Photo credit: AP


Inside The Rise of African Culture

Photo credit: AP

New technology spurs cultural appreciation, helping Africa to foster a complex, honest global identity

By Wale Oloworekende

October 2023

When Canadian pop giant, Drake, hopped on the remix of Wizkid’s balmy 2014 hit, “Ojuelegba” in 2015 — he ignited a global interest in the burgeoning Afrobeats scene. The musical union was brokered by British-Nigerian rapper and entrepreneur, Skepta, and in the eight years since, Afrobeats—and African culture by extension—has taken off, setting the stage for the continent’s recognition as a rising power in music, fashion, art, and film.


African culture’s rise to global prominence has, undoubtedly, been powered by its ingenious acts that combine their homegrown identity with global ambition. But it’s the contributions of key players like Skepta and members of the African diaspora scattered across the world who serve as unofficial ambassadors that have enabled this international awakening. 


“The African diaspora is the bridge between what’s happening internationally and on the ground in the continent,” Ronx Bamisedun, the VP of international Strategy and Artist Development at Love Renaissance, tells STATEMENT. “They’re well-traveled and are always on the move between where they live and their homeland, so they’re the ones showing their colleagues at work what’s happening or what talent to look out for.”


The African diaspora is largely responsible for the rise of Afrobeats as popular acts like Wizkid, Davido, and Burna Boy have steadily progressed from playing theater dates to selling out stadiums across Europe and North America. According to Bamisedun, the close involvement of the African diaspora with these acts comes from a place of pride in the culture. “10 years ago, it wasn’t cool to be African in America or the UK,” she explains. “In the past, you’d ask people where they were from, and they’d lie and say they were Jamaican when they were probably from Lagos because it wasn’t cool. Now because our creative currency is so strong,  our music, food, and culture are traveling.”


While popular music from Africa has undoubtedly been a success, other art forms are gaining similar prominence. Visual artists with African origins like Victor Ehikhamenor, Amoako Boafo, Ayanfe Olarinde, and Kwesi Botchway, have received critical praise globally for their work across painting, sculpting, and design. Ghanaian culture reporter, Gameli Hamelo, says that the rise in popularity of work by these artists is linked to a desire to change the narrative about Africa. “It got to the stage where the diaspora got tired of the negative imagery that is typically associated with the continent,” he says. “They have the power and accessibility of the internet now and want to use it to tell the world more robust stories about the continent. Supporting the art and artists from Africa is one of the ways to do that and it helps to project a different image of the continent.”


Outsider financial support has historically meant that African artists have less control over their output and the frequent elevation of works that propagate colonial biases, but the diaspora’s renewed investment into the continent has enabled a new level of freedom.  “The African diaspora is in a space where they have the power to control the narrative,” Hamelo adds. “In the past, that wasn’t the case because western institutions like the BBC and CNN were often the sole source of information about culture. Now it’s very different; you have people on YouTube, podcasts, X, and many social media platforms being the primary source of information for a new generation and it’s being used in the right way.”


Technology continues to play a critical role in allowing African creatives to share their work with a global audience, find diasporan audiences who get behind this work, and ensure that it’s not lost to time. The arrival of streaming platforms, in film and music, has played a key role in helping to shape fuller and more contextual narratives around the African experience. “I think streaming is a powerful tool,” Nigerian-American filmmaker, Amarachi Nwosu, tells STATEMENT. “I think it’s amazing to have these different conglomerates invest in Africa.” 


The investment made by Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Showmax allows African filmmakers to curate empathetic and multi-layered stories about the continent. “Even if you are in Japan and your friend doesn’t know anything about African filmmaking, you can go and show them films,” Nwosu says. “You can show them The Black Book and be like, ‘Hey. This is a really interesting film that tackles so many different narratives coming out of Nigeria. This is a story you should watch,’  and they can learn something from that experience.”


Ultimately, Nwosu believes that collaboration between the African diaspora and the continent is key to maintaining momentum going forward. “I think the African diaspora plays a role in just making sure that there’s an opportunity for the people that are the future storytellers,” she points out. “I think, on both sides, that I want to see an African diaspora that directly invests in the stories that we want to see come out of the continent, but I also want to see a continent that is equally engaged in stories from the African diaspora, especially these experiences of people who are navigating new terrains.”

Photo credit: Lolu Photography; Styled by: Overdosed Kulture


A New Dawn for Fashion and Afrobeats Kings

Photo credit: Lolu Photography; Styled by: Overdosed Kulture

New artists are using fashion to challenge cultural boundaries, spurring both controversy and diversity

By Elvis Kachi

September 2023

Last week, Afrobeats king, Asake, who currently ranks as one of Spotify’s best, with over 634,218,132 streams, started a “How to Dress like Asake” challenge, featuring funky jeans and signature jewelry. That challenge has since garnered over 2,000+ posts on Instagram alone. It is a stark reflection of how much power artists and superstars have in shaping and influencing the cultural zeitgeist. Asake came into the limelight in 2022, after being signed into Olamide’s YBNL record label. Almost immediately, his bold fashion choices became a conversation focal point for fans and critics, and he has only continued to pique interest with his signature style.


