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Six Sub-Genres Expanding the Diversity of Afrobeats

Six Sub-Genres Expanding the Diversity of Afrobeats

Six Sub-Genres Expanding the Diversity of Afrobeats - Afrocritik

Within this expansive landscape of Afrobeats, it becomes increasingly important to unravel its intricate layers and explore its diverse sub-genres. 

By Emmanuel Okoro

Over the last six years, Afrobeats has not only grown to become a phenomenon capturing hearts, but has transcended borders and attracted a global audience. More so, this dominant genre from West Africa – particularly Nigeria – characterised by percussive elements and Caribbean melodies, with its beats per minute (BPM) ranging from 95 to 190, has been breaking its own ceilings on the African music scene. 

Spotify recently launched “Afrobeats: Journey of a Billion Streams”, to keep up with the genre’s rise and to explore its evolution. According to Spotify’s data, this year alone, Afrobeats has experienced an unprecedented surge in popularity, with listeners worldwide spending over 223 million hours and counting on the platform. The genre has also amassed a staggering 7.1 billion streams in 2023, underscoring its enduring vitality and widespread appeal. Recognising its influence, prestigious awards such as the MTV VMAs, the Grammys, and the Billboard Music Awards have introduced special categories dedicated to the genre, acknowledging its unique contribution to the global music landscape.

Journey of a billion streams

Within this expansive landscape of Afrobeats, it becomes increasingly important to unravel its intricate layers and explore its diverse sub-genres. Not every music out of West Africa is exclusively Afrobeats, as there exists a vast range of genres and sub-genres emanating from the region. Artistes from this region are not necessarily confined to one sound or style and are able to switch between sub-genres. In this piece, we explore six Afrobeats sub-genres expanding and diversifying its reach. 

Pon Pon Music

Pon Pon music, a subset of Afrobeats, is marked by a pair of mellow, percussive-hitting synths that usually take on the “pon pon” sound between verses delivered in English and Nigerian Pidgin. While its origins remain elusive, the genre gained significant attention with the release of Tekno’s chart-topping hit, “Pana” in 2016, produced by Krizz Beatz.

Some of the biggest tracks that epitomise this sub-genre include Davido’s “IF” and “Fall” (2017), Runtown’s “Mad Over You” (2016), and Tiwa Savage‘s “Ma Lo” (2017). Other notable examples of this sonic scape include Falz’s “Jeje” (2017), Wizkid and Masterkraft’s “Odoo” (2018), 2Baba’s “Gaga Shuffle” (2017), Seyi Shay’s “Weekend Vibes” (2017), and Mayorkun’s “Mama” (2017).

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Afro-Adura

Afro-Adura, also known as Afro-Trenches, is a poignant sub-genre within Afrobeats, drawing its name from the fusion of Afro representing Afrobeats, and Adura, a Yoruba term meaning “Prayer”.

Inspired by the streets and slums of Nigeria, Afro-Adura is proof of the resilience, faith, and struggles of those who call these vibrant but challenging environments home. Its artistes infuse their music with the raw, unfiltered narratives of survival, hard work, spirituality, and navigating the precarious paths of life to avoid or escape trouble. The sub-genre is not confined to a singular mood. Rather, it traverses between sombre beats and uplifting tones that reflect street life in Nigeria.

While the origins of Afro-Adura remain shrouded in obscurity, its digital presence can be traced back to a tweet that read: “These Yahoo Boys and Afro-Adura are like Bonny & Clyde”, drawing a parallel between the sub-genre and “Yahoo Boys” (a term for individuals involved in cybercrime), whose hustle culture and lifestyle are recurring themes in these songs. Although Afro-Adura may not explicitly endorse fraud, it inadvertently offers a contextual understanding of the challenges faced by those who may choose to ply that route to “make it out of the streets and make mama proud”. 

