How Afro beats influenced young Nigerians in elections
Tuesday March 07 2023
By Eka Ikpe
In the run-up to Nigeria’s February 2023 elections, the country’s younger generation mobilized to demand change and redefine the political landscape with their popular music genre being pivotal.
Despite being dismissed by several political commentators, Nigeria’s younger generations have shifted the former two-party liberal electoral democratic competition between the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) and the prominent People’s Democratic Party (PDP). This is due to their overwhelming support for Labour Party candidate, Peter Obi.
The use of music in campaigning during elections shows the influence of this generation. Political candidates now routinely released videos showing them dancing to Afro beats music.
The Afro beats genre encompasses contemporary music styles from Nigeria (and Ghana) with a distinct use of Nigerian languages and percussive beats.
APC candidate Bola Tinubu’s song of choice was ‘Buga’ by Kizz Daniel and Tekno, with its accompanying choreography and references to hard work.
PDP candidate Atiku Abubakar, a six-time presidential candidate, revealed his five-step recovery plan for Nigeria with a choreographed video to Davido’s ‘Stand Strong’, which references devotion and consistency.
Though some politicians were criticized when their enthusiasm on the dance floor contrasted with their performance, this pattern of dance showed new ways they were making connections with the electorate.
A genre on the rise
Afro beats’ popularity is a story of African creativity and economic production, intended for African creatives and economic consumption. The genre’s focus on authenticity has resonated with Nigerian, African and global markets.
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The success of Afro beats, alongside the wider creative economy, saw Nigeria become Africa’s largest economy in 2014. In their 2022 trade report, the AfriExim Bank discussed the music industry’s wider success in Africa, particularly through its use of digital technology. The report also highlighted music’s power to create and disseminate knowledge in ways that address the damage done by colonial systems and structures.
Afro beats show how African creative endeavours can succeed by centring African people in their choice of language, themes and imagery. It shows what can be possible when African needs are prioritized. Questions remain, however, about the extent to which the benefits are retained within African economies.
Afro beats music creates solidarity among people of African descent through a sense of a shared global African identity. This success has been underpinned by music and video production collaborations across global African communities.
The ingenuity in Afro beats is astounding. Poetic lyrics draw on the wealth of Nigeria’s languages (including pidgin English) to challenge issues such as socioeconomic exploitation (as in Tekno’s 2020 track, ‘Sudden’) and sexual abuse (as in Tiwa Savage and Asake’s 2023 track, ‘Loaded’). The music blends contemporary sounds and Nigerian instruments, such as the Oja flute (as in Omah Lay’s 2022 track ‘Soso’).
Afro beats offer an opportunity to tune in to visions of hope from younger generations. The genre’s stars often reference the recognizable aesthetics of the period following Nigeria’s independence, between the 1960s and 1970s. In doing so, they are connecting their music to a period of transition and liberation after colonization.
Consider Wizkid and Tem’s platinum single, ‘Essence’ (2022), with the box TV, standing and ceiling fans and stone wall. Rema’s ‘Calm Down’ (2022) also echoes this aesthetic with its wooden framed sofa and beaded curtains.
In her 2021 NPR Tiny Desk performance, Tiwa Savage is at the jazz hole in Ikoyi Lagos, surrounded by books and LPs. Her 2020 video for ‘49-99’ samples the “father of Afro beat” musician Fela Kuti.
In the Nigerian diaspora, British rapper Little Simz and Obongjayar’s video for ‘Point and Kill’ (2022) features a terracotta bordered veranda, vintage film posters, afros, moustaches and sideburns, woven mats and references to Fela Kuti’s sound.
What are these images calling for? There is joy and beauty in their fluidity. In its innovation, Afro beats still calls back to the past. Post-independence times were complex and contradictory but offered different ways to change than the despondence that has tended to define Nigeria and wider Africa since. These included pan African visions of blackness and challenging imperial powers to support the anti-apartheid struggle.
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Tiwa Savage and Naira Marley exemplify how the younger generation intends to hold truth to power in their 2021 anti-political class anthem, ‘Ole’. The song satirizes the botched Nigerian 2021 National Assembly investigation into allegations of misappropriation in the Niger Delta Development Commission and suggestions of complicity by their MPs.