In reality the differences between the sub genres covered by Afropop can be so great that they call into question the value of the phrase, but it’s a useful way of distinguishing the popular music of Africa from more traditional music. Historically, the music of West and South Africa has been the main export to Western audiences, with East Africa being much less prominent. One unifying aspect of afropop is the strength of the rhythm; it often puts even the funkiest of Western musicians to shame. A complete guide to Afropop is beyond the scope of this article, but here’s a quick rundown of some of the more popular branches:
Popularised by King Sunny Adé, Jùjú music hails from Nigeria, and is based on the percussive style of traditional Nigerian music called ‘Yoruba’. Adé’s recordings are full of masterful guitar, combined with his exuberant singing style. His compilation ‘The Best of the Classic Years’ serves as a great introduction to the genre.
Soukous, derived from rumba music, is light and laid back, but infectiously catchy and danceable, having been developed in the Congo before spreading to Kenya and eventually the rest of Africa. A key exponent is Tabu Ley Rochereau, whose singing is some of the best to be found in Afropop.
This Zulu branch of afropop from South Africa was a big influence on Paul Simon’s album Graceland. Its jubilance is hard to overstate, and the incredible rhythms add to the exuberance. One of the most popular and important Afropop records, The Indestructible Beat of Soweto is the place to start.
Pioneered by Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, whose The Best of the Black President is the record to have, Afrobeat is actually an amalgamation of several genres. Its sprawling freeform compositions are like jazz based on rhythm rather than melody, though that’s not to say melody doesn’t play a part.
Coming from North Africa, and Algeria in particular, Raï illustrates the diversity of Afropop with elements of French and Spanish traditional music, as well as a significant Arabic influence. Rachid Taha is the go-to man for Raï, especially his 2000 crossover hit Made in Medina.