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Rema really lives the message of his hit song 'Calm Down'

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Something very cool is happening on the pop charts these days. There's been an influx of African artists blending the music of Nigeria and Ghana with Western R&B, hip-hop and jazz. It's called Afrobeats.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PERU")

FIREBOY DML: (Singing) I just flew in from Miami. Peru para. Peru para.

MARTÍNEZ: This is Fireboy DML. His song "Peru" went to No. 2 in the U.K. when Ed Sheeran added his vocals to a remix.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE NWANTITI")

CKAY: (Singing in non-English language).

MARTÍNEZ: This one's by CKay. He's blending English and the Nigerian language Igbo on his song "Love Nwantiti." It was a hit in the U.K., the U.S. and Canada. There are so many other Afrobeats artists, too, but right now the biggest one in the U.S. is Rema.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALM DOWN")

REMA: (Singing) Another banger. Baby, calm down, calm down. Girl, this your body e put in my heart for lockdown, for lockdown, oh lockdown. Girl, you sweet like Fanta.

MARTÍNEZ: This is Rema's song "Calm Down." It's been a massive hit. It's the No. 5 song in the U.S. right now. And when I asked Rema about the rise of Afrobeats, I learned that he really lives the message of "Calm Down" because he is a very calm guy.

REMA: It's beyond the sound. It's a movement as well, and it's a movement of the youths.

MARTÍNEZ: He spoke in that low, quiet voice throughout our entire interview. Rema released "Calm Down" more than a year ago, but it didn't blow up in the States until pop singer Selena Gomez joined him for a remixed version.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALM DOWN (REMIX)")

SELENA GOMEZ: (Singing) Baby, show me you can calm down, calm down. Dance with me, and take the lead now, lead now.

REMA: I've done a lot of remixes that has never come out. But this one, when I heard it, I was like, yeah, this is it. I feel like it's going to touch the world differently.

MARTÍNEZ: And it definitely has. The hashtag #RemaCalmDown has more than 117 million views on TikTok. The remix has been streamed more than 900 million times on Spotify. Tomorrow, Rema is playing the iconic Lollapalooza festival in Chicago, and he says "Calm Down" even shows up in some unlikely places.

REMA: I've been in shows where people have it tattooed on their body...

MARTÍNEZ: Oh, really? Wow.

REMA: ...Just as a reminder, when life gets pressure, and they just look at the tattoo, and it just reminds them to calm down, not take things too deep.

MARTÍNEZ: Rema's real name is Divine Ikubor. He got his start in music at 17 years old after an Instagram video of him rapping to D'Prince's "Gucci Gang" went viral.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

REMA: (Rapping) And I thank God every day because he hold my hand. Oh, yeah. Gucci gang. Gucci gang. Gucci gang. And I come into the party with a bullet, man. Ninety people looking at me. They're like, who the man?

MARTÍNEZ: For Rema, signing his first record deal meant helping his family. Both his father and his older brother died, and Rema felt a responsibility to provide for the family that remained.

REMA: I didn't get in the game on some happy-to-be-here [expletive]. I'm meant to be here. I was chosen for it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DUMEBI")

REMA: (Singing in non-English language).

MARTÍNEZ: His first hit "Dumebi" put him on the map in Nigeria. "Calm Down" has now made him a worldwide sensation. Rema believes the success of fellow Afrobeats artists will only continue to grow.

REMA: We're just asking for the world's attention, you know, 'cause we have much to give.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DUMEBI")

REMA: (Singing in non-English language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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