Afrobeat is a music genre 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 and percussion.
A key figure in its development is Nigerian multi-instrumentalist and bandleader Fela Kuti who popularised the style both within and outside Nigeria. It was partially borne out of an attempt to distinguish Kuti's music from the "soul music" of American artists such as James Brown.
Afrobeat originated from Fuji, heavy Nigerian drumbeats, and Ghanaian highlife. 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. 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
- 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.
From early in the 21st century, a new type of sound, originating in West Africa, has become increasingly prominent in African popular music. This sound was initially referred to simply as 'Naija music' after the common slang term for Nigeria, but has become known as Afrobeats. This name echo's Afrobeat, the 1970s fusion of jazz and traditional Ghanaian and Nigerian music which is an important influence, but Afrobeats is a largely different style combining influences from Congolese rumba, hip hop and dancehall. Early hits included "African Queen" by 2face Idibia (2004) and "No One Like You" by P-Square (2007).
More recently the Azonto style of dance from Ghana has become closely associated with Afrobeats and more up-tempo songs have become popular. More recent hits include "Bumper2Bumper" by Wande Coal (2008), "Oleku" by Ice Prince (2010) and "Kukere" by Iyanya (2011).
Since 2012, Afrobeats have gained mainstream recognition outside of Africa, especially within the UK. UK hits have included "Oliver Twist" by D'banj which reached 9 in the UK singles charts in 2012, and "Million Pound Girl (Badder Than Bad)" by the British artist Fuse ODG which reached 5 in the UK singles charts in 2014. Afrobeats nightclubs are now primary features of UK's nightlife with clubs opening in most major cities.
According to David Drake, the eclectic genre “reimagines diasporic influences and—more often than not—completely reinvents them.” However, some caution against equating Afrobeats to contemporary pan-African music, in order to prevent the erasure of local musical contributions.
"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"
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."
Notable afrobeats musicians
Notable musicians whose music have been classified as Afrobeats:
- Grass, Randall F. "Fela Anikulapo-Kuti: The Art of an Afrobeat Rebel". The Drama Review: TDR. MIT Press. 30: 131–148. JSTOR 1145717. doi:10.2307/1145717.
- Chris Nickson. "Ghana Soundz: Afrobeat, Funk and Fusion in the 70's - Various Artists - Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards - AllMusic". AllMusic.
- "The Infectious Songs of Ghanaian Afrobeat". worldmusiccentral.org.
- Clyde Macfarlane (2012-07-18). "Album Review: KonKoma". Think Africa Press. Retrieved 2015-03-22.
- "Radio: AfroBeat Airwaves". Rhapsody.
- David McDavitt (21 April 2006). ""Lead Congas" in Afrobeat". The Afrofunk Music Forum. Retrieved 2010-01-30.
- Michael E. Veal (2000). Fela: the life & times of an African musical icon. Temple University Press. p. 3. ISBN 1-56639-765-0.
- Guide to Nigeria's Afrobeats stars, BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-26770178
- "How Nigeria's Afrobeats are redefining the sound of Africa". The Guardian. 24 April 2014. Retrieved 4 August 2014.
- Drake, David. "Say Yes: How a Michelle, Beyoncé and Kelly Gospel Record Points to Pop Music’s Nigerian Future". The Fader. Retrieved 4 August 2014.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-04-27. Retrieved 2014-04-27.
- "Pop Music's Nigerian Future". The FADER. Retrieved 2015-11-30.
- "At the crossroads of BET, Afrobeats, and #BlackLivesMatter". Africa is a Country. Retrieved 2015-11-30.
- Dan Hancox, "The rise of Afrobeats", The Guardian, 19 January 2012.
- Dan Hancox (19 January 2015). "The rise of Afrobeats". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 May 2017.
- Lakin Starling. "10 Ghanaian Afrobeats Artists You Need To Know". The Fader. Retrieved 15 May 2017.
- Kenner, Rob (13 February 2017). "Introducing Mr Eazi, the OVO and Wizkid Favorite Bringing Afrobeats to the Masses". Complex. Retrieved 22 March 2017.
- Robin Scher (6 August 2015). "Afrobeat(s): The Difference a Letter Makes". Huffington Post. Retrieved 15 May 2017.
- Hazelann Williams (9 April 2012). "Quick Chat With... Afrikan Boy". Young Voices. Retrieved 15 May 2017.
- Vladimir Duthiers; Teo Kermeliotis (19 December 2012). "Afrobeats: The new sound of West Africa that's going global". CNN. Retrieved 15 May 2017.
- "The (Afro) beat goes on". The Evening Standard.
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