Debates about the pioneering figures in Afro-Adura often spotlight names such as Tope Alabi, a gospel singer and songwriter. Her music is laden with indelible messages of hope, patience, spirituality, and submission to the divine. Other pioneering acts include 9ice, Jaywon, Dotman, and Oritse Femi. However, the sub-genre’s ascent to greater heights is attributed to a new generation of artistes, including Zlatan, Asake, Mohbad, Bella Shmurda, T.I Blaze, Barry Jhay, Qdot, and Portable

Seyi Vibez - Afrocritik
Seyi Vibez

Some of the common examples of Afro-Adura include Seyi Vibez’s 2023 album Thy Kingdom Come, Bella Shmurda’s “Vision 2020” (2019), Asake’s “Nzaza” (2022), Victor AD’s “Wetin We Gain” (2018), T.I Blaze’s “Sometimes” (2022), Davolee’s album, Na My Shoe I Buckle (2023), and Burna Boy’s “Dangote” (2019). 

Street-Hop

Street-Hop, a dynamic sub-genre within the landscape of Afrobeats, is a pulsating fusion of indigenous rap and Afrobeats elements characterised by its energetic, fast-tempo beats. Unlike its counterpart, Afro-Adura, Street-Hop places a greater emphasis on infectious rhythm and pop-leaning sounds, with less lyrical depth. The genre has evolved over time, incorporating diverse musical influences such as Amapiano, Trap, and Dancehall.

The roots of Street-Hop trace back to artistes of the early 2000s, such as Jazzman Olofin, Danfo Drivers, X-Project, Lord of Ajasa, DJ Zeez, and Terry G. However, a resurgence in the genre occurred in the early 2010s with the emergence of acts like Olamide, Reminisce, and Phyno, who brought a renewed vigour to Street-Hop, propelling it again, and into the forefront of the Nigerian music scene. Presently, a new wave of artistes is contributing to the popularisation of Street-Hop, including Bella Shmurda, Zinoleesky, Seyi Vibez, Zlatan, Yonda, Balloranking, and Bad Boy Timz.

Olamide - Afrocritik
Olamide

Some of the common examples of Street-Hop music includes X-Project’s “Lorile” (2010), Terry G’s “Free Madness” (2008), Timaya’s “Malonogede” (2012), Jahbless’ “Joor Oh (Remix)” (2011), Mohbad’s “Peace” (2022), Zlatan’s “Yeye Boyfriend” (2019), Olamide’s “Bobo” (2016), and Reminisce’s “Kako Bi Chicken” (2012). 

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Emo-Afrobeats

Emo-Afrobeats, though not widely recognised as a formal sub-genre, presents a compelling and valid argument as an inclusion to this list. Emo-Afrobeats is coined from “Emo” meaning emotional or emotionally expressive content and Afrobeats.

The term Emo was originally used to describe youths and teenagers struggling with depression, suicide, or self-destructive tendencies. As a result, Emo-Afrobeats music tends to carry a range of emotions, often leaning towards melancholic and reflective tones, but with the potential to also convey happiness and upliftment.

The core of Emo-Afrobeats lies in its use of emotionally charged lyrics and musical arrangements. The sonic palette often includes lead and acoustic guitar plucks, reminiscent of the emotive characteristics found in Emo, originally a subset of rock music dating back to the 1980s. The first person credited to this subgenre is CKay, around the time his sophomore project Boyfriend was released in 2021. Omah Lay, fondly recognised as the “King of Afro-Depression” is a core proponent of this sub-genre, as his 2020 EPs, Get Layd, What Have We Done, and his 2022 debut album Boy Alone expertly highlight Emo-Afrobeats.

Ckay - Afrocritik
CKay

Common examples of Emo-Afrobeats include Rema’s “Why” (2021), CKay’s “Kiss Me Like You Miss Me” (2021), Omah Lay’s “Soso” and “I’m A Mess” (2022), Vector’s “Early Momo” (2021), and Victony’s “Kolomental” (2022). 

Afro-Piano

Afro-Piano draws its inspiration from Afrobeats and Amapiano – a hybrid of South Africa’s House and Kwaito music which gained widespread appeal in 2017, with its name coined from the fusion of “Afro” in Afrobeats and the “Piano” in Amapiano.

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At its core, Afro-Piano transforms the rhythmic landscape of Afrobeats by incorporating a percussive element called the log drums – a characteristic of Amapiano. Thus, Afro-Piano is the seamless blend of melodic Afrobeats elements with South African Afro-House, Gqom, and Kwaito.

The introduction of House music to the Nigerian music scene dates back to the early 2010s, with artistes like Niniola earning the title “Queen of Afro House” after releasing her 2017 LP, This Is Me, and standout singles like “Ibadi” (2014), “Shaba” (2016), and “Maradona” (2017). Davido has also sampled House music on his 2014 hit single, “Tchelete (Goodlife)” featuring South African duo, Mafikizolo.

