When Bobby Akinboro moved to Seattle in 2016, the Nigerian-born Microsoft program manager was surprised to learn there wasn’t much of a nighttime music scene for African immigrants in the metro area.
“I’m a big proponent of being the change you wish to see,” said Akinboro, 29. “As I’m walking through Microsoft, there’s all these Nigerians with nothing to do, there’s all these Ghanians and Cameroonians with nothing to do. The population was there, so this just needs to be solved. Why not me?”
He set out to help create the community he felt was missing and within months had taught himself how to DJ and was hosting his first dance party as DJ Blast.
“It was small, maybe 100 people showed up,” Akinboro said. “But then the second one was like 300 people, and the next one was 1,000. I thought we might really be onto something.”
The excitement that Akinboro has been helping build in the Seattle Afrobeats scene for six years is set to explode Oct. 8 when Nigerian superstar Burna Boy plays accesso ShoWare Center, his first visit to the area since 2018 when he played the 400-capacity Crocodile in its former original location.
Burna Boy is a perfect distillation of the positive spirit of Afrobeats, a diverse genre of pop music from West Africa and the diaspora, with major hot spots in Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and the UK. The Grammy-winning artist is riding the momentum of a new hit single, “It’s Plenty,” off his album “Love, Damini,” which hit No. 14 on the U.S. Billboard 200 earlier this year.
(Note: This video contains explicit language.)
“He announced it on a Sunday and he was here that Wednesday and it sold out,” Akinboro said of Burna Boy’s first show. “Now the second time he’s here, he’s doing ShoWare. The night-and-day difference in that is to me the best explanation of what’s happening with Afrobeats.”
Akinboro, who has DJed for Burna Boy and Wizkid, points to 2018 as Afrobeats’ inflection point. Viral songs from Davido, Burna Boy and Afro B put the sound on the map in the West in a way it never had been before.
Then Wizkid’s 2021 “Essence,” featuring Justin Bieber and Tems, further cemented Afrobeats as the sound of the zeitgeist.
“Afrobeats is no longer a small genre,” Akinboro said. “Rolling Stone even placed it as the future sound. I’m proud. I’m happy to share my culture with the world.”
Another person doing his best to share his culture is Solomon N. Nutakor, who goes by DJ Nayiram. While Akinboro is dedicated to spreading Afrobeats globally and travels often for his music, Nutakor, who is originally from Ghana, has been cultivating the local scene with The Afrobeats Party, a weekly dance party every Friday at the Red Lounge in Seattle.
Like Akinboro, when Nutakor moved to Tacoma, he was left searching for more ways to experience the music he loved.
“I wanted a feeling that would create the Accra, Ghana, club vibes,” he said. “I felt the market was a bit open. I called it a virgin city at that time.”
Nutakor, who concentrates on his music full time, has been bringing his flavor of Afrobeats to Seattle venues since 2014 and says he’s refined his craft over the past eight years as the scene has started to explode.
“I’ve dedicated pretty much all my time to promoting the sound,” Nutakor said. “I knew light would shine because there’s light at the end of the tunnel. The scene has gone from getting 50 people on the dance floor to now amassing a capacity of 400 or beyond. The scene has grown so much there are not a lot of spaces where they can hold the crowd now.”
Even though Afrobeats is more popular than ever, Nutakor said that it’s about to get a lot bigger.
“What has happened with past concerts has proven to us there’s a big explosion about to happen and the only person who can activate that is Burna Boy,” Nutakor said. “We are anticipating people from Boise, people from Spokane, Portland, Oregon, will show up to fill up the ShoWare.”
This story has been updated to reflect that Burna Boy won a Grammy Award.