What is Afro Pop Music?

What is Afro Pop Music

The conversation around musical genres often falls around the common core. Pop, rock, hip-hop, reggae, R&B, and country are among what amalgamates pop music for Western culture, but the music industry is far more liberated than a few subdivisions.

Everywhere on the globe you’ll find cultures and societies experimenting and shifting the range of musical styles. Afropop, a style of music described as “as colorful as the continent of Africa itself,” blends the traditional sounds of African cultures with foreign influence to create something completely its own.

Listeners will find many commonalities between Afropop and the Pop known elsewhere, and the realization is as unsurprising as its history. Hip-hop, particularly, has roots in the rhythms born in Africa, and Africa keeps many of these early influence alive as it expands its own musical stylizations. Hip-hop and the closely related reggae are just the tip of the iceberg for this enduring pseudo-genre. Afropop examples come just as varied, if not more so, than the Billboard charts.


1998’s ‘Molokai’, by afro pop legend Papa Wemba

The many countries within Africa all have their own rich histories of tradition, making the music of each region diverse. Even within countries, there may be over 200 ethnic groups with their own individual flavors to add to the music of the continent. Afropop, as a collective whole, blends the genres of every corner of its continent with sounds that are unique to the culture, history, and styles of its people.

From the island region of Madagascar, high-pitched vocals scream out over energetic guitar riffs to create the style of Tsapika, also known as “electric guitar boogie.” It’s swift, it’s animated, and some artists like Tsodrano and Safo-Drano are well-known for keeping the pace and energy of the music radiating.

Dancing is a prevailing sense of expression in Africa. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the kwassa kwassa dance accompanies the region’s defining musical style, soukous. The name comes from the French “to shake,” but the style is derived from the Congolese tradition of the rumba. To visiting Frenchmen and ladies, the traditional rumba was perplexing. The term “kwassa kwassa” is a stemmed from the question: what is that?–c’est qoui ça? in French.

But the French took to the exoticism, as many visitors are apt to do with the unique and alluring, and soukous has subsequently become a popular style of music in Paris.

Diblo Dibala became a standout star of the scene, with lightning-fast fingers on his guitar. Though the Congolese have been slightly more interested in keeping it traditional, soukous stars like Fally Ipupa and Ferré Gola do well to blend both the tradition of the Congolese rumba with the quaking of the new-age soukous.

But beating deep within the heart of the multitudinous sounds of Afropop is Afrobeat itself. Afrobeat is a blend of Ghanaian highlife music, jazz, and funk as created and performed by Fela Kuti and drummer Tony Allen. As with its Western jazz-counterpart, Afrobeat comes to life through layering of horn sections, West African-inspired guitar, and drums.

Examples of Afro Pop Music

To get a taste of how the genre has transformed and impacted the music industry, look to strong Afropop examples in artists like Sauti Sol, Yemi Alade, Papa Wemba, Salif Keita, Wizkid, and Ycee.

Fela Kuti was as much a musician as he was a humanitarian. His lyrics often touch on the politics of his home in Nigeria, where he saw corruption and socio-economic inequality. He thought music to be an opportunity for people to feel and do more for themselves.

“That’s what African music is about,” he said to music author Hank Bardowitz. “I want to move people to dance, but also to think. Music wants to dictate a better life, against a bad life. When you’re listening to something that depicts having a better life, and you’re not having a better life, it must have an effect on you.”

The effects of Afropop as a whole are undeniable. PBS creates a particularly engaging series exploring Afropop, calling it the “ultimate cultural exchange.” Spread like wildfire from Madagascar and Congo to dance clubs in Paris and London, Afropop is alive and well within western society’s mainstream.

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