Afrobeat exploded out of a combination of West African musical styles in the 1970s. From its original sounds exemplified by Nigerian multi-instrumentalist and bandleader Fela Kuti to the Nigerian, Ghanaian and South African artists blowing up the hottest radio stations and nightclubs across the U.S., Europe and Africa today, the Afrobeat movement is alive, well, and on fire!
The BEAT, Viacom’s black employee resource group, wanted to share the Afrobeat movement with its members and the rest of the Viacom family. On the eve of the second One Africa Music Fest in New York City, the BEAT hosted an Afrobeat listening session and meet and greet with two of Nigeria’s biggest Afrobeat artists.
As the BEAT’s leadership member, I orchestrated and moderated the event, welcoming concert headliner and award-winning artist Flavour, as well as Project Fame West Africa second-runner up Praiz to Viacom’s Times Square headquarters.
At the intimate session, the artists introduced their songs and told the story behind the lyrics, elaborating on what the song means to them. They also retraced their musical journey from establishing themselves as top artists in Africa to hearing their tracks air in the United States.
Nigerian singer-songwriter Flavour N’abania – or simply Flavour – shared his story of falling in love with music as a drummer in his church. As a teenager, he left his family to follow his mentor and learn about composing music – from playing drums and keyboards to providing background vocals for other musicians. He wrote lyrics to songs while listening to international sounds and picking up words from those languages to incorporate into his music. His hit song, Ashawo Remix, can be heard all across Africa and in the U.S.
Nigerian singer, songwriter, and producer Praiz also spoke. He had entered the Project Fame competition – which seeks to identify promising musical talent in West Africa – as an R&B singer, but he had started his musical career as a producer. He finished as the competition’s second-runner-up, giving him the opportunity to record more songs, like the well-known Rich and Famous.
Cultural exchanges like this are vital to Viacom as a workplace, because they expose everyone to new ideas. “Hearing their stories was inspirational and it solidifies that success is not by accident, and several sacrifices were made to become the musicians they are today,” said Yewande Salau, who attended the event.
The BEAT owes a special thanks to the One Africa Music Fest team for helping us bring this unique experience to our employees. We look forward to seeing how Afrobeat continues to spread in the U.S. and influence other music styles.