HIVEWIRE #10: Of Afrobeats, Afro Nation and Ecosystems: An Afro-Nation Case Study On The Value Of Interconnectedness

HIVEWIRE #10: Of Afrobeats, Afro Nation and Ecosystems: An Afro-Nation Case Study On The Value Of Interconnectedness

Contributor: Yatin Srivastava; Edited by Srishti Das

The recent cancellation of the Nigerian iteration of Afro Nation, a festival which touts itself as the biggest in the realm of Afrobeats, should give everyone in the African music ecosystem a pause for thought. The festival, which is powered by Smade Entertainment, Memories of Tomorrow, Event Horizon and Live Nation, had successful iterations in Miami, USA and Portimão,

Portugal before this inaugural show in Lagos. The official statement cited the ‘event organisers holding themselves to a high standard, which became clear they wouldn’t be able to achieve’. Many have since speculated on which one of the myriad of contributing factors finally broke the proverbial camel’s back. Still, everyone rooting for Afrobeats agrees that the cancellation was both unfortunate and, perhaps, inevitable

Incidentally, this conversation would morph into discussions around Afrobeats artists with global reach and if they were required to ‘adjust’ their performance fees when they were billed to play on their home turf. We’ve previously touched on why emerging scenes are just as important to strengthen as artists’ individual footprints and why the local is still as important even as artists become global brands. In this edition, we briefly touch on what these concurrent conversations around festival infrastructure and artist remuneration highlight in the bigger scope - the scope of Afrobeats going to the world and Afrobeats finding their way back home. It may help to contextualise this as how contemporary African music can act as a driver of integration:

  • Intercontinental integration - Bridging the gaps between the continent’s regions 
  • Interdisciplinary Integration - Fostering collaboration between different expressions  
  • Cross-global integration - Facilitating the import and export of cultural ideas   

What will it take to build both careers, festival properties and thriving markets wholly dedicated to Africa’s rising genres? 

Music is used as a social lubricant, and it is the driving force behind community engagement, a truth that is as undeniable as the African drum being the source of all our rhythmic expression. As central as drums have been across African cultures, so has collaboration, information exchange and trade. Culture & Conversations On Africa makes the case for continued Inter-regional integration through cultural means, hoping to improve continental alliances and increase economic prosperity. From cross-regional remixes to well-attended conferences and festivals, there is a growing appreciation for the cultural sector’s role in increasing inter-regional research, tourism and commerce. 

All these different sectors have their own strengths and weaknesses, but it’s in them forming symbiotic relationships that real value can be derived. For this, the relationship between the cultural sector, policymakers and entrepreneurs must be formalised. Properties like Afro Nation should not be isolated as mere commercial undertakings that generate revenue through art, but be embraced as avenues for social cohesion, tourism attraction and brand-building exercises - the brand of the nation they take place in. This will require leaders (in thought and practice) to get around a table and iron out certain recurring concerns. Of course, this isn’t specific to Afro Nation, but we’ll pick out a couple and address how these problems may seem to affect either the concertgoer, organiser or government separately but may actually highlight issues of common ground.

1. Security: The 2022 Ghanaian edition of Afro Nation was abruptly shut down on Day 2 of the festival due to safety concerns. These ‘concerns’ were explained as crowds overwhelming security personnel by attempting to force their way into the venue. The safety of security personnel was thus at risk, but also high chances of stampedes, lack of protection for artists and horrible PR for Accra could have accompanied any other unsightly probabilities. The risk here is thus shared and highlights the need for a public-private approach to venue readiness - ideally, a dedicated arm of local governments should be deployed for such events.

 2. Affordability: The concern around ticket prices being out of reach for local fans (i.e. fans who are not returning from the diaspora and do not earn in foreign currency) is one that dominated the initial announcement of Afro Nation Lagos. This is strikingly similar to the failed proposal of a European Super League, where an internationalist outlook ignored the importance of local fandoms and communities that make Europe’s football leagues what they are, something we spoke about in a previous post about how the success of a global scale depends on the strength of a local market.  With 1 VIP weekend pass going at $299, it seems a viable concern - especially for a nation whose minimum wage was only recently adjusted to 65 000 Naira ($80) per/month. While an argument can be made that a General Pass was more accessible, completely making a VIP experience unattainable for locals is unpalatable. A viable solution for this is having a tiered ticketing approach, where locals are charged separately from tourists and visitors from other regions. This is a common tactic used in the tourism sector and helps build a feeling of ownership, get buy-in from the local populace and maintain the spirit of such events.

