The Nigerian style of music known as afrobeat has quietly entranced a large swathe of the world’s population. “Pretty much every song on pop radio [in the U.K. now] is sort of a Mr. Eazi-style, chill, afrobeats [track],” the producer Riton told Rolling Stone last year. But Nigerian singers have not yet established a foothold Stateside, despite well-received, afrobeats-dusted singles from established stars like Drake and Janet Jackson.
So it’s unusual that “Fall,” a springy, 19-month-old track from the Nigerian singer Davido is currently gaining traction on the airwaves. The growth has been gradual: 482 plays to date, spread across 36 stations, according to Nielsen BDS, which tracks radio activity. BDS reports that four new stations added “Fall” into rotation last week.
Those are admittedly not huge numbers — for comparison’s sake, Post Malone’s new single “Wow” grew by 1,700 plays last week alone. But listeners who hear “Fall” are scrambling to find their phones: It was one of the Top 100 most Shazam’d singles in America this week. In New York City, “Fall” was a Top 10 record on Shazam. And in Atlanta, another crucial market, only two tracks were getting more Shazam activity than DaVido’s.
Eliciting that level of interest in America is no small feat for an African singer. Columbia signed “Pana,” a 2016 single from Tekno, but wasn’t able to transform it into a U.S. hit. RCA signed Wizkid, the guest on Drake’s “One Dance,” but hasn’t been able to get a hit either. (RCA is also working with DaVido now.) Burna Boy, another Nigerian singer with impressive talent, is now affiliated with Atlantic, but his “Rock Your Body” didn’t reach a wide audience in America.
That has nothing to do with the music — “Pana” and “Rock Your Body” are both indelible polyrhythmic pop songs, wonderfully weightless next to the lead-footed trap that currently dominates both rap and pop radio in America. But the machinery that creates hits in the U.S. remains conservative, even in the supposedly “new” era brought on by streaming.
Nowhere is this more true than at radio, which throws its still-considerable weight behind only a tiny number of tracks — “A Top 40 radio station is playing five songs 120 times a week every week,” according to one radio insider— and rarely takes risks on music that doesn’t align with seemingly-ancient-if-not-totally-incomprehensible norms.