From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Afrobeat's creator and best known artist was the Nigerian multi-instrumentalist and bandleader Fela Kuti, who coined the term Afrobeat, shaped the musical structure and shaped the political context of the genre. He launched Afrobeat in the early 60s. Kuti had earlier played a fusion of jazz and highlife (For which he first used the term 'Afrobeat') with his Koola Lobitos Band.
Characteristics of Afrobeat are:
- Big bands: A large group of musicians playing various instruments (Fela Kuti's band in the 80s Egypt 80 featured 80 musicians);
- Energy: Energetic, exciting and with high tempo, polyrhythmic percussion;
- Repetition: The same musical movements are repeated many times;
- Improvisation: Performing without set music;
- Combination of genres: A mixture of various musical influences.
- Vocals tend to be sung in Pidgin English as Kuti, who spoke perfect English, regarded this as being the language best understood across all of Africa's borders.
Afrobeat originated from the southern part of Nigeria in the 1960s where Kuti experimented with many different forms of contemporary music of the time. Prevalent in his music are native African 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 1960s, 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.
Many jazz musicians have been attracted to afrobeat. From Roy Ayers in the seventies to Randy Weston in the nineties, there have been collaborations which have resulted in albums such as Africa: Centre of the World by Roy Ayers, released on the Polydor 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.
Afrobeat has profoundly influenced important contemporary producers and musicians like Brian Eno and David Byrne, who credit Fela Kuti as an essential muse. Both worked on Talking Heads' highly-acclaimed 1980 album Remain In Light which brought polyrhythmic afrobeat influences to Western music. More recently, 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. The lighter genre of afropop has also been given a new spotlight in recent times through Vampire Weekend's eponymous debut.
Big band (15 to 30 pieces: Fela-era afrobeat) and energetic performances
- Lead vocals (may play sax/key solos as well)
- Chorus vocals (may include horn players)
- Rhythm guitar(s) (plays funk strumming pattern)
- Tenor guitar (plays a finger-picked osinato groove)
- Bass guitar
- Drum set, generally in the form polyrhythmic percussion
- Rhythm conga #1
- Rhythm conga #2
- Solo (lead) conga
- Akuba: a set of 3 small stick-hit congas (play flourishes/solos, and ostinatos). Also mistakenly called "gbedu".
- "Sticks"/claves (plays ostinato)
There are several active afrobeat bands worldwide.
Modern afrobeat bands include:
- Afrodizz, an eight-piece band from Montreal, Canada formed by jazz guitarist Gabriel Aldama
- The Afromotive, an Asheville, NC based multiracial seven-piece afrobeat band featuring thirty-third generation djembe player Adama Dembele from Cote d‘Ivoire, West Africa.
- Tunday Akintan, saxophonist and creator of yorubeat music was influenced by Fela Kuti.
- Tony Allen, the man who held the drum chair during Fela's productive "Africa 70" phase, and whose drumming was, according to James Brown's autobiography, the influence behind his 'discovery' of funk.Template:Fact
- Antibalas, Brooklyn, New York based multiracial Afrobeat Orchestra formed by baritone saxophonist Martin Perna
- Ayetoro, a group led by Nigerian pianist/composer Funsho Ogundipe
- Chopteeth, an international 14 piece outfit based in Washington D.C., with former members of Busta Rhymes, The Temptations, The Four Tops, and Gladys Knight & the Pips.
- Femi Kuti (Fela's first son and a saxophonist) and the Positive Force
- Seun Kuti (another of Kuti's sons, saxophonist now fronting his father's last and late band)
- Dele Sosimi's Gbedu Resurrection Dele is a former keyboardist and musical director of Fela's band. He cofounded Femi Kuti's Positive Force.
- Zozo Afrobeat A thirteen-member group based in NYC, founded by Kaleta, former Fela guitarist.
- Baba Ken and the Afro-Groove Connexion Oakland based multiracial afrobeat ensemble led by Nigerian bassist, Baba Ken Okulolo, founding member of the seminal 1970's afrofunk/afrorock band, Monomono.
- Afrobeat Down Los Angeles based Afrobeat ensemble (est. 2002) working with former Fela Africa '70 member and catalyst of entire afrobeat movement, Sandra Izsadore.