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The Growing Influence of AfroBeat in Philadelphia

Feb 01, 2024 12:00PM ● By Okechukwu Nzeribe

Photo byTrev Adams

Steeped in the deep history of the American story, Philadelphia is the city where the founding fathers founded the union, wrote the Declaration of Independence, and outlined the Constitution.  A city, so rich in its diversity it earned the term “the city of brotherly love”. Fondly referred to as Philly by the locals, it is rich in arts, culture, food, history, and music. 

In Philly, due to its diverse demography, each ethnic group has their identity reflected through the fusion of sounds that come out from the city. From classical music, R&B, jazz, hip hop, soul and Afrobeats.

With a 40.83% Black or African American population, which is the highest of the racial composition of Philadelphia, the popularity of Afrobeat has continued to soar especially as a good number of Nigerians and Ghanaians make up this demographic. 

The Afrobeat music genre has its roots in West Africa. The music genre which is a mix of highlife and elements of hip-hop, R&B, and Pop music has continued to evolve over the years. 

Burnaboy performing. Instagram | @cartizn via @burnaboygram

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Music artists especially from Nigeria have continued to incorporate this genre into their music production. The likes of Burna Boy, Wizkid, and Flavour amongst others have continued to export this brand of music thereby earning recognition, popularity, and awards on the international stage.

Because of the growing popularity of this genre, local radio stations have made an effort to build their audiences by inserting Afrobeat songs in their music lineup. In clubs, DJs also leverage the dance beats that the genre is known for to attract and keep the crowd entertained. 

In August 2022, the Nigerian Afro Beat star “Rema” performed live at the Fillmore during his Rave and Roses United States Tour. This is one of many Afrobeat concerts, festivals, and events the city of Philadelphia has attracted and will continue to attract. These events not only improve the multicultural conviviality of the city; it also introduce new listeners to a different and exciting sound of music

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Because of its popularity, the genre has become an instrument of cultural identity amongst a group of persons especially Africans within Philly’s Black demography. During social gatherings, Afrobeat songs are commonly played and this helps many to not only connect with home but to also seize the opportunity to educate and promote the African culture to those who might be interested in learning about the history of the music or artist.

Beyond the music, the interest people hold towards the genre has created a sense of cultural affiliation whereby people find expression in droning the vibrant prints and colorful fabrics from Africa as a dress style, exploring cuisines from African nations, and holding classes to teach the traditional and fiery dance styles of Africa.

With the growing influence of social media, Afrobeat songs have become accessible to audiences all over including those in Philadelphia. This makes it easy for local musicians to get inspiration on how they infuse elements from the genre into the making of their songs to create something unique.

The rhythmic nature of Afrobeat is becoming a mainstay in the multicultural environment of Philadelphia. As it continues to be embraced by many, its contribution as part of the uniting force of music will continue to deepen and strengthen the brotherly love amongst diverse ethnic groups.

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 Okechukwu Nzeribe works with the Onitsha Chamber of Commerce, in Anambra State, Nigeria, and loves unveiling the richness of African cultures.  [email protected]

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