Afrobeat originated in the 1960s and 1970s by Nigerian artist Fela Kuti, as a blend of traditional Yoruba music with jazz, West African highlife, and funk together.
He was known for his musical talent, his strange behavior, and his involvement in post-colonial African politics.
WHAT IS AFROBEATS?
Afrobeat is a category of music that combines West African musical forms (traditional Yoruba music), fuji music, and highlife with the influence of American funk, jazz, and soul, with chanted vocals, complex rhythms, and tapping part of the body with a finger, hand or small musical instrument like cymbals. This style was developed by a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist and band leader named Fela Kuti in the 1960s. He is known and has been accountable for making the style of music known both within and outside Africa.
FELA KUTI’S BACKGROUND
Olufela Olusegun oludotun Ransome-kuti is popularly known but is stage performing name, Fela Kuti. He was born into the family of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti and Oludotun Ransome-Kuti on October 15, 1938. His parents were known and respectful members o the community. His father was a leader of the Nigerian Teachers Organization and a Reverend Pastor as well. His mother was a Feminist and a labor activist.
HISTORY OF FELA ON FOUNDING AFROBEATS
Fela Kuti learned piano and drums as a child. In the 1950s he enroll in Trinity College in London to study classical music and was been enlightened and exposed to various forms of music like Jazz. While playing piano in a Jazz and rock band in London, he was been open up to a different form of music styles. Haven’t been exposed to the different forms of musical styles, he combines the West African style of music with the Yoruba, fuji, Ghanaian high life, and American funk, soul, and Jazz to develop his style known as the “Afrobeats”.
Fela Kuti a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist is believed to have gotten his inspiration from the Ghanaian high-life music and musicians, especially the cape coast Sugar Babies, E.K Name, King Bruce of the “Black Beat” and Yebuah Mensah who is known to be the “king of high-life music” when it was visiting Ghana (Neighbouring village of the West African country).
In the 1960s, when he returned from London, he form a band group named “Koolo Lobitos”, the band group that he played with back in London. Today, Fela Kuti is widely regarded as the greatest pioneer of Afrobeats. He is given credit for the techniques he used in his music. Fela Kuti became more and more politicized after his 1969 tour to the United States. He got influenced by the politics of Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and other movements. His songs like “Zombie”, “Beast of No Nation”, “Monkey Banana” and “Upside Down” he called for societal change.
The Afrobeats musician started recording and making songs based on the black struggle and pride. He changed the band’s name from Koolo Lobitos to Fela Ransome-Kuti & The African ’70, when he came back from his tour in the United States. His songs took a new dimension when he started writing songs with politically charged lyrics disproving the numerous continent, military regimes in the early 1970s. Fela Kuti also disproved the irreversible impact that the European colonial control imposed on the Africans.
In the 1970s, Ray Stephen Oche (a Nigerian musician) had a tour to Paris, France with his matumbo orchestra. He aimed to distinguish Fela Kuti’s music from the soul music of American artists like James Brown.
Politics became important to Afrobeats because Fela Kuti used Social criticism to pave the way for social change. His song passed a message that was described as contentious and debated which was related to the political climate of most of the African countries in the 1970s, which were dealing with military corruption and political injustice on the citizens after recovering from the state of colonial Government to self-determination. Fela Kuti also criticized the irreversible control impact that European colonialism had on Africans’ economic and social lives.
Fela Kuti was a strong believer and supporter of Pan-Africanism, citing examples with Ghana Kwame Nkrumah and Burkina Faso’s, charismatic Leader Thomas Sankara. Many of his songs were huge for many Nigerian to stop European Cultural imperialism from spreading. Fela Kuti was sentenced to 20 months (1 year and 8 months) in prison for cash snuggling. After his release, he walked away from active political protest and also left his son “Femi Kuti” to carry on the Afrobeats flame.
Fela Kuti was well known for his best in utilizing his Afro-centric music to express his unhappiness, with the unjust hardship that Africans were facing.