Afro-Piano established its presence in the early 2020s, propelled by tracks such as Kabza De Small’s 2020 single, “Sponono” featuring Wizkid, Burna Boy, Cassper Nyovest, and Madumane, and KDDO’s “eWallet” release that same year, which skillfully fused Afrobeats and Amapiano elements. 

However, the rise of Afro-Piano has sparked debates, particularly on social media platforms, with some South Africans accusing Nigerians of appropriating the Amapiano sound. The controversy intensified when American rapper, Swae Lee, mistakenly attributed Amapiano to Nigeria, leading to a flurry of discussions and clarifications. It is crucial to note the distinction: Amapiano is a House sub-genre originating from South Africa, while Afro-Piano represents a modified adaptation of the Amapiano sound within the context of Afrobeats.

Niniola - Afrocritik
Niniola

Notable examples of Afro-Piano include Asake’s “PBUY” and “Joha” (2022), Zinoleesky’s “Kilofeshe” (2020), Burna Boy’s “Different Size” (2022), Asake and Olamide’s “Amapiano” (2023), Davido’s “La La” (2020) and “Unavailable” (2023), Shallipopi’s “Ex-Convict” (2023), Peruzzi’s “Southy Love” (2020), Bnxn’s “Gwagwalada” (2023), and Fiokee’s “Personal” (2021). 

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Alté

Alté, pronounced as “uh-teh”, is a unique genre that experiments and combines distinct elements of Reggae, Hip-Hop, Dancehall, Soul, Alternative R&B, Highlife, and Afrobeats. Originating as an individual style of creative expression across various fields such as fashion, photography, and cinematography, Alté represents freedom to break away from conventional norms, embracing a unique and unrestrained approach to artistic expression. 

The term Alté was coined by the musical group DRB Lasgidi, consisting of Teezee, BOJ, and Fresh L, and first gained prominence in BOJ’s 2014 record, “Paper”. Beyond its musical aspect, Alté encompasses a broader cultural movement that encourages non-conformity and celebrates individuality without compromising artistic integrity. Alté music is characterised by its gritty, psychedelic, melancholic, and nostalgic sound. Drawing inspiration from Nigerian music of the 70s and 80s, Alté music videos often pay homage to Nollywood films from the 1990s and early 2000s, incorporating elements of Goth aesthetics. 

Although the Alté movement began in the late 2000s, it gained widespread appeal and developed a cult following from 2016 to 2020. Key artistes credited with popularising the sound include Cruel Santino, Odunsi (The Engine), Tems, Lady Donli, Amaarae, Tay Iwar, Nonso Amadi, and the Hip-Hop duo Show Dem Camp, whose Palmwine Music releases heavily incorporate the Alté sound.

rare. - Album by Odunsi (The Engine) | Afrocritik
Odunsi (The Engine) | rare album cover

Notable examples of Alté music include Cruel Santino’s albums, Suzie’s Funeral (2016) and Mandy and the Jungle (2019), Odunsi (The Engine)’s project, rare. (2018), Tems’ EP, For Broken Ears (2020), Lady Donli’s album, Pan African Rockstar (2023), Amaarae’s latest project, Fountain Baby (2023), Sarz and WurlD’s hit single, “Trobul” (2018), and Odumodublvck’s song, “Dog Eat Dog II” (2023)

As the global spotlight on Afrobeats intensifies, sub-genres such as Pon Pon, Afro-Adura, Street-Hop, Emo-Afrobeats, Afro-Piano, and Alté enrich its depth and versatility. As we navigate through the ongoing narrative of Afrobeats, a noteworthy statement from the 21st-century philosopher, Divine Ikubor – widely recognised as Rema – takes centre stage: “Be it Afro-this [and] Afro-that, last last, we go jam for Afrobeats Award.”

Emmanuel ‘Waziri’ Okoro is a content writer and journo with an insatiable knack for music and pop culture. When he’s not writing, you will find him arguing why Arsenal FC is the best football club in the multiverse. Connect with him on Twitter, Instagram, and Threads: @BughiLorde

Cover photo: The Grammys.

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