African-Infused Sounds Have Entered The Mainstream, But When Did This Trend Start?

Started From The Bottom, Now We’re Here

African music has been trying to reach American and European audiences for years. However, this mainstream trend did not kick off until 2016, when Nigerian afro-beats artist Wizkid featured on Drake’s “One Dance,” the song of the summer. “One Dance” became the first song in 2016 to hit one billion streams on Spotify and thrust Wizkid into the mainstream spotlight, becoming the first Nigerian artist to reach the music charts in the United States.

Since then, the ride has been uphill. The 61st Annual Grammy Awards, hosted on February 10th, 2019, in Los Angeles, honoured this reality, nominating Afro-fusion artist Burna Boy’s album “African Giant” for Best World Music Album. While “African Giant” didn’t pick up a Grammy, the album did win Album of the Year at the All Africa Music Awards in 2019. Beyonce’s album “The Lion King: The Gift,” which reflected African culture and music, was also nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album at the 2019 Grammy’s. Additionally, “The Lion King: Songs by Various Artists” was nominated for Best Compilation Soundtrack For Visual Media.

Even in the last two years, the popularity of African music in Europe and North America has reached new peaks. In August 2020, the fifth studio album by Burna Boy, Twice as Tall, reached No. 1 on the Billboard World Album Chart, and at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards, Twice as Tall won Best Global Music Album. In 2022, Warner Music Group purchased a majority stake in Africori, a leading African artist development and digital music distribution company. It is projected that this move will transform Warner Music Group into Africa’s top music distributor, which will allow more African artists to break into the global market. Further, we are also seeing more collaboration between African artists and mainstream artists, such as English singer and songwriter Sam Smith.

The Sounds Of Africa In Other Entertainment

Of course, mainstream exposure to African-infused sounds has not just been limited to what’s on Spotify’s charts or Apple Music. Over the years, the genre has continued to expand as other forms of entertainment have incorporated African music and culture. For example, the gaming sector has produced several games inspired by Afrobeats popular culture. The Afrobeats Warriors mobile game is one example where individuals play as popular Afrobeats musicians, like Tiwa Savage and Wizzy Wow in an action-adventure fighting game. Likewise, the online casino industry has developed African-inspired games. The 9 Masks of Fire slot, for instance, is a tribal casino adventure game that has unique themes of African music and culture, where players try to collect nine traditional tribal masks to win this five-reel, three-row slot game.

We have also seen African songs featured in various Hollywood blockbuster movies. In 2017, Stella Mwangi’s song “Big Girl” featured in the soundtrack for the American black comedy film Rough Night, or, as released in some countries, Girls’ Night Out. Wazimbo’s 1988 hit track “Nwahulwana” was also used in Sean Penn’s 2001 movie The Pledge. The song was also featured in a Microsoft advertisement. Other artists like 2 Baba and Wizkid have also featured in major movies, such as Pacific Rim Uprising and Phat Girlz.

Over the past decade, there has been a greater appreciation for other cultures in the music industry. Social media has played a role in this, same with American streaming services like Netflix adding more foreign content. For instance, after part one of ‘Money Heist’ first aired on Netflix in 2017, after the streaming giant acquired it from Antena 3, the traditional Italian folk song “Bella Ciao” received renewed popularity after the song featured multiple times in the show.

However, it is not just Italian and African-infused sounds that have entered the mainstream, but also Bossanova, a Brazilian style of samba. When it comes to African music and culture, chart-topping songs and albums like “One Dance” and “African Giant” set the stage, inspiring other forms of entertainment like games and movies to include these artists and sounds. Audiences worldwide have embraced this genre with open arms, solidifying its place in pop culture for years to come.

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There’s a lot of music out there - good music. At Essentially Pop our remit is that we cover music that deserves to be heard, with a particular focus on independent artists. That doesn't mean we won't cover your old favourites - rather we hope to give you some new favourites as well.

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