A ku ọdun ajinde,
That’s “Happy Easter” in Yoruba
At the 2021 Grammy awards, Afrobeats superstars Wizkid and Burna Boy went home with a couple of coveted gold-plated gramophones. This signalled a coming of age of the local music scene.
But the Grammy moment didn’t happen overnight, it was some 20 years in the making.
Over the Easter weekend, a documentary chronicling this journey premiered in Lagos cinemas. It’s titled “Afrobeats: The Backstory”. The documentary should be available on streaming platforms in the coming weeks.
With or without an “s”?
Afrobeats has a well-documented documentation problem, for instance, not many even know how the name came about.
The term “Afrobeats” was first coined in the early 2010s by DJ Abrantee, a UK-based DJ of Ghanaian descent. It bears no stylistic similarity to Afrobeat, a music genre that was created in the 1970s by Nigerian music legend Fela Kuti.
Afrobeat is a blend of jazz, funk and high-life, while Afrobeats is an umbrella of different pop sounds with their origins in Nigeria, to a large extent, but Ghana as well.
It would take purists a while to accept the Afrobeats name, that’s because it felt like a desecration of Fela’s legacy. In fact, to this day, Abrantee is sometimes viewed as a pantomime villain.
Although, that didn’t stop the sound from growing.
And as its popularity spreads, stories like this about its true origins need more spaces to be told.
Thankfully, streaming service Boomplay is helping to provide one. It’s also enabling the culture’s most-respected voices, like director Ayo Shonaiya, to be the ones to tell it.
Watch Shonaiya speak on the documentary here
Boomplay was developed by Transsnet, a joint venture between two Chinese companies:
- Transsion, the largest smartphone provider in Africa, and
- NetEase, a gaming and music-streaming company
It launched in 2015 as a pre-installed music player on Transsion’s phone brands: Tecno, Infinix, Itel, similar to how Apple Music comes on iPhones.
Read more about Transsion here
This smartphone-led approach gave Boomplay a significant advantage on two fronts:
Locally, it helped them to pull in front of early entrants into the music streaming space, such as Spinlet, Cloud 9 and MTN Music + which were largely telco-led, while also staying ahead of more recent entrants such as uduX and MTN MusicTime.
Internationally, Boomplay now has over 75 million users and is reportedly outpacing Spotify and Apple in the race to reach 350 million listeners; that’s if you believe this Billboard article.
Over 86% of those listeners are from sub-Saharan Africa. And that’s the region that Boomplay expects most of its growth to come from.
But that growth can’t continue to come from selling phones alone. Editorial content like the “Afrobeats: The Backstory” is, therefore, a long-term bet that as Afrobeats continues to grow, so will Boomplay’s user base.