Undoubtedly, the last few years have been good for African artists and music in general. Fueled by a young population, outstanding musical talent, and more streaming opportunities, Africa’s music industry is booming as we continue to see an increase in large scale concerts dedicated specifically to our music. From Afropunk and Afronation to the numerous music festivals featuring Nigerian artists held across the globe, these renowned concerts continue to amplify African talent, taking the sound and culture to the global centre stage. Genres such as Afrobeats, Amapiano, Afro-fusion and many others, have become well-known household sounds abroad.
Just last week, Grammy-winning Nigerian singer, Burna Boy, officially became the first Nigerian artiste to sell out a show at the Madison Square Garden, New York. The much anticipated ‘One Night In Space’ concert, held on Thursday, 28 April 2022, saw the “African Giant” grace the stage at one of the world’s most famous venues with a seating capacity of more than 20,000 people. The crowd in the arena were joined by close to 100,000 viewers who joined the online stream via YouTube. For the next few hours, the world watched as Burna Boy, accompanied by elaborate lighting, an array of dancers, and his ever-faithful band The Outsiders, treated the crowd to a first-of-its-kind experience and back-to-back hits.
As is often the case when he performs both at home and more recently while touring Europe and selling out a number of other popular venues, African pride was the central theme of the evening. Beginning the show with a soulful appearance from legendary Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour set the tone for the rest of the night. Often praised for his powerful stage presence and high energy, Burna tirelessly performed songs from his critically acclaimed African Giant album, including Anybody, Another Story, Wonderful, Dangote, Gbona and Spiritual, the heavy beats from African drums echoing throughout the arena as both he and the audience became one with the music. And if there’s one thing the hit-maker knows how to do, it’s to engage and interact with an audience, keeping them spellbound throughout. As the evening progressed at Madison Square, fans became increasingly excited, thousands of bodies moving in unison, shouting the lyrics and even throwing several undergarments at him onstage — which, of course, he did not discourage! As if the frenzy created by his legwork and charismatic smile were not enough, the star later announced that the QR codes printed onto their tickets gave fans access to pre-save his upcoming sixth studio album, Love, Damini, said to be dropping on his birthday, July 2.
Burna Boy, like many other Afrobeat stars making us proud such as Wizkid, Davido, Tems and Rema, has cemented himself in the hearts of millions around the world, boldly declaring how proud he is about the legacy he is creating for the Afrobeats, Afro-fusion genre and how far he is taking it around the world. This most recent historic event epitomizes everything so many of us love about African music and live performances. The colours, the vibrance, the proudly African dance moves and costumes, the infectious multilingual lyrics and the use of instruments all work together to make the experience that much sweeter. Although questions still abound about the overall performance quality of the artists on stages abroad versus their sometimes disappointing and lacklustre performances at home, there is still almost never a dull moment when African artists perform.
Take, for instance, Davido — another African great who recently performed at a packed O2 Arena in London. The singer treated fans to his catalogue of hit songs, flaunting his infamous dimpled smile and energetic dance moves while urging the crowd to sing with him. Never one to leave anyone behind, he performed alongside a solid lineup of local stars including Victony and Mayorkun. Over the years, Davido has proven himself to be not just a generous star, but the type of person who wants to carry others along, something a lot of people enjoy about him and his shows.
And then of course there is Mr Good Vibes himself, Wizkid, always looking sharp and ready to make an exciting entrance. Everly cool and composed, with Big Wiz, you can expect his signature authentic vocals and each concert, much like his music videos, to be a unique and immersive experience in itself. Outside of the “Holy Trinity” of Afrobeats and the general men’s club that used to be the music scene, female acts like Tiwa Savage, Teni, Simi, Yemi Alade, Ayra Starr and Niniola are making names for themselves too. We have Tiwa Savage with her powerful voice and formidable stage presence becoming the first African queen to sell out the Indigo 02 arena (3,000 capacity). Then there is Yemi Alade, who has had successful European tours, selling out venues like the Melkweg Centre (1,500 capacity) while simultaneously putting African fashion, style and flair on the map. And in more recent years, our very own Tems, who has been in her bag since she collaborated with Grammy Winner, Wizkid on Essence, then Drake on his 2021 Certified Lover Boy album. The winning streak continues this year with a couple of headline gigs abroad, an ongoing international tour, a new radio show titled Leading Vibe on Apple Music and recently scoring a feature on a Future’s on Wait For U.
Outside Nigeria, some of the continent’s local concerts and festivals have become shining examples of how to curate colourful line-ups and expose tomorrow’s leading talent with great performances. Sauti za Busara (Zanzibar), Bassline Fest and Afropunk (South Africa), Boulevard Festival (Morocco), Lake of Stars (Malawi) and Nyege Nyege (Uganda) are just some of the music festivals that the rest of the world is watching. One doesn’t have to look very far to see the far-reaching impact of the music pouring out of the continent, exploding quickly around the world with international tours, music awards, festivals and millions of people from around the world jumping at concerts and singing along to songs they may not even know the meaning of!
And it is not just Afrobeats taking the world by storm. In just a few years, the South African-born genre, Amapiano, has gone from a local trend to a global phenomenon, spearheaded by internationally recognized artists like DBN Gogo, Focalistic, and Major League DJz; and labels like Jozi Entertainment, Busta 929’s Thupa Industry and Kabza De Small’s PianoHub. A far cry from the jovial, often flirty vibes of Afrobeats, this combination of Deep House and Dance/Electro Pop has folks in a chokehold, with a number of quality African DJs on turntables, artists and energetic dancers showing the world that there is more than one side to African music and more than one way to perform. With no time to waste, several international festivals such as Afro Nation, have already added a slew of Amapiano artists to their 2022 lineup (as they should!)
Away from the global stage and back to the quality of our local shows, there is a lot of room for improvement. From shows starting hours later than scheduled to the sub-par set designs and lazy performances, let’s just say that there is a lot we can still get right back at home if we pay as much attention to detail as we do when abroad. As we raise our glasses to toast Burna Boy’s latest achievement and the continuous global triumphs of African stars, we look forward to the day when we have excellent performances all around.