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.
The term was coined by Nigerian multi-instrumentalist and bandleader Fela Kuti, who is responsible for pioneering and popularizing the style both within and outside Nigeria. It was partially borne out of an attempt to distinguish Fela Kuti's music from the soul music of American artists such as James Brown.
Afrobeat originated from Ghanaian highlife in the early 60s. It was later developed in the southern part of Nigeria in the late 1960s, by Fela Kuti, who experimented with different contemporary music of the time. 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
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 Nigeria, has become increasingly prominent in African popular music.This name echoes Afrobeat, the 1970s fusion of jazz and traditional Nigerian and Ghanaian music which is an important influence, but Afrobeats is a largely different style.
Afrobeats is most identifiable by its signature driving drum beat rhythms, whether electronic or instrumental. These beats harken to the stylings of a variety of traditional African drumbeats across West Africa as well as the precursory genre of Afrobeat. The beat in Afrobeats music is not just a base for the melody, but acts as a major character of the song, taking a lead role that is sometimes equal to are of greater importance than the lyrics and almost always more central than the other instrumentals. Another distinction within Afrobeats is the notably west African, specifically Nigerian or Ghanaian, accented English that is often blended with local slangs, pidgin English, as well as local Nigerian or Ghanaian languages depending on the backgrounds of the performers.
DJs and producers like DJ Black, Elom Adablah, and C-Real (Cyril-Alex Gockel) for example, have been a crucial part in spreading the popularity of this form of music. Their artistic mixing of beats and sounds allow a younger audience to experience a sound that is somewhat familiar in its influences and yet uniquely African. Their mixing and promotion of popular hits on the continent is also a tried and true method for success. Often what the play in clubs, radio shows, podcasts, etc. are what become popularized both within Africa and abroad.
Since 2012, Afrobeats have gained mainstream recognition outside of Africa, especially within the UK. UK hits have included "Oliver Twist" by D'banj a Nigerian which reached 9 on the UK Singles Chart in 2012, and "Million Pound Girl (Badder Than Bad)" by the Ghanaian British artist Fuse ODG, which reached 5 on the UK Singles Chart 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 musicians whose music have been classified as Afrobeats: