Does Afrobeats Really Need All Those remixes?
The world seems to be catching up to the rhythmic percussion of Afrobeats. Sadly, it’s a little late.
It’s been missing out on the gyrating rhythms and harmonies of the genre that have graced Nigerians and Africans for nearly two decades. Now that it can no longer be ignored and global listeners are quite fascinated by this “new” sound, a new trend is emerging that seems to threaten –or save– its meteoritic rise. This threatening concern is the remixes of popular Afrobeats songs. But are these necessary? Does Afrobeats really need all those remixes?
Understanding Afrobeats is the first step to answering the above question.
The definition of Afrobeats (not to be confused with “Afrobeat”) as a genre is quite subjective. This is because the term “Afrobeats” is so wide and encompassing that it means different things to different people. While foreigners may refer to it as just another genre from West Africa, the people that begat it think of it as a culture. An identity. But in its simplest form, “Afrobeats” refers to modern West African music, precisely from Nigeria (and to some extent Ghana) that is characterized by pulsating rhythms, heavy, multifaceted percussion, and often static–but nonetheless melodious– harmonies.
This distinct sound is a result of the fusion of many sounds: West African traditional music, highlife, Jazz, dancehall and hip-hop, with a touch of the vibrancy of the African spirit. This mix means that the sound is quite hybrid and varies according to the location although still anchored in the fundamental element of African music.
One of the underappreciated features of the genre is its ability to reflect the contemporary urban sound while still staying true to its core African elements. However, this originality is seemingly being threatened or, more accurately, put to the test by incessant remixes.
Make no mistake, the impact of remixes on Afrobeats has been profoundly beneficial. In fact, remix culture generally has been an integral part of the modern music industry, driving the appeal and reach of songs to untold heights. For Afrobeats, it reaps even more folds. Remixes by international acts on African jams have injected new life into them, increasing exposure of both the song and the artist as well as providing audiences with a different viewpoint.
Justin Bieber, famously on “Essence”, Ed Sheeran on “Peru”, Camila Cabello on “Ku Lo Sa”, Selena Gomez on “Calm down” and more recently, Don Toliver on “Soweto” are testament to the above fact. The explosive power added by these artists undeniably played a vital role in making these songs chart-toppers, further elevating the genre’s popularity globally.
Moreover, since these remixes often involve collaborations between artists from different genres and ethnic backgrounds, the resulting creative cross-pollination and cultural exchange is immortal, persisting long after the remixes’ popularity wanes. Besides increasing the exposure and expanding the accessibility of Afrobeats to foreign markets, remixing allows the genre to evolve and adapt – an indispensable element of music – in order to stand the test of time and maintain relevance in an ever-dynamic musical climate.
But ironically, the strengths of remixing African sounds make it a bad idea in some respects.
Of particular great concern is the issue of cultural authenticity and originality which remixes with foreign artists tend to compromise. These remixes sometimes change or modify the rhythmic and instrumental components that make up the essence of Afrobeats, which leads to a somewhat departure from its cultural setting and musical authority.
Take Selena Gomez’s input on Rema’s “Calm Down” for example. While still good – it’s currently #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 for a reason – Selena’s stylistic choices which stem from her history as a pop-oriented artist at times felt a little off in the overall track with some listeners, like me, needing Rema’s returning vocals to be reminded that this is still an African sound.
Although this subtle shift went unnoticed by her millions of fans – and by extension, foreign listeners – it certainly didn’t escape the criticism of the Afrobeats faithful who saw her vocals as unnecessary. At least that was the general consensus amongst Africans until the song began to climb the charts and people started to acclimatize to the new vocals.
Camila Cabello did her best to add that Latin, steamy vibe to Oxlade’s “Ku Lo Sa” and she did well, to be frank. Together, her alluring voice and Oxlade’s easygoing flow enhance the sensuous appeal of the song. Nevertheless, her input was unnecessary and the TikTok faithful stayed true to the original version.
So, does Afrobeats need all those remixes? Well, Yes. And No.
The question of Afrobeats remixes being unnecessary may ironically be a needless one itself. Because, in the end, music is subjective and I’m sure there are some who took delight in Selena and Camila’s input in the song. Hell, despite my apparent dislike of pop-oriented Afrobeats remixes, I still hold a soft spot for irresistibly crafted collaborations like Fireboy and Ed Sheeran’s “Peru” and Justin Bieber’s serenade on the 4 minutes, 23 second “Essence”.
The key should be finding a balance between artistic integrity and commercial success. As cool and beneficial as it is to disperse the Afro sound and culture to the world, it is more crucial to respect its core so as not to mix it with the wrong potion. This is a fine line artists must thread, I’m afraid.