On this day in 1960, Nigeria declared independence after almost as many years under British rule. Now, 58 years later, the music world has its eyes fixed on the West African nation. The country’s influence on Western popular music has grown dramatically in the past few years; in fact, you’ve probably heard Nigeria’s musical fingerprints in a few stateside hits without realizing it.
Over the past few years, the wide-ranging Nigerian pop genre known as Afrobeats has surfaced in genres as diverse as dance, hip-hop, R&B, dancehall and reggaeton. Artists like Drake, Ciara, Chris Brown and Future have recorded songs with some of Nigeria’s biggest names, slowly introducing listeners and the music industry to the wealth of talent that exists in West Africa. Major labels, anticipating that the next international star may yet emerge from Nigeria, have set up shop in nearby countries for better access to talent. Meanwhile, Nigerian megastars such as Davido and Wizkid have already landed on urban radio stations across the United States.
Here are five Nigerian tracks you need to know and the non-African songs that share their genetic code.
The roots of Afrobeats run deep. A couple years ago, the young singer/producer Tekno introduced the “pon pon” Afrobeats style and completely changed the game in Nigeria. The sound has been his calling card on a string of hits, including this year’s summer anthem “Jogodo.” R&B singer Ciara tapped Tekno for a verse on her latest single, “Freak Me,” which, coincidentally, borrows the chorus from “Before Nko” by another Nigerian artist, Tiwa Savage.
RHYTHMS AND BEATS
Much like reggaeton, one of the telltale signs of Afrobeats is the drum programming. The chugging beat of French Montana’s “Unforgettable” is undeniably Nigerian, and it’s often employed by regional African artists like Timaya and Wizkid. DJ Tunez, Wizkid’s touring DJ, updated the rhythm for 2018 on a song with the singer Flash, “Too Much.”
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ACROSS THE POND
In the UK, Afrobeats and dancehall have brought about the rise of an offshoot, Afro-swing, which borrows production elements from both West African and Caribbean music. The genre had its first international hit with Stefflon Don’s “Hurtin’ Me,” but this summer saw another UK alum make noise with his club anthem “Drogba (Johanna).” The song was recently remixed with a new verse from Wizkid, one of Nigeria’s biggest stars.
A WINNING FORMULA
Ayo Jay scored a Billboard hit in 2016 with his debut international single, “Your Number,” which led to a remix featuring Young Thug and Chris Brown. Jay’s latest song is a beautifully subdued plea for love with a spare instrumental accented by a punchy kick drum and a vibraphone melody commonly found in West African music. If the song sounds familiar, it’s because R&B singer Omarion used the same formula with great success on last year’s “Distance.”
NIGERIA IN THE HOUSE
An Afro-house movement led by the singer Niniola has been slowly brewing in Nigeria for some time now. Niniola’s 2017 hit “Maradona” is still gaining traction and helped her score a collaboration with EDM producer DJ Snake. But Niniola’s growing catalog is full of uptempo vibes that could stand on their own next to any club anthem. For further proof, check out her latest single, “Bana,” as well as her debut album This Is Me from last year.
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