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Afrobeat: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

The Afrobeat genre is provocative and revolutionary. The Afrobeat genre reflects lyrics that stands as anthems to fight for the voiceless and oppressed.

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Afrobeat is a music genre that is a blend of Yoruba folk music, Ghanaian highlife, jazz, funk, and soul. Usually, the Afrobeat band comprises of more than ten members; involves the use of guitars, horns, trumpets, conga, shekere, drum sets, akuba, and other African instruments. The genre includes chants, interactive rhythms, call-and-response styles, and wailing lines. Also, Afrobeat songs are usually long, going over the average of ten to thirty minutes. The Afrobeat genre is provocative and revolutionary. The Afrobeat genre reflects lyrics that stands as anthems to fight for the voiceless and oppressed. 

“Music is the weapon. Music is the weapon of the future.” — Fela Anikulapo Kuti

The late Nigerian musician and activist, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, is known as the father of Afrobeat. He created this genre of music in 1968 in Ghana and popularized it in the 70s. He thought this up after having explored pan-African sounds and African American music. Fela’s creation of this genre was borne out of his love or hate relationship with the late American musician, James Brown, and the desire to distinguish his music from soul music and avoid being compared to James Brown. With this in mind, he was able to cause a revolution and spark a change in the Nigerian music society. This revolution made him one of the most influential music icons in the world. Fela’s music was laced with political messages making him a threat to the authorities locally and in the diaspora. 

Fela Kuti – Father of Afrobeat. Source: The Guardian

Generally, the Afrobeat musical genre became a platform that is now often used to address socio-political issues. Some artists who have fully maintained the Afrobeat genre of music without dilution are Fela’s sons, Femi and Seun Kuti, Tony Allen, Dede Mabiaku and Segun Bucknor. These music artistes are staying true to the original version that Fela Kuti birthed.  Seun and Femi are hewn from the same rock, Fela. However, their music has some very subtle hue of differentiation.  For instance, Femi infuses his version of Afrobeat with some hints of electronic music and hip-hop. However, you cannot divorce their music from the original Afrobeat style that is packed with lines of socio-political dynamism and activism.

“Zombie, oh, zombie, Zombie no go go unless you tell am to go, Zombie no go stop unless you tell am to stop. No brake, no jam, no sense.” — Fela Anikulapo Kuti

The Afrobeat music genre has diffused into the ambiance of the music industry on a global scale. Fela’s genius via this music genre is unique packing a punch with so much thought-provoking pathos in its vibrant and expressive composition that it cannot go unnoticed. It is worthy to note how much influence Afrobeat has had on western music in the present times. This genre of music has been adopted in many parts of the world by many artists. Artistes such as David Byrne, Paul Simon, Brian Eno, Nas, J. Cole, and Vampire Weekend have tested elements of Afrobeat in their music. Other bands such as Antibalas, London afrobeat, and many others have taken up and performed Afrobeat. The Afrobeat genre is metamorphosing in its delivery. Today, the Afrobeat(s), is its evolutionary progeny. However, Afrobeat remains the rock from which other Afro-infused genres (e.g., Afrobeat(s), Afro-Pop, etc.) are hewn from.

Afrobeat Evolution—Now Afrobeat(s)!

Let us note that Afrobeat has been confused with another famous version of the Nigerian music called Afrobeat(s); a name used to classify a wide variety of Afro-pop music originating mainly in Nigeria and Ghana.  Afrobeat(s) music can now be heard in almost any club in every part of the world. Africans are dancing to it. Other races and nationalities are now dancing to its beats likewise. Talk about the revolutionary-musical-tsunami raging with strong poetic fury and flux into the musical mainland. All musical buoys have been set off through the incursion of the seething and towering waves of this musical revolution. Hence, the name “Afrobeat(s)” and not “Afrobeat” has become the popular name of the genre in the international scene. Many refuse to accept this and still argue that Fela’s “Afrobeat” is the acceptable genre. This poses a little confusion but shouldn’t be because of the unique classic qualities of the music genre created by Fela as Afrobeat possesses.

