By: Lavanya Kathirgamanathan
Published on September 16, 2022.
Afro-fusion, Afropop, Afrobeats; As of now, the world is listening to the music of various African nations.
Afrobeat is a music genre that originated in Nigeria during the 1970s, but it differs from Afrobeats, the plural form. Afrobeats is a contemporary term for West African pop music, rather than the Nigerian genre. The Nigerian multi-instrumentalist, Fela Kuti, can be credited with discovering the Afrobeat sound, this sound is what made his musical ideas come to life and influence the African pop phenomenon.
Kuti found his love for African jazz music in the 60’s while in London, awaiting to study medicine. However, he gave up on that journey and ended up attending Trinity College of Music, where he studied music and pursued it seriously. Prior to his academic journey, Kuti was instrumentally talented, playing the piano and drums in the choir while in school, which fueled his passion for music. As the 60’s went by, Kuti was engaging more in his musical abilities and came out with a brand he launched called Koola Lobitos, which became a huge success in the Nigerian music scene, a decade later.
The sound of Afrobeat comes from a combination of different genres, which include West African style beats and American funk, which produces the feeling of culturally unique rhythms. Kuti produced these unique sounds and intertwined them with even more genres, such as free jazz and high life, to expand its diversity with different aspects of the West African music culture. Highlife was another music genre that was very popular during the 19th century and is the most well-known Western jazz melodies in Africa.
Another important aspect of Afrobeat deals with its relationship to political action. The more recognition Kuti gained in his musical career, the more he participated in politics and social change. He decided to merge his African roots with American culture and discovered the importance of adding politics to music with the help of an African American artist named Sandra Izsadore.
As Kuti became more informed, so did his perspective of the music around him. Kuti was a big believer of criticizing the military governments in Africa, particularly Nigeria. Many people during the 70s in most African countries were dealing with hardship in different ways. Nigeria in particular, had a lot of political injustice and military corruption within their country with no control.
The political situations that arose in Nigeria caused Kuti to become more aware of social and political problems, which gave his audience additional meaning to the afrobeats genre. Kuti gained inspiration from other emerging artists during the late 90s and early 2000s, and worked with some in hopes of keeping Afrobeat alive through their new creative energies. As the world changes, music changes too.
Now let’s step into the emerging global genre; Afrobeats, with an “s.”
The plural Afrobeats is a term that incorporates many African pop genres. These genres were most often seen in Nigeria, Ghana, and the UK during the late 90s and 2000s, but more recently throughout the past two decades.
Afrobeats are found commonly in London and Lagos. Lagos historically has had music within their atmosphere for decades. During the 1920’s, oral music such as juju and fuji were taking over until the 40’s. As time went on, the musical world became more advanced, and there was professional equipment involved in the music scene.
This made it easier for Lagos musicians to step outside of their comfort zone and create exciting tunes, which amplified itself into afrobeats, incorporating hip hop and R&B into the sound.
Alternatively, London had artists who incorporated their own background within their African roots and brought afrobeats into London’s music industry. In 2013, VICE published an article discussing the history behind afrobeats through an artist named Fuse ODG, who was born in Britain and raised in Ghana. ODG helped the music industry in London level up with the upbeat sound into UK culture. This impact led others to familiarize themselves with their moves and bring a unique flow of afrobeats into the UK lifestyle.
This genre is gaining a global fan base for its rhythm and dominating pop music with their own twist on the style. Artists such as Burna Boy, Wizkid, and Davido are artists that lead the Afrobeats genre, paving the way for the genre to reach international success.