When the music changes, so does the dance. Nigerian Proverb
As we celebrate King Sunny Ade for having the longest charting African album on Billboard (Jùjú i Music, 1982, Island Records), forty-plus years later, Rema is walking in his footsteps. The young Nigerian Singer has just conquered India and confirmed a trend of African contemporary music and culture growing and taking over global spaces. Trends define an age and give a general direction in which something or society itself is developing or changing. Trends themselves never change and once meshed into the cultural landscape, they will be reproduced and remixed perhaps over a century because once in the culture, they are never forgotten.
It seems like every second an Afro-musical genre is born somewhere in the world, and that trend has been unstoppable since the earliest days of electronic music. There are several engines driving the current iteration related to population demographic changes, migration, technological advances, and the Lockdown of 2020. Platforms like TikTok played a significant role in the explosion of Afro content, with the addition of dance challenges confirming that great music has no boundaries. It is fascinating to witness the global call and response taking place all over the world with African music and Rema in particular has smashed yet another glass ceiling by being the first African to conquer India.
For those too young to remember, there was a cultural Indian invasion of Africa through Bollywood films in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, and to this day somewhere in Africa a child is still being named after a Bollywood star. I for one know the lyrics of “Yaadon Ki Baraat Nikli Hai ” from the film Yadoon ki Barat sung by Kishore Kumar, and Mohammed Rafi.
Critics in India are noticing that more than anything this fascination is based on similar values and a similar mindset based on shared experiences that predate British colonialism and occupation.
Today history is reversed as a young African man born in Benin City, Edo State, Nigeria, has become a heartthrob and superstar in India a country of 1.4 billion people, and home to the biggest film industry on the globe.
Bollywood is openly courting him.
What models do we have to chart the possible progress of Rema and any music coming out of Africa today after Sunny Ade´s solid track record? As we celebrate fifty years of hip-hop, another Black cultural phenomenon of musical storytelling that has influenced the way we talk, our fashion, and dance, will Afrobeats have the same effect on popular culture?
It will certainly be around in fifty years because today you can’t go anywhere without hearing Rema´s "Calm Down" off the Rave and Roses album of February 2022, released by Mavin Records, Nigeria. Voted the Best Song of 2022 by Billboard New York Times, this song is now heard from the rooftops of mountain houses in Guatemala, to the barber shops of Hanoi and everywhere in between. The opening four bars of "Calm Down" are now unmistakable and even your granny will chime in and begin the song and it has been the dance challenge on TikTok that has made this possible.
"Calm Down" was played at the World Cup in Qatar where he did not sing "Calm Down" live. His near cult following however edited his image into the footage to include the sound from another concert into his appearance at the World Cup. The clip has gone viral. These TikTok posts continue to confirm his global reach and superstardom. His PR machine doesn´t need to do a thing because his fanbase is creating content for him freely daily on TikTok and sometimes cross-editing events that were not related to each other adding fuel to his fame.
While on tour in India, Rema sold 60k units which is equivalent to 12 million streams in the Indian music industry. The song charted across Europe, reaching number one on the Belgian Ultratop 50, Dutch Top 40, and Dutch Single Top 100. In the United Kingdom, the song peaked at number three and spent twenty-seven non-consecutive weeks in the top 10 of the UK Singles Chart. "’ Rema talks about "Calm Down" and says, “is all about the events that led me to find love at the time. It started at a party where I saw a girl who stood out from other girls so I felt like shooting my shot. We spoke and danced... but her friends didn't let me get any closer, which killed the vibe, but afterward, when they weren’t there, we stayed in touch and hit it off.”
Awards and nominations for "Calm Down” are many and include Guinness World Records, with a No.1 hit in over 30 countries it has had the number one spot including 4 categories on the Billboard charts in the Afrobeats, Mainstream, Rhythmic, and World Digital Song sales categories with platinum and gold certifications in fourteen European countries. These figures constitute a clear trend and it will be very interesting to see how his career develops from here and how he will influence and be influenced by India.
Given that he was welcomed like a Maharajah in India, Rema has permeated the world's popular culture and it is only a matter of time before Nigerian Pidgin becomes part of India too like the rest of Africa.
No tell me no, no, no, no, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa
Baby, come gimme your lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-love
You got me like whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa
Shawty, come gimme your lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-love, hmm