Afrobeats has been soaring in popularity since its inception in the early 2000s. From 2017 to 2022, there was a 550 per cent increase in the number of times songs from the genre — the catch-all term for popular African music from Nigeria and Ghana — were streamed on Spotify, and last year Afrobeats reached 15 billion streams on the platform thanks to singers such as Burna Boy, Rema, Tems, Ayra Starr, Davido and more.
In Canada, many listeners were introduced to Afrobeats through Drake’s 2016 crossover hit “One Dance,” which featured Wizkid, one of the biggest Afrobeats stars in the world. The song made history when it became the most streamed song on Spotify that year (though the Weeknd has since nabbed the top spot with “Blinding Lights“). But the amalgamation of sounds out of West Africa has only continued to receive global recognition since the record-breaking track: the Saskatchewan Music Awards took notice of the boom with the introduction of a new Afrobeats category in 2023, and on Feb. 4, the Grammys will present its first-ever award for best African music performance.
The nominees in the new category — Asake and Olamide, Burna Boy, Davido and Musa Keys, Tyla, and Starr — all fall somewhere under the Afrobeats umbrella as a variety of genres qualify, including Afrobeats and its derivatives such as Afro-fusion, Afro-pop, alté, bongo flava, genge, and more. “Music comes in moments, and I’m forever excited that now it is Africa’s time,” said Linda Ayoola, the head of expansion and African music for Starr’s label told Variety. “Afrobeats is a genre that represents the people.”
Ahead of this year’s Grammy Awards, CBC Music has rounded up five Canadian Afrobeats musicians who are sharing the sounds of the West African diaspora through their songs.
Nigerian French Canadian singer Töme doesn’t fall solely within the Afrobeats sphere. Instead, she seamlessly blends Afrobeats with reggae, dancehall and R&B to create Afro-fusion music. “Realistically, Afrobeats, Afro-fusion, and I mean, dancehall specifically, even soca, in a way — they’re very related to one another,” the Montreal-based singer told the Junos of her genre-spanning sound. Both of her albums combine hip-swaying rhythms and infectious melodies, and her songs can transport listeners to the beach, the dance floor and beyond. The Juno-winning singer has toured with Wizkid and Burna Boy, and in 2022 she worked with Grammy-nominated Legendury Beatz, the production duo behind Wizkid’s hit “Essence.” Töme’s first song of 2024, “Jump Off,” was one of CBC Music’s recent songs you need to hear.
In 2023, Nonso Amadi released his full-length debut album, When It Blooms, mixing Afrobeats and R&B on his passionate love songs. The result is a vibrant cocktail of rhythms pulled straight from Lagos that highlight his smooth vocals. The Nigerian-born, Toronto-based singer has cited Wizkid as an influence, and Amadi’s track “Thankful” takes inspiration from the Afrobeats superstar’s song “Shout Out.” His blend of contemporary R&B and Nigerian music puts him in the lane of Afro-R&B, and he has collaborated with Majid Jordan, Emotional Oranges, Tay Iwar and more, stretching his sound across genres and borders. “I love having a hint of unpredictability in my music,” he told Wonderland in an interview. “I think I will forever keep exploring and seeing how I can infuse different sounds with my existing ones.”
Toronto-based singer Sillla began her musical journey by performing Alicia Keys covers as a child. She eventually started releasing music of her own in 2021 that showcased a mix of soca, reggae and Afrobeats, honouring her Ghanaian roots. The following year, she dropped “Lonely,” a standout track that spotlights her velvety vocals and also contains traces of Tems’s chill lyricism.
“In the realm of Afro-pop and alternative R&B, I want each note from my music to echo [with] resilience, and for every lyric to be an anthem for authenticity rooted in self-love,” she told CBC Music. Although she’s only released a handful of songs, she has performed at AfroFest and opened for Afrobeats hitmakers including Stonebwoy and Amaraae. Sillla’s next project is Echoes of Love, an EP that will be out on Feb. 14.
Nigerian singer Rooky Kamiz became the inaugural winner of the Afrobeats artist of the year award at the Saskatchewan Music Awards last year. “It’s been a really vibrant scene, and we’ve been seeing lots of people come into the scene with their young uniqueness and artistry,” Kamiz told CBC News of the growing Afrobeats community in the province. He’s been releasing music since 2020, and his previous projects weave together hip-hop, R&B and more for a truly diasporic sound. Kamiz’s most recent release is his 2023 EP, Kaleidoscope, which spotlights his penchant for polished beats and sensual lyricism, and he’ll follow it up with his debut album, which arrives in February.
Growing up in Gabon, Congo and France shaped Toronto-based singer Borelson’s diverse musical tastes. A self-described Afro-fusion artist, he incorporates elements of rap, jazz, classical and gospel music into his songs for transcendent music that often nods to his multicultural upbringing. After dropping his debut album, As Far As Eye Can See, in 2020, he followed it up with Building Bridges in 2021, which was packed with upbeat, international influences. His 2023 single “Summertime in Toronto” is a bold amapiano track that features high-energy percussion, which, as he explained to Afrocritik, was partly inspired by the genre taking over the world. “Self-empowerment, self-awareness and togetherness are definitely key values in my music,” he told CBC Music. “I see my music as a way to build bridges between people, cultures and sounds.”