From the traditional Gele adorned by the aunties in Yemi Alade’s “Double Double” to the voguish hairstyles showcased in Omah Lay’s “Lo Lo”, African culture—particularly its fashion—has been at the heart of Afrobeats music videos. The genre’s picturesque visuals have played a significant role in celebrating Africanacity and telling authentic indigenous stories, one music video at a time.
Afrobeats is a fusion of West African pop, hip-hop, dancehall, R&B, and EDM. It comprises delectable Afrocentric sounds and showcases the fluid musicality of African musicians. Birthed from Afrobeat (without the “s”), a jazz-didactic sound laced with string instruments and horns pioneered by the legendary Fela Kuti, Afrobeats takes a more contemporary approach. Over the past decade, the Afro-fusion genre has gained popularity globally, with chart-topping hits from acclaimed West African artists such as Davido, Wizkid, Tiwa Savage, and Tems.
Lights, Camera, Fashion!
The percussion-heavy highlife genre of Afrobeats has played a pivotal role in showcasing futuristic African fashion brands. In the visuals for her upbeat single “Rain”, Yemi Alade looked stunning in an Ankara style-infused dress by Kenyan fashion designer Victor Adika. The dress boasted vibrant prints, furry detailing placed on the shoulders and super thigh-high slits. Yemi complemented the look with an African-inspired red headpiece fit for a queen, styled by Kenyan fashionista Wambui Thimba.
Amongst many other Afrobeats music videos, African fashion is also showcased in “Understand” by Omah Lay. The superstar is adorned in an outfit from futuristic Ghanaian urban streetwear brand Free The Youth, founded by fashion entrepreneurs: Jonathan Coffie, Winfred Mensah, Richard Ormano, and Kelly Foli.
Celebrating Black Women and Their Glorious Crowns
Afrobeats has been intentional about celebrating black women in its music videos. Rema’s hit song “Woman” is a visual representation of the diverse beauty of African women, corresponding with the song’s Nigerian Pidgin lyrics: “E no matter the shape or colour.” In the music video, black African women, often overlooked because of European beauty standards, are celebrated in their different skin tones and sizes.
It is public knowledge that pop culture previously shamed black women for their natural hair. This was until the peak of the natural hair movement in 2016, which has been heavily endorsed by Afrobeats visuals. Music videos such as “49-99” by Tiwa Savage showcase various afro hairstyles, including Bantu knots, cornrows, beaded braids, and Eko bridge, named after the actual bridge in Lagos, Nigeria.
African Culture and Heritage
Agbada, a wide-sleeved robe worn by Igbo men, as well as Gele, a traditional cloth used as a head-wrap by Igbo women, were both showcased in rising star Chiké’s “Roju” music video. The wedding-themed visuals demonstrated the umpteen rituals conducted at Nigerian weddings, with a special focus on the attire worn by the celebration’s attendees.
When Africa’s golden boy Davido released his record-breaking single “Aye” eight years ago, one couldn’t help but be in awe of the cultural references illustrated in its music video. With a whopping sixty-nine million views on YouTube, the Nollywood-inspired song narrates a love story between Davido, who plays a farmworker, and a royal princess. Expectedly, the royal princess in the music video is adorned in coral beads, corresponding with the portrayal of royalty in Nollywood films.
While most of the visual credit often goes to the artists for their performances, the video directors are the real MVPs. Cinematographer and music director Adetula Adebowale is one of those unsung heroes. King Tula (as he is affectionately known) has directed multiple Afrobeats music videos for acclaimed artists, including “Lonely” by Nigerian musician, Joeboy.
With Afrobeats taking the global stage by storm, the genre’s African-positive trajectory and its Afrocentric approach to music videos continue to leave millions inspired.