Afrobeats Economy: Nigeria Beyond Oil

Nigeria’s Tems is an American fave

D’banj’s hit single ‘Oliver Twist’ became an instant sensation during the 2012 London Olympics, marking the high point of Afrobeats global outreach to that period. Today, over a decade later, Afrobeats has cemented its position as a leading contributor to global happiness. Whether in an Emirates plane flying from Dubai to Miami, or parties in Las Vegas or festivals in the remotest parts of the world, or some random bar in Guatemala, the world parties to our music. The impact of Afrobeats on Nigeria’s image has been remarkable, but there is more potential to be tapped. It is crucial to be strategic in leveraging the genre’s influence to build a brighter future, just as we did kickstarting its rise to global prominence.

Rema’s Calm Down is one of the world’s most popular songs in this moment

In the 1990s, TV and radio stations went in search of local content for their programming. The government had stipulated a minimum duration for Nigerian and African music on their stations. A lot has been said about how government did nothing in the advent and eventual popularity of Afrobeats but that could not be far from the truth. Our radio and TV stations adjusted their programming, over the years, we went from a people who were comfortable partying on American music to now preferring ours first and foremost.

As with many policies, you know how it would start but you have no idea how far it would go. This should not be suggested to mean that the then military government is responsible for the global advancement of Afrobeats — several things are often responsible for phenomena such as this — but writing the story without acknowledging this essential bit would amount to leaving a huge gap that could undermine its integrity. In a certain sense, government has also inadvertently helped with the spread of Afrobeats, this bit in a way it wouldn’t be proud of. Nigerian students fleeing ASUU strikes and those in pursuit of opportunities abroad have been at the forefront of that spread. These days, I do take it for granted when I hear our music pop up anywhere. Okay, not for granted in that absolute sense but it is not the big deal it was say 10 years ago. When something becomes normal, you sort of get used to it. Like repeatedly hearing Rema’s ‘Calm Down’ during the day across the The Strip in Las Vegas.

Yemi Alade’s music has defied language and location

It is time for the government to make a different type of impact again. This does not even have to be the federal government as there are opportunities for subnational governments in this Afrobeats Economy. Afrobeats is not the first iteration of Nigerian music taking the world by storm. Fela’s Afrobeat did that. Majek Fashek achieved some success too, and the likes of Prince Nico Mbanga, William Onyeabor, King Sunny Ade, etc., achieved some acclaim for their efforts.

There should be a museum for these stories, which could be a massive project that would attract people from all around the world. Yemi Alade’s exploits, Ckay’s monumental run, Burna Boy’s domination, Wizkid’s stardom, Tems earning mainstream status, Davido clocking for Nigeria at the World Cup in Qatar, Rema leading a new charge…these and more often happening simultaneously. These times are unprecedented.

There is a Nigerian curiosity that was initiated by Nollywood and has since been enhanced by our music. There are millions of people curious about where the music comes from. Now, the best they are left with is the streams. But like football fans who watch their teams on TV, the ones who can afford it have a sense of appreciation for the opportunity to visit the home cities and towns of these clubs.

Every December, we see what is possible. The Nigerian diaspora come visiting with their foreign currencies — and some, their newly acquired accents. They are the closest thing we have to tourism. If we worked things out right, Decembers could easily be for Lagos on the global fun calendar. There is no reason why not if most of the Afrobeats superstars somehow converge in the city with their different shows. Sadly though, you need more than stars to attract tourists.

You need security and the assurance of safety, a powerful story, you need iconic music venues — not just big halls. You need bright streets and good roads, world class hotels side by side with clean and well-maintained boutique accommodations. There are trappings of these in Lagos, but to make this a thing, you’d need to provide the enabling environment.

Nigerians were the first on to Nigerian music. They took it with them all over the world and now it has become a global thing. If Nigeria becomes safe enough for its diaspora to make Lagos and several of Nigeria’s cities their party grounds in December, in a short time, those planes will also contain more of their friends and allies. In no time, it would just be people with little or no link to Nigerians who just want to experience the greatness of Nigeria in December.

This will not happen by accident though. Afrobeats’ domination is not an accident. People built and sought out relationships. Sometimes you do not need a big airport, you just need a clean one with professional officials. I would know, I have been to poor countries that got me distracted by how clean their airports were and how professional their officials were that I never for a moment had it at the fore of my mind these were not rich countries. They are just countries who appreciate the connection between visitors and their economy and have committed to ensuring a memorable experience for every visitor. You would always want to return.

When I think of what could be, I reflect on the multidimensional impact of reggae music and its variations on Jamaica, its people and values and its economy. Afrobeats and its variations could be that for us. As we celebrate the power and fame of our music, let us remember, there are several layers of opportunities to explore here, and we can’t party into the night thinking this is it. It is not. There is more.

This piece was published in the THISDAY Newspaper of 14th April, 2023

Author – JJ. Omojuwa