Afrobeat is a vibrant and captivating music style created by the legendary Nigerian musician Fela Kuti in the late 1960s to early 70s. Afrobeat is a blend of highlife, jazz, funk, and traditional African rhythms with a distinct and political feel. The driving logic behind Afrobeat is its capacity to speak to social issues, which elevates it above simple music and makes it an effective weapon for activism and social change.
It’s interesting to note that there is another musical genre called Afrobeats. But despite the similarities in their names, Afrobeat and Afrobeats are two distinct genres. While Afrobeat has its roots in the 1970s, Afrobeats is a 21st-century sound from West Africa that combines hip-hop, house, jùjú, ndombolo, R&B, and soca.
History of Afrobeat
There is an inextricable link to Fela Kuti’s life and legacy and the history of Afrobeat. The Nigerian musician and political activist laid the groundwork for the genre with his band Africa ’70. He used Afrobeat to criticize Nigeria’s oppression, corruption, and social injustices by fusing several musical genres. Although Fela’s music and activism caused conflicts with the Nigerian government, his legacy of resistance persists. Fela’s children, Seun Kuti and Femi Kuti, carried on the Afrobeat lineage after their father’s passing in 1997, ensuring the genre’s continuing influence.
Afrobeat’s distinctive elements
Several key characteristics define the unique sound of Afrobeat music.
- Complex rhythms: Afrobeat is renowned for its deep, complex rhythms. It creates polyrhythmic patterns that are captivating and energizing by fusing traditional African percussion instruments with contemporary drum sets.
- Horn sections: Horn sections, frequently made up of trumpets, saxophones, and trombones, are a vital part of Afrobeat. These horns usually play melodic lines.
- Long and extended song structures: Afrobeat songs frequently contain lengthy instrumental passages and repeating patterns. Such arrangements allow musicians to display their talent through improvisation.
- Afrobeat lyrics: The verses frequently touch on social and political topics and spread the word about injustice, repression, and corruption. The lyrics are profound and thought-provoking.
- Fusion of genres: Traditional African music, jazz, funk, highlife, and Western influences are all included in the ingredients of Afrobeat.
Influence of Afrobeat and Where Can You Hear It Now
From collaborations with jazz legends to its integration into global music, Afrobeat’s impact has spanned decades and continents. Afrobeat is also a major source of inspiration for many musicians worldwide, who incorporate it into their own distinctive styles.
The “father of Afrobeat drumming,” Tony Allen, was instrumental in creating the genre’s sound with his avant-garde drumming technique.
Fela’s sons, Femi and Seun Kuti have carried on their father’s legacy by spreading his social change and resistance messages. Femi took over Fela’s band, Africa ‘70, and rebranded it to Egypt ‘80 before launching his own group Positive Force. He has also collaborated with well-known singers like Common and D’Angelo, which expanded Afrobeat’s appeal to a worldwide audience.
Modern bands like Antibalas and Kokoroko have revived Aftrobeat by staying faithful to the genre’s roots while adding their own contemporary touches.
In 2009, the music label Knitting Factory Records (KFR) produced the Broadway musical Fela!, based on Kuti’s life and music. The play has been nominated 11 times for Tony Awards, winning three categories: Best Costumes, Best Sound, and Best Choreography. Fela! was on Broadway for 15 months and was produced by music industry notables Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith.
The “Festival de Afrobeat Independiente” (FAI) is a recurring event in Buenos Aires, featuring performances by both regional and renowned Afrobeat acts.
3 Tips on How to Use Afrobeat Tracks in Your Creative Projects
- Afrobeat is political. When choosing to use Afrobeat in your project, it would be wise to ensure your project honors (at least not betrays) the legacy of Fela Kuti and his socially conscious messages.
- Africa In Her Beauty (Afrobeat) is a great example of an upbeat track that would showcase the natural landscapes of an African setting.
- Imagine a crime comedy with the backing track Afrobeat Fusion Loop Trumpet for a unique fusion of genres. Just don’t forget to refer to tip one.
In the words of Fela Kuti, “The music of Africa is big sound: it’s the sound of a community.” Give your next project a big sound. A Pond5 music subscription gives you access to original Afrobeat tracks, including the ones featured here.