However, we return once more to the conversation mentioned at the beginning of the piece. One of Afrobeats’ leading acts reportedly set their price at $1M per show ($1,000,000), and a promoter or event organiser would have to foot that bill before deciding on how much to charge attendees. With emerging markets facing higher fees associated with security and artists charging in forex, we can already see how just 2 (non-exhaustive) factors have created a lopsided home market that suffers the consequence of exporting its finest talent by paying to reap the benefits of experiencing them. It’s the age-old adage of sending raw materials out to the world and buying back polished gems! The situation needn’t be so dire, though. 

Growing interdisciplinary success for Africa through Fashion, Dance and Cross-entertainment opportunities

Music is also an avenue for sparking interdisciplinary creativity, with African artists recently bridging the worlds of sound and style. Fireboy DML’s collaboration with shoe brand Clarks and the teaming up of Burna Boy and luxury brand Jean Paul Gaultier for a sunglass range are great illustrations of this. The past decade has also seen Nigerian designers penetrate the international fashion industry, bringing with them idiosyncratic approaches to fabric, shape and colour. Brands like Wales Bonner, Spencer Badu and Mowalola have taken the entire industry by storm. Meanwhile, legacy brands like Martine Rose continue to have a continuous over-arching impact on the entire world of Fashion, not only providing a space for existing designers and artists but also newer ones - the fashion label Mains by Skepta at the most recent London Fashion Week being a poignant example. Along with Tems and Ayra Starr’s brand ambassadorships for Tommy Hilfiger and Maybelline, respectively, these advancements are the latest example of just how exportable the cultural figures, homegrown skills and sounds of Africa’s contemporary scenes are. This is a phenomenon that is being seen in India too. Brands like NorBlackNorWhite are not just creating clothes, but they are creating an entire diaspora community that extends the culture and infuses itself with different art forms within and outside of India. Dressing artists like Anushka Shankar for her International and USA Tour this year, along with providing pieces for the likes of even International artists like Sampha (who recently toured India), they are actively connecting different worlds of art by creating a unique community experience. Other Indian brands like BALAV, Lead-A and Garuda have also been providing their art in clothes to local Indie artists like Chaar Diwari, KRSNA, Nucleya and beyond. What this also showcases is that local scenes in places like Africa and India are creating real identities that are completely pure and reflect perfectly upon the expansion and amalgamation of Music and Fashion.

Alongside these West African accolades and Afrobeats' rise, a sound that has captured hearts and ears across the globe is Amapiano. A combination of Kwaito, Deep House and Jazz, the youthful South African subgenre has particularly caught on at festivals around the world through artists like the Grammy-winning Musa Keys and the Coachella-headlining Uncle Waffles and now Tyla’s Grammy-nominated song Water taking over the internet with fashion, music, dance and style. With its trademark horns, driving bass lines and visceral log drums, elements of Amapiano are already seeping soundscapes across continents and Vibe Magazine predicts that the genre will continue to define the trajectory of mainstream music. With its success on the Billboard Charts, Tyla’s “Water” is a great representation of how fusing pop with Amapiano elements can expand a genre's reach. A subsequent remix with Travis Scott won’t hurt the cause either and epitomises how cross-pollination can work across genre, geographical and generational factors. This was achieved by K-pop and reggaeton acts, who crossed over in their prime by integrating other popular sounds into their music. Funnily, Travis’ song ‘K-Pop’ inherently uses the power of the term itself to explore new sounds that are now cross-pollinating across genres already.

What these happenings, both positive and less so, in the cultural sphere reflect is how staunchly a united front is required. While the explosion of talented artists and scenes can elevate developing regions by one wrung, the support of ecosystems outside culture is what continues to fuel the burning fire. Strong governmental involvement in matters of health and safety, strong branding from regional tourism bodies, strong policy contributions from non-governmental organisations, market research by education institutions and a strong collective idea across the media a la ‘Africa Rising’ are all needed - simultaneously - to ensure that Afrobeats going to the world isn’t at the expense of Africa itself.