” You have definitely heard the song in question—’Calm Down‘. With over 500 million views on YouTube, the track’s success is not a one-off phenomenon, but part of a more significant, growing trend. Steadily climbing the charts and solidifying itself in the public consciousness is a unique music genre: Afrobeats.
If that name doesn’t immediately sound familiar, you may have been jamming to Afrobeats tunes without even realising their roots. Think ‘One Dance’ by Drake, Wizkid, and Kyla, or ‘For My Hand’ by Burna Boy, featuring Ed Sheeran. If you enjoyed Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, you would know how much each film’s soundtrack added to its overall impact—all thanks to the lineup of Afrobeats artists featured.
Originating in West Africa as well as the diaspora in Nigeria, Ghana and the United Kingdom, Afrobeats is a synthesis of sounds identified by notable percussion, chanting vocals and elaborate overlapping rhythms. Initially, the genre found popularity in the regions of its origin, until DJ Abrantee coined the name ‘Afrobeats’ in the early 2010s and debuted the first Afrobeats show on UK radio, putting it on the world map.
Over the past few years, powerhouses like Burna Boy, Wizkid and Davido have caught the attention of listeners outside of Africa with their unique sound. Their music seamlessly integrates elements we know and love: dancehall, rap, reggae, pop and R&B. With their versatile and infectious beats, it is no surprise that these tracks have also shaped up to be viral hits on social media.
After CKay’s ‘love nwantiti (ah ah ah)’ exploded in popularity on TikTok and climbed the Billboard charts, the publication created a dedicated chart for Afrobeats in 2022. “I can remember when it wasn’t cool to be from Africa—people would lie and say they were Jamaican,” Afrobeats musician Davido notes in an interview with Forbes. “Now we have our own Billboard charts in the US and UK—that shows how serious the Western world is taking our music.” With the genre being embraced internationally, get acquainted with the top musicians rising in the Afrobeats realm below.
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Dubbed the ‘African Giant’ for his massive cultural impact in bringing Afrobeats into the mainstream, Burna Boy is one of the biggest names on the scene. His latest album, Love, Damini, is star-studded, with collaborators like Ed Sheeran, Kehlani, J Balvin and Khalid. His solo tracks shine as well: ‘Kilometre’, ‘Last Last’, and ‘It’s Plenty’ are must-listens in our book.
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You may have heard Amaarae’s distinctive, dreamy voice all over the internet on her track ‘Sad Girlz Luv Money’, which was later remixed with Kali Uchis. Equally hypnotising is ‘Reckless & Sweet’, which can be found on her latest album Fountain Baby.
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Rema needs no introduction. The 23-year-old’s debut album Rave & Roses not only presented the world with chart-topper ‘Calm Down’, but also the incredibly danceable ‘Soundgasm’ and ‘Charm’.
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At only 19 years old, emerging Afrobeats star Ayra Starr was catapulted to fame following the release of her album, 19 & Dangerous. Her debut single ‘Rush’ went viral in 2021, as did ‘Sability’ this year, each spurring its own TikTok dance challenge.
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Be it on the Justin Bieber’s ‘Essence’ or Beyoncé’s ‘Brown Skin Girl’, Wizkid’s sound is unmissable in any track he features on. Most recently, he made his mark on the Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse soundtrack with ‘Link Up’.
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Nigerian singer and songwriter Tems clinched the ‘Best Melodic Rap Performance’ Grammy in 2023 for her collaboration on ‘Wait For U’ with rappers Future and Drake. Spot her heartfelt song ‘No Woman No Cry’ alongside a lineup of fellow Afrobeats artists on the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack.
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It’s hard not to dance whenever a Fireboy DML track plays. Known for his biggest hit with Ed Sheeran, ‘Peru’, Fireboy DML’s discography also includes the R&B-cum-Afrobeats song ‘Playboy’ and his most recent release ‘Yawa’.