Afrobeats, the umbrella term for all things African music and a global staple on every music chart and every award show, but the reality is that music from the continent has many diverse subgenres. In fact “Bayethe” by Mellow & Sleazy ft. Nkosazana (South African) that won the Grammy for Best Global Music Performance ahead of Burna Boy’s “Last Last” has nothing to do with Afrobeats and people would call it “World Music” or something. So here’s a quick (non exhaustive) list of the different popular genres unique to the continent. We should celebrate the diverse and growing tapestry that makes the world of music, so let us shine some light on the musical culture that is emerging from the continent.
Each genre has its own unique characteristics, cultural significance, and style, and continues to evolve and adapt over time.
Kwaito is a genre of South African music that emerged in the 1990s, characterized by its use of electronic dance beats, hip-hop and house music influences, and lyrics in a mix of English and African languages. It is often associated with the post-apartheid era and is considered a cultural expression of young, urbanized black South Africans.
Amapiano is a genre of electronic dance music that originated in South Africa in the 2010s. It is characterized by its use of piano melodies, deep basslines, and shuffling beats, and is often seen as an evolution of the kwaito genre. The lyrics are typically sung in a mix of Zulu, Sotho, and English and often address themes of love, relationships, and everyday life. Amapiano has gained widespread popularity in South Africa and beyond and is considered an important part of contemporary South African music culture.
Afrobeats is a genre of popular music that originated in West Africa in the early 2000s and has since spread across the African continent and beyond. It is characterized by its uptempo beats, fusion of African rhythm and melody with Western pop and hip-hop influences, and incorporation of African language lyrics. Afrobeats music often features prominent basslines, synthesized instrumentation, and repeated catchy hooks, and is often accompanied by dance styles unique to the genre. The genre is widely popular in Africa and has gained increasing recognition globally, with many African artists crossing over into the international music scene.
Highlife is a musical genre that originated in West Africa in the early 20th century, specifically in Ghana and Nigeria. It is characterized by its fusion of African rhythms with Western jazz and swing, and is often performed with a combination of Western instruments such as the guitar, trumpet, and saxophone, and traditional African instruments like the xylophone, drums, and percussion. The genre was popular among the educated middle class in West Africa and often dealt with themes of love, relationships, and social commentary. Highlife has had a significant impact on the development of African popular music and continues to be popular in West Africa and beyond.
Alte Cruise is a subgenre of Afrobeats music that originated in Nigeria. The term “Alte” is short for “Alternative” and “Cruise” is used to describe the laid-back, relaxed vibe of the music. Alte Cruise is known for its fusion of traditional African sounds and instruments with contemporary pop, hip-hop, and R&B influences. The genre is characterized by its mellow tempos, melodic hooks, and introspective lyrics, and is often seen as a more alternative and experimental take on the popular Afrobeats sound. Alte Cruise has gained popularity in Nigeria and beyond, and is considered an important part of the growing alternative music scene in Africa.
Coupé-Décalé is a fast-paced dance music genre that originated in Ivory Coast and has since spread across West Africa. It is characterized by its energetic and upbeat rhythm, which is often accompanied by high-tempo percussion and brass instrumentation. The genre is known for its frenetic dance style, which is characterized by quick movements and acrobatics. Lyrics in Coupé-Décalé are often in French and Ivorian dialects and deal with themes of love, relationships, and social commentary. The popularity of Coupé-Décalé has grown significantly in recent years, with many African artists achieving international recognition and success in the genre.
Soukous is a popular music genre originating from the Congo Basin in Central Africa. It is a style of dance music that evolved from the Congolese rumba in the 1960s and 70s and is characterized by its fast and energetic rhythm, influenced by traditional African rhythms, Cuban rumba, and West African highlife. The genre is typically performed with a combination of acoustic and electric instruments, including the guitar, drums, percussion, and horns. Soukous is known for its intricate guitar solos and upbeat rhythm, and is often accompanied by lively dancing. It has been popular in Africa and beyond, and has had a significant impact on the development of African popular music.
Bongo Flava is a popular music genre originating from Tanzania. It is a style of hip hop and R&B that emerged in the 1990s and is characterized by its fusion of traditional African rhythms and instrumentation with contemporary hip-hop, R&B, and pop music. The lyrics in Bongo Flava are often in Swahili and English and deal with themes of love, social issues, and personal experiences. The genre is known for its catchy hooks, energetic beats, and innovative production techniques, and has gained significant popularity in East Africa and beyond. Bongo Flava continues to evolve and adapt, and is considered an important part of the growing African popular music scene.
Hiplife: Originating from Ghana, Hiplife is a fusion of traditional West African highlife music with hip hop, reggae, and dancehall.
Gqom: Originating from South Africa, Gqom is a genre of electronic dance music that incorporates elements of hip hop and traditional Zulu music.
Naija Rap: Originating from Nigeria, Naija Rap is a fusion of traditional African rhythms and instrumentation with contemporary hip hop and R&B.
Zouglou: A popular style of hip hop originating from Côte d’Ivoire, Zouglou is characterized by its upbeat rhythm, positive lyrics, and incorporation of traditional African instruments.
Tswana Rap: A style of hip hop originating from Botswana, Tswana Rap is characterized by its use of Tswana language and traditional musical instruments.
Kagiso Rap: A style of hip hop originating from South Africa that incorporates elements of traditional African music and focuses on socially conscious themes.