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Afrobeat is a music style which developed in the 1970s out of a combination of West African musical styles, such as highlife and yoruba, with American funk and jazz, with a focus on chanted vocals[1] and percussion. It was created by Nigerian multi-instrumentalist and bandleader Fela Kuti who popularised the style both within and outside Nigeria.[1] It was partially borne out of an attempt to distinguish Kuti's music from the "soul music" of American artists such as James Brown.[2] Afrobeat features chants, call-and-response vocals, and complex, interacting rhythms.[1]

Afrobeats, with an s, is currently the most popular form of music in Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon and one of the most recognizable music genres in the world, which has influenced as many Western musicians as it has African ones with its exuberant style and polyrhythms. Afrobeat should not be confused with Afroebeats.


Afrobeat originated from Fuji, heavy Nigerian drumbeats and highlife.[3][4] It was later exported to the southern part of Nigeria in the 1970s, by Fela Kuti, who experimented with many different forms of contemporary music of the time.[5][6] The new sound hailed from a club that he established called the Afrika Shrine. Upon arriving in Nigeria, Kuti also changed the name of his group to Africa '70. The band maintained a five-year residency in the Afrika Shrine from 1970 to 1975 while afrobeat thrived among Nigerian youth.

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
  • Saxophone(s)
  • Trumpet(s)
  • Trombone(s)
  • Organ/keyboards
  • 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.[7]

Fela Kuti included the traditional Gbedu drum in his ensemble, with a percussionist pounding out a thunderous rhythm from a 2.5 metres (8.2 ft) drum lying on its side.[8]


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.

According to David Drake, the eclectic genre “reimagines diasporic influences and—more often than not—completely reinvents them.”[9] However, some caution against equating Afrobeats to contemporary pan-African music, in order to prevent the erasure of local musical contributions.[10]

Afrobeats is primarily produced between Lagos, Accra, and London. Paul Gilroy, of The Black Atlantic, reflects on the changing London music scene as a result of shifting demographics:

"We are moving towards an African majority which is diverse both in its cultural habits and in its relationship to colonial and postcolonial governance, so the shift away from Caribbean dominance needs to be placed in that setting. Most of the grime folks are African kids, either the children of migrants or migrants themselves. It's not clear what Africa might mean to them"[11]

Many first and second generation African immigrants follow - and produce - Afrobeats music. Fuse ODG, a UK artist of Ghanaian descent, coins #TINA or This is New Africa as a means to change perceptions of Africa:

"This movement will shed light on Africa in a positive way and focus on how we can improve Africa. It’s not about just plying your talents in the Western world; it’s about going back home and helping Africa."[11]

Drake's 2016 single "One Dance" (featuring Wizkid and Kyla) was made with an afrobeat-inspired sound

In recent years, afrobeat has become more prominent on the international popular music scene. This was notably seen in Drake's 2016 single "One Dance" which featured the Nigerian afrobeat artist Wizkid, and was infused with afrobeat sounds. The single became an international success and one of the best selling of 2016, topping the charts in 15 different countries, including the U.S., the UK and Canada, thereby making it the most successful afrobeat song to date.

Afrobeats has taken center stage in the global industry with artists like Drake and Beyonce, borrowing sounds from Africa like Wizkid (Nigeria) and ‘Bonfires’ Kouyaté (Guinea).[12] Drake’s Billboard Hot 100 chart-topper, One Dance, was written and produced by Wizkid.[13]

Notable afrobeat musicians[edit]


There are several active afrobeat bands worldwide today. Afrobeat today is often mixed with other genres, such as hip hop, makossa, azonto, gospel, skelewu, shoki, shakitibobo. dancehall and galala.[14]

Modern afrobeat bands/artists include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Grass, Randall F. "Fela Anikulapo-Kuti: The Art of an Afrobeat Rebel". The Drama Review: TDR. MIT Press. 30: 131–148. doi:10.2307/1145717. JSTOR 1145717. 
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Chris Nickson. "Ghana Soundz: Afrobeat, Funk and Fusion in the 70's - Various Artists - Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards - AllMusic". AllMusic. 
  4. ^ "The Infectious Songs of Ghanaian Afrobeat". 
  5. ^ Clyde Macfarlane (2012-07-18). "Album Review: KonKoma". Think Africa Press. Retrieved 2015-03-22. 
  6. ^ "Radio: AfroBeat Airwaves". Rhapsody. 
  7. ^ David McDavitt (21 April 2006). ""Lead Congas" in Afrobeat". The Afrofunk Music Forum. Retrieved 2010-01-30. 
  8. ^ Michael E. Veal (2000). Fela: the life & times of an African musical icon. Temple University Press. p. 3. ISBN 1-56639-765-0. 
  9. ^ "Pop Music's Nigerian Future". The FADER. Retrieved 2015-11-30. 
  10. ^ "At the crossroads of BET, Afrobeats, and #BlackLivesMatter". Africa is a Country. Retrieved 2015-11-30. 
  11. ^ a b Dan Hancox, "The rise of Afrobeats", The Guardian, 19 January 2012.
  12. ^ Hancox, Dan (2012-01-19). "The rise of Afrobeats". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-01-15. 
  13. ^ "Drake Is Number One: Is America Embracing Global Pop?". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2017-01-15. 
  14. ^ "Stylistic analysis of afrobeat music of Fela Anikulapo Kuti" (PDF). Retrieved 1 August 2010. [dead link]

External links[edit]