INFLUENCE OF AFROBEATS ON TODAY’S MUSIC
Presently, today’s Jazz musicians have been attracted by the Afrobeats. It started In the 1970s with Roy Ayer to Randy Weston in the 1990s, when they had to work together which resulted in albums such as “Africa: center of the world” by Roy Ayer. Release in 1981 on the polytene label. In 1994, an American Jazz Saxophonist “Branford Marsals” added samples of Fela’s “Beast of No Nation” to his album title “Buckshot Lefonque”.
Afrobeats affected, as well as influenced contemporary musicians and producers, such as David Brunette and Brain Eno. They gave the account to Fela Kuti as their main point of influence. The two worked together in 1980 to produce an album titled “Remain in the Light”. The album brought polyrhythmic influence on Afrobeats to western music.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, many musicians, producers, and others referred to Afrobeat as an influence like the Daptone Records-adjacent groups, The Budos Band, and El Michels Affair. “Antibalas” was the 2000s. It was an American, Brooklyn-based band group that was modeled after Fela Kuti’s band group “The African 70”. Some of the Afrobeat influence are also be found in the music of “Vampire Weekend” and “Paul Simon”. The “Antibalas” was nominated for the Grammy Award for “Best Global Music Album” In 2020.
The Afrobeat artists of the 2000s and present that are following in the footsteps of the Nigerian multi-instrumentalist “Fela Kuti” are his sons Femi Kuti and Seun Kuti, Franck Biyong & Massak (from Cameroon), Segun Damisa & the Afro-beat Crusaders, Shaolin Afronauts (from Adelaide, Australia), Newen Afrobeat (from Santiago, Chile), Eddy Taylor & the Heartphones (from Cologne, Germany), Bantucrew, Albinoid Afrobeat Orchestra / Albinoid Sound System From France, Abayomy Afrobeat Orquestra, Karl Hector & the Malcouns From Germany, Ojibo Afrobeat from Lithuania, and the ex-Africa ’70 members Oghene Kologbo (guitar) with Afrobeat Academy, Nicholas Addo-Nettey (percussion), who is popularly known as Pax Nicholas [de], with Ridimtaksi (both based in Berlin, Germany). Also, the Namibian artist EES (Eric Sell) associated the Afrobeat with reggae and kwaito.
The Knitting Factory Records (KFR) music label produced the Broadway musical “Fela” In 2009. It showcased the story of Fela Kuti’s “courage and incredible musical mastery” along with his life story. The show was part of the 11 Tony nominations, winning three Awards for “Best Costumes”, “Best Sound” and “Best Choreography”. “Fela” was produced by recognized producers, such as Shawn “Jay-Z ” Carter and Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith. The song was on Broadway for 15 months. Many celebrities were noted as attending the shows, including Denzel Washington, Madonna, Sting, Spike Lee, Kofi Annan, and Michelle Obama. Michelle Williams and many others. A well-organized festival called “Festival de Afrobeat Independiente” (FAI) Is always organized regularly in Buenos Aires, where regional bands, as well as well-known Afrobeat, act, and perform on stage.
In these modern days, Top Afrobeats musician are been influenced as well by Fela Kuti’s style of music and It has been recreated in their music such as one of the best Afrobeats musicians “Wizkid” (Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun), “Burns Boy” (Damini ogulu), Asa (Bukola Elemide) and Adekunle Gold or AG Baby (Adekunle Almoruf Kosoko) and many more. “Fela Kuti” is regarded as one of the best African and Nigerian most important experts and the king of Afrobeats.
Fela passed away in Lagos on August 2, 1997, but his legacy and style of music continue in all Afrobeats music.
Afrobeats works hand in hand with the high-life music of the Ghanaian. It was formed by a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist named “Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-kuti” AKA “Fela Kuti” (Stage name). His style of music has brought great melody to the people and influenced many Africans. Presently his style of music is still used but just modernized. Top musicians like Wizkid, Burna Boy, Asa, Adekunle Gold, and many other musicians recreate and use his style in their pieces of music. Fela is known to be the king and Founder of Afrobeats.