The Calgary Journal
The Calgary Journal

A music genre from Nigeria is shaking up the global music industry. 

Afrobeats, the popular African music genre, contains a 21st century fusion of Western rap influences and contemporary Ghanaian and Nigerian pop music.

The term Afrobeats should not be confused with Afrobeat (without an “s”). Afrobeat is a genre of Nigerian music dating back to music icon Fela Anikulapo Kuti and is categorized by a fusion of juju and highlife music infused with funk and jazz rhythms. 

Although the Afrobeats genre has been growing since the early 90s, it really took off in the international music scene in 2016. From there, other U.S. artists, such as Tory Lanez and Major Lazer, have incorporated Afrobeats sounds and have featured African artists in their music.

The Calgary Journal went to Pulse Studios to explore the Afrobeats dance scene in Calgary. 

Amanda Okafor is a born and bred Nigerian Canadian. She finds inspiration in her love for art, her culture and her experiences in life. When life is not in her way, Amanda uses that opportunity to go out and explore the world a few times in the year. She believes that, by exploring, she is keeping up as a creative through steady living and steady learning. Amanda loves to teach Afrobeats because it gives her a chance to connect with different types of people through more than conversation. She also mentions that dancing comes naturally to her.

“It just feels right and genuinely brings me joy,” she said.

She explains that there are three styles of dance that originated from Afrobeats that you will notice the most at clubs: Zanku, Shaku Shaku and Gwara Gwara.

The Shaku Shaku is a dance style that originated in Nigeria. It is done by moving your legs in a rhythmic side-to-side fashion, while your hands are usually crossed forward like they are in handcuffs.

Zanku dance, also known as legwork, is usually done by a repeat foot tapping or pounding with hands held aloft and is finished with a stylized thrusting of one foot as if trying to knock down a door. The dance comes with different variations of a faster footwork, ranging from a mimicry of slicing and screwing hand motions to the brandshing of a white handkerchief while tapping your feet.All of this is usually done with attitude and vigour.

The Gwara Gwara dance originated from South Africa and the popularity of the dance grew after Rihanna performed it in her 2018 Grammy performance. Childish Gambino also featured a cameo of the dance in his popular music video “This is America”. Check out how to learn the dance step here.

The success of Afrobeats continues to grow and it looks like the style is here to stay. Afrobeats gets its distinct sound from a couple of different influences. The style is anchored in West African music styles, particularly highlife music. American jazz and funk are also added to the mix, creating a hybrid sound from across continents.

For people just getting into Afrobeats, three acclaimed artists to start with: Wizkid, Davido and Burna Boy.

Davido, otherwise known as David Adeleke, began his rise to fame in 2011, when he debuted his Omo Baba Olowo album. He soon followed up with a second album, The Baddest. His talent and rising fan base led him to win Best International Act at the BET Awards in 2014 and 2018.

Wizkid, or Ayo Balogun, is a name recognized around the world. His success as an artist kicked off with his debut album titled Superstar, which was released in 2011 and brought him significant recognition. He became an Afrobeats fan-favourite and is commonly known as “Star Boy.”

Burna boy, born Damini Ogulu, is a Nigerian reggae-dancehall singer and songwriter who released his debut studio album,L.I.F.E., in 2013. His 2015 sophomore effort, On a Spaceship, delivered a record even more diverse than his first. In 2017, a host of singles followed throughout the year, including "Streets of Africa," "Calm Down" and "Sekkle Down." Early January 2018, Ogulu delivered his third album, Outside. He returned a year later with the single "Killin Dem," a collaboration with Zlatan.

The enticement of the music is one of the perks of taking Amanda’s class. One of her students, Jenai Lieu, said she is taking the class because she believes Afrobeats dancing is the foundation of a lot of other styles of street dance. Lieu and another student from the class, Bonnie Boyda, highly recommend the class to others.

Afrobeats: A music genre taking over the world by storm from MRU Journalism on Vimeo.

To experience Afrobeats music and dancing in Calgary, you can visit Music nightclub, Vault 17, Paranoia, and Fire and Ice, to name a few.

Afrobeats is having a moment. The wildly popular and diverse music bubbling out of Africa has caught the ears of not only those on the continent, but the diaspora as well. Upbeat, infectious and informed with traditional polyrhythmic beats, Afrobeats currently shows no sign of slowing down. The genre boasts over 200 popular artists on iTunes alone, with many more who are sure to come out of the continent. If you are still new to the genre, you can find these playlists in any music streaming outlet to jumpstart your Afrobeats addiction.