“A lot of these artists are now very aware of fashion trends both locally and internationally, and they try to infuse their personalities in their styles, so it reflects who they are,” PR officer and music journalist, Robert Solomon, tells STATEMENT when talking about the ever evolving fashion of Afrobeats artists.


The evolution of fashion within the Afrobeats genre reflects the cultural shifts and ever-changing landscape of men’s fashion. Afrobeats, characterized by its fusion of African rhythms and contemporary sounds, emerged in the early 2000s. During this period, male artists often incorporated elements of traditional African attire into their wardrobe. “If you looked at the men from back in the days, you’d see that artists like Lagbaja, Fela and Olamide would always infuse African prints,” Solomon says, “but I think this shift [in men dressing more expressively] is as a result of Afrobeats getting more international acclaim.”


As Afrobeats has gained global recognition in the last few years, the experimental fashion of male Afrobeats artists lives at the intersection of cultural preservation and contemporary expression. Artists have been embracing a more eclectic and globalized style, drawing inspiration from international fashion trends while maintaining a distinct personality flair. Artists like Asake, Flavour, Adekunle Gold, and Boj have fashion senses that are notoriously gender fluid— exaggerated pants, multiple accessories, skimpy tops, and platform shoes. Their sartorial sensibility is important as they are Black men in a conservative country like Nigeria. By embracing a wide range of styles, they encourage dialogue about diversity and individuality within the fashion world.


Flavour, styled by celebrity stylists Swazzi and Oray, caused quite the stir back home, while on tour in the UK last month. On stage in London, he wore a white ensemble with cinched waist and hips and loosely fitted bell-buttons. He paired that with a top made from glittery stones, designed to show off some skin. The current [conservative] nature of Nigeria is one that rarely allows for expression, especially from men. These artists are at the forefront of societal attitudes toward not only fashion, but masculinity as a whole. Inspiring many a dialogue about diversity, their flair for expression has extended far beyond the music industry, impacting the entire fashion industry as well.


Aguocha Chigozie Hillary, stylist and founder of Overdose Kulture, who has worked with the likes of Wande Coal, Joe Boy, Zinoleesky, and Buju, thinks that it’s essential to understand the physical and innate attributes of the artists. “I personally look at their skin type, eye color, features, who they’re inspired by, the part of their bodies that makes them confident, etc.” There is no doubt that how an artist chooses to represent themselves impacts our experience of the music itself.


The marriage of Afrobeats and fashion highlights the dynamic nature of both the music and fashion industries. It reflects their commitment to preserving tradition, embracing global influences, and promoting gender-fluid fashion. Their impact is starting to extend beyond music charts and runways, inspiring individuals worldwide to break free from conformity and express their true selves through fashion. These artists are trailblazers, reminding us of the power of style to transcend cultural boundaries.

Photo credit: AP


African Music has Arrived on the Global Stage. What’s Next?

Photo credit: AP

As artists around the continent hit the mainstream, Africa is injecting new life into the global music scene

By Wale Oloworekende

August 2023

“This is for Burna Boy! Burna Boy is among the young artists from Africa that is changing the way our continent is perceived,” Angelique Kidjo proudly declared while accepting the 2020 Grammy for Best World Music for her album Celia. Giving Burna Boy, another nominee in the same category, due attention is nothing new for the decorated musician.  In 2016, after triumphing in the same category, Angelique foretold Africa’s coming musical explosion.


In the three years since that moment on stage at the Staples Center — widely seen as a passing of the torch between Africa’s classical music epoch and its modern iteration led by stars like Wizkid, Burna Boy, and Tems —African music has come leaps and bounds globally. Music from the continent in all its variations from the west African-led afrobeats to South Africa’s house derivative amapiano led by stars like  DJ Maphorisa and Tyler ICU and east Africa’s bongo flava have gone from niche sounds among eclectic Western tastemakers to a core part of global pop’s expansionist post-2010 framework. 


A key part of African music’s success on the global scene has been built on the individual successes of a new generation of music stars. Just one year after losing out on a Grammy gong for his African Giant album, Burna Boy snagged one for Twice As Tall while Wizkid’s titanic album, Made In Lagos, remains a touchstone for a cross-continental black experience rooted in experimentation and joyful expression. Tems, arguably the biggest breakout star from Made In Lagos, has become the toast of Hollywood, guesting on songs by Beyoncé, Drake, and Future. At the 65th edition of the Grammy Awards held in February, Tems won in the Best Melodic Rap Category for her contribution to Future’s chart-topping hit, “WAIT FOR U.”


All these successes have led to more propulsive motion for African music in 2023. Last month, after years of discussions and criticism about the labelling and handling of African music in the American market, the Grammys announced the creation of a Best African Music Performance Category starting in 2024 that “recognizes recordings that utilize unique local expressions from across the African continent.” This category will encompass music from a variety of genres that cuts across the sonic fabric of Africa with selections from afrobeat, afropop, asakaa, kwassa, mapouka, and South African house among others to be considered. 