“My people are scared of the air around them; they always have an excuse not to fight for freedom.” — Fela Anikulapo Kuti

The debate over what is and isn’t Afrobeat is more contentious today than it was in the days of Fela. This argument might be because of the notoriously high bar set by the greats of the genres who showcase the unique classic qualities that define the sort. These artistes famously spend hours daily honing their skills with their instruments and lacing each note with a message that addresses a particular social injustice. Real Afrobeat artistes, like Fela, are instrumentalists, vocalist, stage performers and social and political activists all at once. They carry a message that many others do not dare to, for fear of dabbling into politics. It is difficult to gain respect as a professional in the field when one does not carry the torch of Fela. Hence, many modern artists have borrowed elements of the genre without daring to proclaim themselves as Afrobeat artistes. This notwithstanding, an enlightened audience can always tell when a Fela sample is used, either by a local or an international artist.

Beautiful African woman singing and expressing talent.

Afrobeat has been passed down and eclectically utilized by many contemporary Nigerian Afro-pop musicians. These Afrobeat(s) musicians borrow some elements from Fela’s Afrobeat genre. We can agree that there is a musical metamorphosis in play. We can creatively say that Fela’s Afrobeat genre is undergoing an organic transformation as it evolves. Some will stay true to the original path of the style; however, some, as we see today in the industry, are veering off the way towards the Afrobeat(s) or Afro-pop variant—a hybridized version of the original. Many contemporary Nigerian Afrobeats artistes such as Wizkid (Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun), Davido (David Adeleke), D’Banj (Oladapo Daniel Oyebanjo), Tekno (Augustine Miles Kelechi), 2Baba (Innocent Ujah Idibia), Runtown (Douglas Jack Agu), Tiwa Savage (Tiwatope Savage-Balogun), Yemi Alade (Yemi Eberechi Alade), Burna Boy (Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu), just to mention but a few, have tapped into this music genre, made hits off of it and have also received international recognition. 

These artists and more are fast revolutionizing and globalizing the Afrobeat(s) and Afro-Pop music genres and making it extremely popular in the limelight of the international community in all the five continents of the world. They are attracting collaborations with international music superstars from across the globe. Global musical superstars from all over the world are seeking out avenues to collaborate with these rising Nigerian and African musical icons. The transformation is golden as it is astounding. They are collectively attracting hundreds of thousands of fans at international concerts around the world, accruing numerous nominations, awards, and accolades. Thanks to the godfather of Afrobeat, Fela Kuti, we now have a cartload of talented Nigerian Afrobeat(s) or Afro-pop stars hitting it big in their circles and making history happen.

Celebrating Davido’s BET Best International Act for Nigeria.  Source: BETNetworks.

Fela’s Afrobeat genre has traveled widely and has continued to influence and give not only Nigerian artistes and their music recognition and acceptance, but also continued to inspire other talents all over the world. The original Afrobeat genre is iconic in its stead and has uniquely influenced the Afrobeat(s) and Afro-pop genre. These other genres are gaining popularity fast.  Despite the difference from the original Afrobeat genre, all the contemporary musical phonemes from Nigeria would still doff their hats to the King of Afrobeat—Fela Anikulapo Kuti.  His iconic significance can never be second to none; it’s always bar none.  It remains at the pedestal of uniqueness and platinum significance.  In 2009, Jada and Will Smith joined forces with Jay Z to put together a Fela Broadway show, which still airs in different cities to date.  The show is a celebration of the significant events in the life of the enigmatic and charismatic rebel icon; his love for life and women, and of course, his musical journey.  Afrobeat tells our stories, unifies us and our musical, cultural heritage as well as strengthening our narratives.

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Ogbonnaya Agom-Eze is an entrepreneur and the Founder, CEO, Editor-In-Chief of Oaekpost, LLC, a U.S.-based online media company and the parent organization of www.oaekpost.com. He is a multi-niche writer with a wide range of interests in various genres. Agom-Eze is based in the Greater Seattle Area, Washington, and can be reached at ogb@oaekpost.com.

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