Afrobeat – The Sound Of Nigeria

Science dropped by Martini & Jopparelli. May-18-2007

Do you remember my old post about Fela Kuti? (Check here for a quick refresh). That was my first step into Fela’s world. Now, after almost three months, I have done few more steps into this marvellous musical universe and I am ready to introduce you as well. Plus I will give you another Fela Kuti album. Enjoy the ride!!!

Let’s start from the beginning: Afrobeat is a mix of Funk, Jazz, Highlife (a type of music that originated in Ghana, Sierra Leone and Nigeria in the 1920s), Yoruba music (a Nigerian drumming tradition), African drums and vocal styles. To make it easier, is a combination of American Jazz, Funk and African beats.

At the end of the 60s, all around the world Beatles and Rolling Stones (among others) are doing their Rock revolution, in Jamaica is the time of what we call today “Roots classics”, in South Africa, despite the Apartheid, the Mbaquanga is becoming popular and is spreading in the whole continent, and in the same continent, but in Nigeria, a man called Fela Kuti is starting his own rebellion.

Fela is the creator, is the one who coined the name Afrobeat, is the one (with the legendary drummer Tony Allen) who shaped the sound and the political context.

In Nigeria in the early 70s the British rock and American soul music was dominating most of Africa’s music scene. Fela introduced his brand of style to stop the British musical invasion.

Some peculiar characteristics of this sound are: a large number of musician involved in the session, a lot of improvisation (typical of Jazz music), the great mix of different types of sound as I said before, the obsessive and compulsive rhythm, the large use of trumpet and electric piano, the political meaning of the lyrics, the steady energy.

Talk about Afrobeat in a short post is almost impossible. This time I gave you a brief introduction as promised. I am not going to write more otherwise you will not follow me. I see you already bored.

If somebody wants to know more, here a short interview with Olufunsho Ogundipe, an Afrobeat musician from Nigeria of course. You can listen to his music here.

Where does Afrobeat come from?
It comes from a part of Nigeria, the southern part of Nigeria. It was a 60′s thing influenced by, perhaps, the free jazz movement – the Americans. The chap who was at the vanguard of this all was Fela Anikulapo Kuti. He went through different forms of music – basically starting by playing High-life, which was common to West Africa then. And then modernising it, evolving it by, I believe, taking different elements of other forms of contemporary music then… Putting that together to form Afrobeat. At its best, Afrobeat would be whopping, exuberant, big band jazz.
What do Afrobeat records sound like?
Afrobeat is a mixture of different forms of music. When you listen to an Afrobeat band, the first thing you hear probably would be the jazz influence. Because a lot of times the harmonies are jazzy. And also there is a lot of improvisation involved in this music. Also, you hear the funk. Because funk, as the Americans play it, is actually West African traditional music. Very repetitive, very groovy. Very exuberant. The electric piano is at the soul of the music. As well, you hear echoes of classical music in, perhaps, the way the themes are structured, the arrangements as they are. Afrobeat really is just a way of putting together all those influences and mixing them with traditional African harmonies and rhythm. So, it is very powerful emotionally.
What is the political message of Afrobeat?
Politics is essential to the genre of Afrobeat. More so because the founding fathers, that is Fela and his like, were into social criticism as a way of effecting social change. And you know, you cannot do anything in isolation. Whatever your art form, it really has to reflect on the times you live in. If you look at the folk music movement in America, people like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, they also had a lot of criticism in their music. I remember, when Fela died, one of the visitors to his house said, ‘Here lies Africa’s Bob Dylan’. The music is fiery, it is confrontational because the times he was living in. If you looked at all the African countries then, there had been this transition from the colonial governments to self-determination on the part of most of the African countries. People were now governing themselves. Well, Africans found out that self-determination did not mean the eradication of ills in society. So, that was where the fiery and confrontational attitude of Afrobeat came out.


19 Responses to “Afrobeat – The Sound Of Nigeria”

  1. Mike says:

    This one looks very interesting. Thanks for your share of knowledge.

    Do you know the sampler Ghana Soundz on Soundway Records? It gives an even further insight into 70′s Fusion, Funk and Afrobeat in Africa. It was posted on various blogs, FifthMicrophone for instance.

  2. Marty says:

    Hey Mike, thanks for visiting us.

    Yes, i do know The Ghana Sound compilation, it’s super!
    It’s a great overview into this sound.

    I like your blog, do you want to exchange links?


  3. Mike says:

    Thanks for the props. I’m still kinda lazy when it comes to posting, but this must change – and it will. Yeah sure, let’s exchange links.

    Btw, do you also have Ghana Soundz Vol. 2? I only have Vol. 1 (which hopefully will arrive this week on double vinyl :)

  4. Marty says:

    Cool, I got You linked up.
    Yes, i also have the Vol 2. But to be honest I don’t own the vinyl :)
    I will provide you the link by tomorrow.

  5. Marty says:

    Here we go Mike

    Ghana Soundz Vol 2

  6. ilmago says:

    never listened to Fela Kuti before, I expected more ‘Africa’ in his music, instead there is a lot of American Jazz influence.
    Although, I like it. thanx!

  7. Tim says:

    Though I needed to keep you up to date with latest news on Ethiopian Groove also.

    It’s a fansite set up to celebrate the release of a 2CD pack of classic Ethiopian groove.

    Just thought you might be interested.

    Best wishes

  8. Marty says:

    Share knowledge, this is the reason why I run this blog.

    I ll have a look for sure Tim!



  9. Henk says:

    hehehehe man i have been into fela since the first time i heard his music when i was sixteen and that was in 1981!!! if you can find it check the live concert in amsterdam from i think ’81 and check the tracks i.t.t., original sufferhead, he miss road, perambulator just to name a few, if you can’t find ‘em just let me know and i’ll be happy to send ‘em ok

  10. Hi hank,

    if you have that 1981 concert on mp3 this is a very interesting file for sure….

    If you want, since you were in the public, you could also wite a few lines about your experience in that concert…and we could make a post out of it. We’ll be happy to publish your contribution as a guest blogger.

    Anyway, if you are not interested no problem, thanx anyway for commenting.


  11. [...] Still not good as Fela alone! Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Beyonce and Jay Z Talk Marriage and Family? [...]

  12. Henkden Toom says:

    sorry its been ages. i never saw fela live and i regret it! he played once in my hometown rotterdam and i missed it! i will upload those recordings and put the link here ok! greetz henk

  13. Hi Henk

    I appreciate that, looking forward to hear this live in Amsterdam concert…

    Thanks in advance

  14. lacali12 says:

    Nneka is a pretty good example of some modern afrobeat for all of you out there. I love Femi Kuti as well, who is the son of Fela Kuti. I had the opp to see him in NYC recently… what a show. however, really feeling the nneka video for “uncomfortable truth”

  15. [...] made a mix for each style: Afrobeat, Afro Funk, High Life, Afro Rock and Afro Disco. The result are five groovy and spectacular mixes that are an essential [...]

  16. hi !

    where can i find your mix ?

    the links unfortunately doesnt function ! :(

    can anyone help me? thanks!