Kenyan music and PR executive, Camille Storm believes that the creation of the standalone category is a step in the right direction of recognizing the incredible contributions of African music to the global music ecosystem. “I think this is a positive thing because it will highlight more genres of African music and more of the excellent and rich artistry that is coming out of many different parts of Africa,” she tells STATEMENT. 


Nigerian music journalist and essayist, Dennis Ade-Peter, recognizes the utility of “recognizing the scene on ‘music’s biggest night,’” but is less enthused about the politics of recognition and which African music genres receive the most acknowledgement. For years, critics, journalists, and observers of African music have criticised the conflation of African music with afrobeats–arguably the biggest sonic form from Africa–saying that it represents a one-dimensional outlook of the continent. With the introduction of the Best African Music Performance Category, many fear that afrobeats would continue to be the default representative form of African music. “The music coming from the continent is so diverse that we can only know the true ramifications of the category when we start seeing nominations and the resulting awards,” Ade-Peter concedes.


Regardless of perceived limiting factors surrounding language, cadence, and enunciation, African music continues to connect with a global audience. This year alone, afrobeats was celebrated in a themed showcase at the NBA All-Star Game Halftime Show in February that displayed the increasing impact of African music on American pop culture. In a remarkable showcase of African Music’s globalisation, Rema–one of the performers at the NBA All-Star Game Halftime Show–had his hit single, “Calm Down,” go to number one in India for multiple weeks leading to a much-heralded tour of the country. 


Presently,  the Selena Gomez-assisted remix of “Calm Down” is charting at number three on the Billboard  Hot 100 in continuation of a 43-week stint on the chart that has cemented Rema’s position as one of the most recognisable African acts in the world. He’s not the only one to enjoy stateside success with a sound that harkens to the rhythmic signature of African music. In December 2022, a young down-on-luck Cameroonian-American singer, Libianca, released a single inspired by her struggles with cyclothymia. That single titled “People,” a mix of soul and afropop’s peculiar percussive pattern, has since become one of the most popular songs in the world. It has since been streamed over 340 million times on Spotify. Late last month, Libianca beat another African breakout star, Asake, to the much-coveted BET Best New International Act award, completing a remarkable rise to fame. 


Ade-Peter believes that these achievements speak to the permanence of African music on the global stage. “It means that the success is sustainable,” he says. “There’s always the fear that the momentum behind the urban African music crossover run can stall due to lack of interest, but these feats bolster confidence, that there will always be greatness to be exhibited by the bigger superstars and the newer artists.” Storm agrees, noting that this is just a glimpse of what is to come. “As an executive, it is an exciting time to not only watch these milestones occur, but be part of some of them, the future looks incredibly bright.”


While the future might indeed look exceedingly bright, the journey of African music’s current iteration to being embraced by the West has been years in the making. The sustained regional success of music scenes in Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Ghana at the turn of the 2000s set the pace for the African music global outbreak. As migrants moved out of those countries to the West, they often took cassettes and CDs of music from their home countries and regions with them to maintain a connection to the motherland and foster new communities in their adoptive countries. This gave rise to the famous hall parties in the UK and United States that served as a music discovery point for plenty of second-generation immigrants, tastemakers, and crate-diggers looking to find what was hot in African music. 


For all the successes since then, perhaps the biggest sign that African music has arrived is the belated institutional embrace of music from the continent with digital service providers like Audiomack, Apple Music, and Spotify leading the way. In June, Spotify launched a microsite called Afrobeats: Journey of a Billion Streams with the aim of tracking the key moments in the rise and continued growth of the widely-popular African music genre. The archival project, led by African writers, critics, and historians, who lived through Afobeats’ rise is an integral first step to properly contextualising an ever-evolving story that includes multiple players, cities, and genres operating with the goal of bringing African music to a global audience. “The positive is that there’s unabashed pride about the quality of music being made by our artists and that is playing a role in keeping people everywhere engaged,” Ade-Peter says. 


The pride that African music is inspiring is having an outsized impact on the continent itself and its viability as a music destination. Last year, Pulitzer award-winning rapper, Kendrick Lamar, released his long-awaited album, Mr Morale & The Big Steppers, while on a visit to Ghana. This year, another popular American rapper, Travis Scott, was spotted shooting a video in the ancient city of Kano in Northern Nigeria and has already announced plans to launch his new album, Utopia, with a live show in Egypt. African music also continues to serve as inspiration for some of the biggest pop stars in the world as well: in May, Puerto Rican singer, Ozuna, released Afro, a seven-song dispatch that is an immersion into the pulse of popular African music. 


With African music delighting people the world over, Storm wants to see a focus on improving the music process on the continent. “We need to leverage these gains and efforts should be focused on strengthening infrastructure locally like creating better recording studios and concert venues. Artist development and education are also very important especially around streaming, music distribution and publishing, so that artists and industry professionals are aware of how to take advantage of the opportunities in the market and make the best out of it,” she opines. “By implementing these strategies, we can hope that the gains made in streaming and global recognition of African music can translate into a more organized and flourishing local music ecosystem.”