The Industry Has Failed To Acknowledge The Complexities Of African Music

Apple Music's misstep speaks to wider preconceptions...

The past decade has brought a number of changes to the music landscape. Streaming has created new ways of communicating, removing barricades that had previously been put in place. As a result, first our music libraries and then our playlists became more international, more varied than ever before. K-Pop asserted itself as a global form, scoring hits on virtually every continent. Meanwhile a slew of artists across the African continent asserted a new form of confidence – just this week, for example, Wizkid completed a sold out run at London’s O2 Arena, one that was marked by what could only be termed a form of hysteria from fans.

Yet the complexities of this new environment have yet to be fully acknowledged by the industry at large. Just a few hours ago, for example, Apple Music revealed some additional Artist of The Year awards, a look at the talent making waves across their platform. There’s no arguing with the talent: French artist Aya Nakamura is honoured, alongside Japanese act Official Dige Dandism. In a curious misstep, however, Wizkid is recognised for his achievements – and he’s tagged ‘Africa’.

Why are two artists given their nationality, yet Wizkid is named alongside an entire continent? It’s emblematic of the way African music is viewed by the broader industry, as some form of amalgamated hub rather than an incredibly complex series of conversations between 54 distinct countries and more than one billion people.

Put simply: there’s a colossal difference between Nigerian culture, and the musical output of South Africa. Sure, afrobeats may well be a common parallel, but there’s little to compare Wizkid and – say – a viral amapiano track. Egyptian forms such as electro chaabi are wholly removed from gqom crafted in the southern tip of the continent. Even within Nigeria, there are huge distinctions between North and South, Christian and Muslim, between different tribal heritage. There are distinctions between afrobeats, the emerging influence of drill, and the alte scene. Indeed, these complexities are in part what makes Wizkid ongoing fusion so fascinating, so distinct, and so potent.

But yet it very rarely gets recognised. Instead, Apple Music choose to frame Africa as a singular entity, as a country – it’s a reductionist viewpoint, almost patronising in its willingness to downgrade the achievements of African musicians. Fans were quick to call out the move, with actress Kelechi Okafor commenting: “I’m proud of Wizkid but the constant diminutive manner in which the continent of Africa is often referred to is very much giving colonial nostalgia.”

Journalist Eliza Anyangwe called the move “extremely lazy” while one fan simply wrote: “Why is it still so difficult to recognise that Africa, the second-largest continent on the planet, is a CON-TIN-ENT and not a country?!”

In a way, Apple Music’s misstep is already out-dated. A new generation are using these platforms to forge new paths, ones that even the architects of the technology are slow to follow. What’s important, however, is that African musicians – in all their forms, in all their nationalities, in their all their enthralling new genres – aren’t going away. Once hemmed in to the since-disregarded term ‘world music’ they’ve emerged as a crucible for fresh thought, and innovative culture.

It’s a matter of time before someone like Wizkid or Burna Boy or Terms, perhaps, truly cracks America, and asserts an African voice at the pinnacle of global youth culture. It could even be 2022, if the current hysteria around Wizkid holds. If anything, Apple Music have simply proved that Africa remains one step ahead.

– – –

– – –

Join the Clash mailing list for up to the minute music, fashion and film news.