From Marlians to Wizkid FC, afrobeats fandoms are contributing to the globalization of the sound—even if some might consider them overly obsessive.
To name something is to claim ownership. And with the Western music industry’s long tradition of appropriation, ownership of Africa’s latest export is something Africans on the continent cannot risk losing.
Afrobeats (with an “s”), should not to be confused with Afrobeat—a genre birthed by Nigerian music and cultural icon Fela Anikulapo Kuti.
His international renown set the precedent for global success among young Nigerian acts. Afrobeat as intended by Fela, is a fusion of highlife and juju music infused with jazz and funk rhythms.
For the revolutionary musician, performing was a spiritual experience and his infamous Lagos clubhouse The Shrine, served as the sanctuary where he carried out his weekly ritual.
Politically driven and steeped in messages about Pan-Africanism, his 1975 track “Zombie” is Afrobeat in its purest form.
Currently, “Afrobeats” is used as a catch-all term for all popular music emerging from the African continent.
The “Rise of Afrobeats” as numerous publications have coined the movement, has been marked by high profile features beginning with Wizkid on “One Dance,” followed by a flurry of big record label signings stateside
It’s been up to 2months since over half a million people, from 99 countries tuned into No Signal’s livestream to join the “clash” between Wizkid and Vybz Kartel.
The clash was the most legendary one that the No Signal team had hosted since they started their DJ clashes in April. Afrobeats and dancehall lovers were excited to watch this competition—choosing country affiliations in lighthearted fun.
Though people had expected fierce competition, due to both artists being megastars with chart topping hits in their own lanes, no one had expected results like the polls reflected. There was an average of 72,000 votes per round and Wizkid won every round defeating Vybz 10 to nil.
Some people even joked that the DJ behind Vybz Kartel’s song choices was the reason for the loss; others attributed it to the population of Nigeria. What was clear, however, is that many people had underestimated Wizkid’s fandom and Team Wizkid FC’s mobilization prior to the clash.
What set D’Banj apart was his ability to capitalize on his growing fandom and provide timely offerings like the Oliver Twist challenge set at a prime time when YouTube started to go mainstream. While most recently, the artist attempted to use his embracing of fans as proof of his love for women amidst recent rape and assault allegations against him.
He started a movement that would galvanize into Koko Mansion, Koko water, and Koko garri, all extensions of his brand as an artist made possible by capitalizing on his loyal fanbase.
Since the Kokolets, many Afrobeats artists have sought to give their fan bases identities in an attempt to solidify their legacy.
There have been Korede Bello’s Belovers,“YBNL Gang” for fans of the rapper Olamide, Davido’s “HKN Gang,” Yemi Alade’s “Warriors,” Burna Boy’s “Outsiders” and most recently Naira Marley’s “Marlians.”
These artists have fans who enjoy their work and enjoy stan wars, but do not necessarily consider the artist an extension of themselves, as is observed in stans.
Team Wizkid FC or Starboy FC is frequently recognized as the fanbase of all fanbases in Afrobeats. Lang F, the founder of WizkidNews a fanpage (with close to 2 million followers) credited as being largely responsible for earning Wizkid the No Signal.
The page is different from others, as it doesn’t play into notorious trolling or engage in stan wars with other artist’s fanbases like those of Davido and Burna Boy. “There’s no fan page like ours,” says Lang. “I don’t like the word “stan” because we don’t do the negative shit We keep it positive. What we do is way more impactful than trolling other artists.”
In 2014, while scouring the web, Lang discovered Wizkid via a promo post for his second album Ayo. Upon listening to the entire album, the Cameroonian-American entertainment manager was sold on the Wizkid train and wanted to know as much as he could about this dope artist he had newly discovered.
Inspired by his roommate, turned brother who ran a Kanye West fan page, Lang collated all the info he had found on Wizkid into an informational page on instagram. What started out as a passion project turned into a full scale business, ran with two other partners, with a website and twitter page that earn money via campaigns and ads.
It took Lang two years of attentively documenting and curating Wizkid’s work to finally meet Wizkid. He believes Wizkid recognized the diligent work he did and has shown him respect and love since then as a result.
Since meeting Wizzy Wizzle at the One Africa Music Fest in 2016, Lang has gone on to run campaigns sponsored by Wizkid and his management.
He says he owes his career as a talent manager to the fanpage’s credibility and success. “Other artists have approached WizkidNews to replicate a fanpage for their brand,” says Lang. He now considers WizkidNews more of a music blog, aiming to promote the love of Afrobeats, and says other accounts have even tried to copy their formula.
And here comes Ani Precious who runs EverythingBurna, says he was inspired to start a Burna Boy fanpage after seeing that other fan accounts weren’t really promoting Burna in a way he felt the artist deserved.
Due in part to a backlash from Fela purists, alternative labels like “afropop” or “afrofusion” are sporadically offered as a replacement for Afrobeats.
One of the loudest voices in this push has been Burna Boy, bad boy of the Nigerian music industry and grandson of Fela’s first manager.
Burna Boy whose 2018 “Ye” was dubbed the new national anthem by Nigerian Twitter, refuses to refer to his music as Afrobeats. “It’s really sentimental for me, my family is involved, when you say Afrobeats, I know what Afrobeats is, Afrobeats is not what you’re hearing today, it’s not that,” he explained to a UK media personality during a press run for his outside tour.
He had initially started his fan account in 2015, but lost his account to a suspension and created a new one this past February.
He says he hasn’t benefited so far from running the page, but would hate for the page to go from an enjoyable hobby to a job. He loves Burnaboy’s artistry and hopes that one day, Burna will recognize the page and his work.
At last summer’s BET Awards, Davido took to the stage to receive an award for Best International Act, beating out U.K. artists Stormzy and J Hus.
After years of boycotting by past African winners, who were subjected to receiving BET awards backstage and in one instance even sharing an award, Davido’s televised acceptance speech served as confirmation that African pop music was here to stay.
Afrobeats artists increasingly understand the importance of fans and a loyal fan group. Speaking fondly of his Marlians, Nigerian rapper Naira Marley says, “the love from my fans is overwhelming”.
The artist flipped a 2019 arrest that may have been crippling to other artists’ career into a big marketing strategy for one of his biggest songs “Soapy” and ignited a growing fandom. Marlians excited to celebrate a rebel , joined in the soapy challenge despite critics.
Marlians instantaneously fronted “Soapy” as social commentary. They felt that Naira was speaking out against the EFCC’s wrongful arrests and the horrible conditions found in Nigerian prisons….they represent not only the new king of controversy in Nigerian music but the evolution of stan culture in Nigeria itself.
Stan culture has come a long way in Afrobeats. Digitalization has contributed to helping artists create fandoms that feel constantly connected to their “faves” and other fans, whereas in the past stan wars were reduced to localities and friend groups within specific communities, social media makes it so these borders are much laxer.
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