Yusuf Bangura: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 03 April 2023:
When my nephew in Freetown informed me two days ago that Davido’s Timeless album was Number 3 on the United States Apple Music Top Albums chart, I had to check the chart myself to confirm the information since the album was only a few hours old.
This 17-track album has a number of bangers, especially Feel (my favourite), Over dem, In the garden, Precision, No competition (performed with another blockbuster Afrobeats star, Asake), For the road, LCND (a tribute to his mum and son, whom he tragically lost last year), and Champions sound (performed with the South African amapiano superstar, Focalistic and released in November 2021).
The question I had was: how could an African album, however beautiful, make such an impact in the world’s biggest market for streaming music in such a short period? It turned out that the album had in fact moved a step higher and was Number 2.
This prompted me to check the Apple album charts of a few other Western countries. It was clear that the album’s US success was not a fluke: it was No. 1 in the UK Apple music top albums chart, No. 14 in Germany, No. 17 in France, Number 12 in Italy, and No. 24 in Switzerland on lists that have 200 albums in each country.
I became even more curious to understand the extent and pattern of reach of the album across the world in its first 24 hours of release. What I found may shock those who have not been following the global impact of afrobeats in recent years.
Timeless is Number 1 in the Apple music top album charts of five European countries, in the top five in 10 countries, and in the top 20 in nineteen countries. In the Middle East, it is No. 1 in the United Arab Emirates, No. 2 in Jordan, No. 3 in Kuwait and No. 12 in Saudi Arabia.
The album has also penetrated countries in the larger Asian market, such as India (No. 52), Malaysia (No. 6), Philippines (No. 20), Singapore (No. 25), Indonesia (No 101), Vietnam (104), and Thailand (128).
The only big European and Asian Apple music streaming platforms that the album has not impacted are Russia, China, Japan and Korea. It has also not entered the Latin American Apple streaming market.
Amazingly, Timeless is Number 1 in the Apple music top album charts of 20 African countries, including Nigeria, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Mozambique, Mali and Mauritius; and is Number 2 in South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo-Brazzaville, Guinea-Bissau and Seychelles.
It is also in the top 10 of the Apple music top album charts in Jamaica and Barbados. To underscore the extraordinary impact of Timeless, it is the ninth most streamed album in Apple’s worldwide music album chart in the first 24 hours of its release.
Streaming is the most popular way music is currently consumed around the world. Gone are the days when we listen to music on vinyl, CDs, DVDs and downloads. Indeed, 65% of the global music industry’s revenue today comes from music streaming.
Physical records, cassettes and DVDs account for only 19% of the total revenue. It is not surprising that paid music streaming subscriptions rose from a mere 8 million in 2010 to 616 million in 2022. This means that any musician who wants to excel or attain global superstardom cannot ignore the music streaming market.
Eighty percent of the music that is streamed around the world is controlled by five companies: Spotify (31%), Apple Music (15%), Amazon Music (13%), Tencent Music (14%) and Youtube (8%). The global reach of these streaming platforms guarantees instant dissemination of a record; and if the record resonates with listeners, it can very quickly climb the charts, as we have seen with Davido’s Limitless.
Who produces a record also matters for global success. Even though there is still room for artisanal or independent musicians to produce their own records, the global music market is now strongly dominated by recording companies.
Almost 70% of the globally recorded music is controlled by three companies: Universal Music Group (32.1%), Sonny Music Entertainment (20.6%) and Warner Music Group (15.9%). Independent artists accounted for only 5.1% of the recorded music market in 2020.
Davido’s Limitless album has been successful partly because it was produced by Sonny, one of the three giants in the industry. These recording companies have close ties with the music streaming platforms and have the resources, networks and marketing strategies to push the records of artists that are signed on their labels.
A comparison with one of the top three contemporary Ghanaian musicians, Shatta Wale, is instructive. Shatta Wale released his album, MAÀLI, a week before Davido released his Limitless album. However, Shatta Wale is an independent artist with no ties to a record label. Even after one week of releasing his album, it has not featured in any of the Apple music album charts of any country apart from Ghana, where it is Number 2.
Instructively, even in Ghana, Davido’s Limitless is the Number 1 album on Apple. Shatta Wale’s MAALI has also performed poorly on Youtube, with tracks getting between 15,000 and 30,000 clicks, compared to Davido’s Limitless, whose clicks per track are in the hundreds of thousands in only two days of the album’s release.
The poor performance of MAALI could perhaps be related also to Shatta Wale’s brand of music, which is heavily influenced by Jamaican dancehall. Dancehall is a fading music genre. The US Billboard 100 dropped it as a separate genre for ranking songs in 2020 and launched a new afrobeats billboard chart in 2022.
There is no doubt that afrobeats is the new sensation in the music world. Afrobeats superstar, Burna Boy, will feature in the opening ceremony of this year’s UEFA Champions League football final in Istanbul. Last November, two other afrobeats superstars, Davido and Kizz Daniel, performed at the Qatar World Cup. And Burna Boy, Tems and Rema performed at the NBA All Star Half-time Show in Salt Lake City last February.
Afrobeats is not only penetrating non-African global markets, it is also crowding out Western music in much of Africa. When I was growing up in Sierra Leone in the 1960s, there were four big musical influences in our lives: African-American soul or R&B (dominated by such stars as James Brown, Ottis Reading, Diana Ross, Percy Sledge, The Temptations, Aretha Franklyn, Smokey Robinson, and Sam Cooke), Congolese soukous or rumba (the most famous being Dr. Nico, Rochereaux, and Franco), US-British pop and country (such as the songs of The Beatles, Elvis Presley, The Everly Brothers, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Jimmy Reeves), and Sierra Leonean music. Reggae, especially the songs of Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Gregory Isaacs, The Pioneers, and Peter Tosh, joined these four music genres in the 1970s when I was a student in England.
Even when I worked in Nigeria in the 1980s, Western music was still very much part of the music scene among youths. The great afrobeat musician, Fela, was very popular but his music did not crowd out foreign music. We still listened to Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, George Benson, Aretha Franklyn, Whitney Houston, Barry White, The Bee Gees, Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, Dolly Parton, Don Williams and a host of other artists.
The situation in many African countries today has dramatically changed. Afrobeats now dominates the airwaves, parties and music charts. Only the Democratic Republic of Congo’s soukous/rumba (which now has many non-Congolese influences as can be seen in the music of Fali Ipupa, the current top artist of the genre, after the death of most of the classical soukous musicians and decline of Kofi Olomide) and amapiano in South Africa compete with afrobeats.
But the continental reach of the new, high tempo soukous music is limited and amapiano is being incorporated into afrobeats by Nigerian artists. Nigerian-inspired afrobeats is so dominant that last week there was a debate on Ghana’s social media on why the top 10 songs on Ghana’s Apple chart were all Nigerian songs.
Is Afrobeats crowding out Western music in Africa because R&B/soul lost its melodious sounds to hip-hop, and Jamaican dancehall killed the sweet melodies of classical reggae?
What is clear is that afrobeats has been able to combine the powerful and sweet melodic style of R&B with lively, intricate, and rhythmic African percussion sounds. This may well be the reason why afrobeats is irresistible and mesmerising the world.