Afrobeats (and Afrobeats Fashion to a lesser extent) has come a long way since Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the legendary musician who developed the genre in the late 1960s, taking us from the streets of West Africa (primarily Nigeria and Ghana), to the African diaspora and music charts across the globe. Originally, Afrobeat combined aspects of jazz, soul and Ghanaian highlife with the polyrhythmic drumming of the Yoruba, Ewe and Ga tribes, before it gained exposure to a much wider, international audience, and got the coinage ‘Afrobeats’.
In recent times, there has been a notable transition to the mainstream for Afrobeats, with its biggest stars headlining packed stadiums and infiltrating the airwaves across Europe and the United States. Its global recognition is highlighted by the Grammy wins, viral dance videos, and consistently sold-out arena tours. Though it’s quite evident that the music genre has certainly taken the world by storm, there’s another revolution quietly but powerfully underway within the Afrobeats movement – the Afrobeats fashion scene.
Afrobeats the beautiful is all the more so due to its remarkable transformation in fashion. The energetic beats and cultural richness of Afrobeats music have become a driving force behind the rise of Afrobeats fashion. The infusion of vibrant colors, bold patterns, and unique fabric choices that celebrate African heritage have catapulted this genre of fashion into the global spotlight. This development owe much to key players in the field. Afrobeats was built with the contributions of so many people, and a lot of them happen to be female musicians who barely gets any credit or name-mention. The 1900s saw little to no accounts of female musicians of the genre, but thanks to the intervention of the internet and feminist movements, there have been significant improvement in the visibility of female musicians of Afrobeats today. Still, there are untold stories of majority of the female musicians of the genre.
Evolution Of Afrobeats Fashion – The early 2000s
In the wake of the early 2000s, as Afrobeats began to rise, we witnessed numerous female musicians making their debut in the music industry. One historical landmark for female musicians was Weird MC’s critically acclaimed 1996 single “Allen Avenue” which brought her into the limelight. This break introduced her as the first female figure in Nigeria’s rap music evolution. Let’s not overlook the mid-20th century, where female artists like Miriam Makeba and Cesária Évora gained international acclaim for their music. While their fashion choices were rooted in cultural traditions, their prominence on the global stage brought African aesthetics into the spotlight. Their stage attire, characterized by African prints and accessories, contributed to the early recognition of African fashion.
As the 20th century progressed, artists like Angelique Kidjo and Brenda Fassie began to blend traditional African elements with contemporary Western fashion. This fusion of styles laid the groundwork for Afrobeats fashion’s eclectic nature. These artists, with their distinctive fashion sense, offered a glimpse of the style diversity that Afrobeats fashion would later embody.
The 2010s rise of Afrobeats
The music industry evolved from what it used to be in the 2000s into an industry that embraced the advent of technology, and this marked a significant turning point for Afrobeats and fashion. During this period, Afrobeats and its sub-genres gained prominence due to the heavy contributions of social media and streaming platforms to its commercialization and exposure. This exposure is what caught the attention of Nigerian talents in the diaspora, drawing them home to kick-start their musical career. Artists like Tiwa Savage, Seyi Shay, and Emma Nyra were among those who returned home.
Tiwa Savage was, however, the first female musician who was popularly associated with Afrobeats. Yemi Alade then followed in popularity. Savage and Alade achieved international recognition, becoming fashion icons in their own right. Their collaborations with international designers and appearances at global fashion events solidified Afrobeats fashion on the world stage. They combined traditional African fabrics and designs with modern silhouettes, creating a fusion style that resonated with a global audience. These two vocal powerhouses paved the way for more female artists in the genre. Later on, more female Afrobeats musicians, like Mochedda, Tems, Fave, and Ayra star, broke into the scene and attained immense success.
The last two decades have seen fashion in Afrobeats continue to evolve, and take a more self-defined turn, with artists returning to the core of expressing the specificity of their music through their clothing; from streetwear to haute couture, reflecting the genre’s diversity.
“I just think in general the progression of fashion in Nigeria will cut across industries,” remarks Dunsin Wright, who styles some of Africa’s established female stars including Tems. In her interview with Billboard, Dunsin spoke on the future of fashion in the industry, “The rise in social awareness, as it always has, will continue to influence the value that people place on freedom in style and expression, and so we’ll see bolder, more experimental choices. We’re beginning to shop more with so many talented emerging designers across West Africa. I believe we’ll see a lot more intention across the board, from social media to music videos. Style is acknowledged more now as an integral role to the story or theme an artist is communicating at any given point.”