From New World Encyclopedia

Afrobeat developed in Africa in the 1960s and 1970s and blends elements of Yoruba music, jazz and funk rhythms with an instrumentation that emphasizes African percussion and vocal styles.

Afrobeat was pioneered by Fela Kuti, a Nigerian bandleader and instrumentalist whose musical ideas and political ideals formed the core of Afrobeat's aesthetic as it appeared in the 1960s. Kuti's experience with Highlife music in the Koola Lobitos Band moved Kuti to include the African pop-jazz hybrid as one of the primary influences upon the new style.

Afrobeat elements

Some common elements of Afrobeat:

  • Big bands: Performing forces requiring many performers on a variety of different instruments.
  • Energy: Fast tempi combined with polyrhythmic percussion.
  • Repetition: The continual deployment of some musical cell in a repetitive pattern.
  • Improvisation: Spontaneous creation of music within a set of parameters that may place melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic restrictions.
  • Mixed genre: Seamless integration of several musical styles.

Afrobeat evolved during the 1960s in southern Nigeria and drew some of its inspiration from the free jazz movement. Fela Anikulapo Kuti took African harmonic and rhythmic concepts and surrounded them with the musical trappings of Highlife, free jazz, and other contemporary musical genres to create the sound.

As is often the case with Afrocentric genres of music, politics play a role in the subject matter of many Afrobeat songs, which in turn serve as part musical expression and part social commentary. Fela Kuti, in his songs, adopted a stance opposed to the contemporary African political climate of the 1960s, broaching topics as diverse and military corruption and national sovereignty, which resonated across much of the continent. This resonance spurred a blossoming number of Afrobeat performers throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and although much of this music was recorded, evidence of those performances is now scarce.

Influence of Afrobeat

Afrobeat's influence extends beyond the genre itself, with jazz musicians paying particular interest to the sound. Notable musicians who have drawn inspiration from Afrobeat include Roy Ayers, Randy Weston, Branford Marsalis and Brian Eno. The music has experienced a resurgence as DJs continue to discover Afrobeat source recordings and incorporate them into their work in modified or original forms.

After his death in 1997, Fela Kuti's musical style has continued to find willing performers and audiences, aided in part by Afrobeat's prominence on the World Café. Current practitioners are as geographically dispersed as are the musical influences which led to Afrobeat's birth. Femi Kuti and the Positive Force, and Ayetoro (a musical project of Funsho Ogundipe) are entrenched in Afrobeat's Nigerian heritage. Prominent groups are also rooted in Los Angeles, Brooklyn (Antibalas), and Chicago (Chicago Afrobeat Ensemble).

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Olaniyan, Tejumola. Arrest the music!: Fela and his rebel art and politics. Bloomington, ID: Indiana University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-253-34461-1
  • Schoonmaker, Trevor. Fela: from West Africa to West Broadway. NY: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003. ISBN 1-403-96209-X
  • Veal, Michael E. Fela the life and times of an African musical icon. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2000. ISBN 1566397642

External Links

All links retrieved June 16, 2023.


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