Afrobeats, thank you for the music

2020 might be a year of many horrors, but it will go down in history as one of the best years for African artistry. Thanks to musicians who gave us some of their best efforts.

What a year we’ve had. Nobody could make good on the promises they made to themselves at the crack of 2020. No one could pause and catch a break, even as the world around us slowed down. What a year we’ve had. When we were faced with the decision of spending time with ourselves, we dug deep, willing ourselves, inch by inch, through the horrors that penetrated our skins, and struck fear in our hearts. What a year we’ve had. Where showing up was a victory in itself, participation medals confer great pride, and losses pursued us to the very end. What a year we’ve had. Where the world has been changed, forever. And we with it.

The music moved along with us. It stayed with us every step of the way, as we gravitated through our forced silence and immobility to sounds that made time fly by. The dourness of endless Zoom calls, the overwhelming gloom that made our loneliness hurt deeper. Music was with us through it all. It filled our playlists, homes and hearts with silver linings. Sounds from gifted creators around the world became more than just soundtracks to our celebrations, they were lifelines in our personal battles. On many days, they were all we had. As everything crashed around us, we could still dance to the music, cry to it even, and sleep in its warm, sincere embrace. 

The importance of music shows in the quality of music coming from Nigeria. This year, as we dug for meaning and connection to the art, we opened ourselves to experimentation and expansion. Nigerians successfully retired from Zanku. The raucousness turned to noise, and the dance became more complicated. What started as fun became full body workout. It wasn’t to be. We needed new voices, and new voices we found.

23-year-old singer, Omah Lay, abandoned the musical outpost of Nigeria’s Port Harcourt, travelling to Lagos to begin a career in music. Backed by a team of industry veterans eager to make a mark, his first efforts at mainstream ambitions paid off. ‘You’ warmed up radio, ‘Bad Influence’ took us there, culminating in the instant success of his debut EP, Get Layd. Beyond that, Fireboy DML’s ‘Apollo’ introduced a new take on his songwriting, his boss Olamide cleaned up his artistry, scoring heavily on the ‘underrated’ Carpe Diem album. 

Adekunle Gold’s transition into a pop star produced in one of the year’s best — AfroPop Volume 1. Tems’ bouncy ‘Damages’ helped her debut EP, For Broken Ears, break through as a shining light of how talent can blossom when paired with genuine support. Her Ugandan woes aside, her spot on Wizkid’s Made In Lagos does her many favours. Starboy’s polarizing addition to his discography shows us an artist in transition, Davido’s braggadocio continues to fuel new cultural moments, while Burna Boy’s quest for supremacy is inching him closer to a Grammy gong. Tiwa Savage’s Celia must have felt hard done by. It was easily one of the best collection of music released in 2020.

Street music have been the most adaptable to the times. With Zanku’s influence waning,  they deserve due credit for digging into their fountain, and extracting new material for the world. They showed out this year. Jamo Pyper, Zinoleeski, Zlatan Ibile, Naira Marley, Bella Shmurda, and a few others ensured that new material from that end of town got us in the zone. Special shouts to Rexxie who has adapted his work, and received many rewards for it. Special shouts go to P.Prime, the young producer who had a stellar 2020.

Despite these wins, my heart still bleeds for Nigerian musicians. Creatives suffered in 2020. For a year packed with some of the most creative sounds to ever come out from Africa, there were few opportunities for local players to rake in the show money. Live music took the biggest hit of the year. All the spaces for the shared appreciation of the art shut were down by government decree, in a bid to protect the most vulnerable of us. While nothing can compare to the potential lives saved by this denial, a general lack of support or reasoning from the government has ensured that there are no silver linings. The effects hit hard. Professionals lost their jobs, families starved, and people still died. The music business in Nigeria was treated unfairly. But still, we persevered. We made the best music, we brought honour to the country, and continued our quest to create magic from the worst situations. Look at any year-end list, the diversity is sexy. 

Seeing how tough 2020 has been for the music industry, the bar for success has to be just showing up. Anyone who worked through their fear, anxiety, pain and demons to create art deserves a medal. Showing up artistically in 2020 is an end in itself. No matter your impact, you cared enough to still make art. That deserves appreciation. You are the backbone of society. Thanks for your service. 

This is not a year for lists and the vanity of comparisons. We have had so much needless bad blood for a turbulent year. 2020 ought to have reminded us of the fragility of our existence. How we need to rate each other, and all that we bring to the table. How today can be all that we have, with viruses bearing down on us, strange philosophies dividing us, and the insecurity of Nigeria upon us. We fought SARS with our voices and platforms. We’re still reeling as a people from the scars of that battle. We have run a good race, put in a good shift, and now we stand on the cusp of another chance. Another dance. Another prance around each other, for value and enjoyment.

I give great thanks to my subscribers who chose and trusted me on this journey of knowledge and entertainment. We have another year to go, and so much to do together. And to those who put money into AI, I say this to you: On many nights, you were the reason why this flame stayed burning. There’s more for you in the new year. Thank you so much.

Happy 2021! Happy music. Happy Afrobeats. Happy intelligence!