What is ‘Afrobeats?’…The music genre is quickly becoming embraced by Black America

OBI ASIKA AND SMADE are the founders of “Afro Nation,” the world’s largest Afrobeats festival. The festival is coming to Detroit on Aug. 19-20.

In 1998, when Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu was just 7 years young, much of Black America was rockin’ to a song called, “Sittin’ on Top of the World,” by Brandy Norwood, known mainly by her first name, Brandy.

Brandy, the California girl who was 19 years old at the time, had already established herself as a solo sensation, with other hits like “Sittin’ Up In My Room,” “I Wanna Be Down,” and “Baby.” She also was the lead on the TV sitcom, Moesha, in the late ‘90s.

Brandy, like other American artists, are known well across the pond in the United Kingdom and West Africa. The reach of the 50 Cents, Beyonces, and Janet Jacksons are immense; global, you could say.

But now, thanks to the world of digital media, social media, and the ease in which one can hear another country’s music, the hottest artists from places like Nigeria and other parts of West Africa are creating a buzz some 5,800 miles to the west, here in the U.S.
Enter “Afrobeats,” the genre of music that, in the past few years, has taken Black music in America by storm.


And enter artists like the aforementioned Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu, professionally known as “Burna Boy,” who sampled Brandy’s “Sittin’ on Top of the World” into his own version that’s rising by the day on urban radio stations nationwide. As of July 31, it’s at No. 15 on the urban charts, with the song played more than 2,800 times on urban stations across the country in the past week. On the “Rhythmic” radio station music charts, it’s at No. 7, with more than 3,800 spins the past week.

Burna Boy is now 32 years old, and Black America is really getting to know the Afrobeats superstar, who has cemented his fame and legacy in his home country of Nigeria.


Another Afrobeats star is Davido, who was born in Atlanta to Nigerian parents. He was raised in Lagos, Nigeria. His song, “Fall,” received massive airplay in the U.S., particularly in markets like New York City and Miami.

Then there’s Wizkid, born in the Surulere section of Lagos. His song, “Essence,” featuring another Nigerian artist, Tems, took over the urban charts in the U.S. last year. It was such a hot song, it topped the first-ever year-end Afrobeats music charts published by Billboard Magazine, in 2022. You’d be hard-pressed to find a Hip-Hop or R&B fan under 45 in the U.S. who hasn’t heard the song.
Afrobeats is described in Forbes magazine as “a broad West African music genre that mixes jazz, driving drums, reggae, pop and Hip-Hop.” Its “BPM,” or Beats Per Minute, averages 110-120; thus, Afrobeats is upbeat, but it’s not a super fast pace, such as what you’d hear in Rihanna’s “Every Girl in the World.”

Afrobeats stars are selling out shows in the U.S. these days, and challenging established American artists like Justin Bieber and Beyonce for top billing on the music charts.


Dion Dupree, CEO of Grind Mode Music Worldwide, based in Pittsburgh, told the New Pittsburgh Courier there’s a buzz for Afrobeats in Pittsburgh. “Afrobeats is our culture, it’s our heartbeat,” he said in an interview, Aug. 1.

Pittsburgh’s African culture is not a large one, Dupree said, but “we definitely have the culture.” DJ African Wolf is known for his parties at times at Spirit in Lawrenceville, and Ofela’s is an African restaurant and lounge, open Fridays and Saturdays. It’s located on Brownsville Road in Carrick.

“If the DJs played it more (Afrobeats), I think we would be more in tune to it,” said Dupree, who is also a Courier “Men of Excellence” honoree for 2023. “However, it’s the pulse of our culture; the sounds, the tempo, it all brings it out of you. When you hear it, you’re going to start groovin’.”

Four hours to the northwest of Pittsburgh, in Detroit, will be the site of the next “Afro Nation” festival, on Aug. 19-20. The festival, which is expected to attract thousands from the Detroit region and the nation, will be held at the spacious Douglass Site. The Douglass Site was a historically significant housing project in Detroit that was the first federally funded housing project for African Americans in the U.S. It was home to icons such as Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, and other influential African Americans, according to the Afro Nation website. It’s located a few blocks north of Ford Field and Comerica Park near Downtown Detroit.

The “Afro Nation” festival will bring the following artists to the main stage on Saturday, Aug. 19: Burna Boy, Ari Lennox, Latto, Kizz Daniel, Dadju, Skillibeng, Diamond Platnumz, Victony and Nissi. The artists on the Piano People Stage will be: DJ Maphorisa, Musa Keys, Kamo Mphela, DJ Moma, Tyla and 2wobunnies. On Sunday, Aug. 20, the artists on the main stage will be: Davido, P-Square, Coi Leray, Naira Marley, Masego, Tayc, Stonebwoy, Libianca and Ebony Riley. On the Piano People Stage, it’s Major League DJz, DBN Gogo, Focalistic, Mr. Jazziq, Sha Sha and TXC.

Not all the artists are classified as “Afrobeats.” Rather, the festival is billed as a celebration of Afrobeats, Hip-Hop, R&B, Dancehall and Amapiano, which is a sub-genre of house music that originated in South Africa.

The “Afro Nation” festival began in 2019 behind the creative minds of Nigerian entrepreneurs Obi Asika and Smade, and the festivals have taken place in locations like Ghana, Portugal, and Puerto Rico. But it has come “Stateside,” with Afro Nation Miami in May 2023 as the first Afro Nation festival in the continental U.S. It was held at LoanDepot Park, the home of MLB’s Miami Marlins, where some 40,000 people were estimated to have attended. Detroit was selected to be the second location for Afro Nation in the continental U.S.

“When considering which U.S. cities would be right for our Afro Nation festival, Detroit was a clear choice,” said Natasha Manley, CEO of Event Horizon. “The musical legacy, culture, people and community of Detroit connects to why we started Afro Nation: to celebrate Black music and culture. Our diverse global audience will undoubtedly enjoy the unique Detroit show and appreciate the immense influence of Detroit on the evolution of music.”

“From Motown to Techno, Detroit’s musical legacy is undeniable,” voiced Hiram E. Jackson, CEO of Real Times Media, which owns legacy Black media news outlets Michigan Chronicle, New Pittsburgh Courier, Atlanta Daily World, Atlanta Tribune and Chicago Defender. “Serving as the host city for events like Afro Nation is not only part of our DNA, it is an extraordinary opportunity to spotlight our city’s rich culture, talent and character on a global stage. Bedrock and Event Horizon’s commitment to make this event possible is commendable, and I look forward to the launch of Detroit’s newest festival series.”

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