|Cultural origins||1920s Ghana −1970s Nigeria|
Afrobeat is a music genre which involves the combination of elements of West African musical styles such as fuji music and highlife with American funk and jazz influences, with a focus on chanted vocals, complex intersecting rhythms, and percussion.
Distinct from Afrobeat is Afrobeats – a sound originating in West Africa in the 21st century, one which takes in diverse influences and is an eclectic combination of rap, dancehall, and even R&B. The two genres, though often conflated, are not the same.
Afrobeat began in Ghana in the early 1920s. During that time, Ghanaian musicians incorporated foreign influences like the foxtrot and calypso with Ghanaian rhythms like osibisaba (Fante). Highlife was associated with the local African aristocracy during the colonial period and was played by numerous bands including the Jazz Kings, Cape Coast Sugar Babies, and Accra Orchestra along the country's coast.
Nigeria later joined the Afrobeat wave in the late 60s led by Fela Kuti who experimented with different contemporary music of the time. Upon arriving in Nigeria, Kuti also changed the name of his group to Africa '70. The new sound hailed from a club that he established called the Afrika Shrine. The band maintained a five-year residency at the Afrika Shrine from 1970 to 1975 while afrobeat thrived among Nigerian youth.
Although the term Afrobeat was coined as early as 1968, after making a trip to the United States, Kuti wasn't really making music in the category of Afrobeat. The name “Afrobeat” shows the significance of groove to the music, as opposed to Afrofunk.
In 1969, Kuti and his band went on a trip to the U.S. and met Sandra Smith, a singer and former Black Panther. Sandra Smith (now known as Sandra Isadore) introduced Kuti to many writings of activist such as Martin Luther King Jr., Angela Davis, Jesse Jackson, and his biggest influence of all, Malcolm X.
As Kuti was interested in African American politics, Smith would inform him of current events. In return, Kuti would fill her in on African culture. Since Kuti stayed at Smith's house and was spending so much time with her, he started to re-evaluate his music. That was when Fela Kuti noticed that he was not playing African music. From that day forward, Kuti changed his sound and the message behind his music.
Prevalent in his and Lagbaja's music are native Nigerian harmonies and rhythms, taking different elements and combining, modernizing, and improvising upon them. Politics are essential to Afrobeat, since founder Kuti used social criticism to pave the way for social change. His message can be described as confrontational and controversial, which can be related to the political climate of most of the African countries in the 1970s, many of which were dealing with political injustice and military corruption while recovering from the transition from colonial governments to self-determination. As the genre spread throughout the African continent many bands took up the style. The recordings of these bands and their songs were rarely heard or exported outside the originating countries but many can now be found on compilation albums and CDs from specialist record shops.
Big band (15 to 30 pieces: Fela-era afrobeat) and energetic performances
- Lead vocals (may play sax/key solos as well)
- Chorus vocals (may include horn players)
- Rhythm guitar(s) (plays funk strumming pattern)
- Tenor guitar (plays a finger-picked ostinato groove)
- Bass guitar
- Drum set, generally in the form polyrhythmic percussion
- Rhythm conga #1
- Rhythm conga #2
- Solo (lead) conga
- Akuba: a set of 3 small stick-hit Yoruba congas (play flourishes/solos, and ostinatos). Also mistakenly called "gbedu" (gbedu is the name of a large ceremonial drum), but are related to the Gbedu.
Many jazz musicians have been attracted to Afrobeat. From Roy Ayers in the 1970s to Randy Weston in the 1990s, there have been collaborations that have resulted in albums such as Africa: Centre of the World by Roy Ayers, released on the Polydore label in 1981. In 1994 Branford Marsalis, the American jazz saxophonist, included samples of Fela's "Beast of No Nation" on his Buckshot LeFonque album. The new generation of DJs and musicians of the 2000s who have fallen in love with both Kuti's material and other rare releases have made compilations and remixes of these recordings, thus re-introducing the genre to new generations of listeners and fans of afropop and groove (see Afrobeats section below).
Afrobeat has also profoundly influenced important contemporary producers and musicians like Brian Eno and David Byrne, who credit Fela Kuti as an essential influence. Both worked on Talking Heads' highly acclaimed 1980 album Remain In Light, which brought polyrhythmic afrobeat influences to Western music.
The horn section of Antibalas have been guest musicians on TV On The Radio's highly acclaimed 2008 album Dear Science, as well as on British band Foals' 2008 album, Antidotes. Some Afrobeat influence can also be found in the music of Vampire Weekend and Paul Simon.
In 2009 the music label Knitting Factory Records (KFR) produced the Broadway Musical FELA! As said on the musical's website, the story showcased Fela Kuti's “courage and incredible musical mastery” along with the story of his life. The show had 11 Tony nominations, receiving three for Best Costumes, Best Sound and Best Choreography. FELA! Was on Broadway for fifteen months and was produced by notables such as Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and Will & Jada Pinkett-Smith. Many celebrities were noted on attending the shows such as, Denzel Washington, Madonna, Sting, Spike Lee (who saw it eight times), Kofi Annan, and even Michelle Obama. Michelle Williams, former singer of girl group Destiny's Child, was cast as the role of Sandra Isadore.
Notable pioneers of afrobeat
- Grass, Randall F. "Fela AnikulaThe Art of an Afrobeat Rebel". The Drama Review: TDR. MIT Press. 30: 131–148.
- Scher, Robin; ContributorWriter (6 August 2015). "Afrobeat(s): The Difference a Letter Makes". HuffPost. Retrieved 27 July 2019.
- Lakin Starling. "10 Ghanaian Afrobeats Artists You Need To Know". The Fader. Retrieved 15 May 2017.
- Stewart, Alexander (2013). "Make It Funky: Fela Kuti, James Brown and the Invention of Afrobeat". American Studies. 52: 99–118 – via Project MUSE.
- David McDavitt (21 April 2006). ""Lead Congas" in Afrobeat". The Afrofunk Music Forum. Retrieved 30 January 2010.
- Michael E. Veal (2000). Fela: the life & times of an African musical icon. Temple University Press. p. 3. ISBN 1-56639-765-0.
- Brantley, Ben. "About | FELA! On Broadway". FELA! On Broadway.
- Grass, Randall F. "Fela AnikulaThe Art of an Afrobeat Rebel". The Drama Review: TDR. MIT Press. 30: 131–148. doi:10.2307/1145717. JSTOR 1145717.