These days the term ‘Afrobeat’ has taken on a new meaning internationally, with the penetration of African pop music, and the widespread propensity for international pop acts to lean on it for inspiration, and new direction.
Wizkid has a collaboration with Drake and Kyla for the chart-topping song ‘One Dance’ which has co-production contributions from DJ Maphorisa and Sarz. Alicia Keys’ return to mainstream music with new single ‘In common’ has been hailed to have drum elements of Nigerian music. So also have numerous materials from rappers and pop acts being fused with sonic elements originating from the shores of the Black Continent.
But in all of these, a huge part of us have lost the meaning of ‘Afrobeat’, confusing the term with a false misnomer coined in the UK called ‘Afrobeats’ (Afrobeat with an ‘s’). When the originator of Afrobeat, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, first created the pure, unadulterated and pristine Afrobeat music back in late 60s Nigeria, not many foresaw the huge influence that sound would command for many years to come on the global stage, propelling West African Music to these heights. The continent had first experienced the reshaped Cuban sounds into Rhumba from the Congo, then Makossa was being distributed from Cameroon, Highlife from Ghana, and Kwaito from South Africa. Afrobeat, came from Nigeria, and still retains its position as a leading genre.
AFROBEAT IS A GENRE, AFROBEATS ISN’T
Afrobeat is a combination of traditional Nigerian music, Ghanaian music, jazz, highlife, funk, and chanted vocals, fused with percussion and vocal styles, popularized in Africa in the 1970s. It was named by Nigerian multi-instrumentalist and bandleader Fela Kuti, who is responsible for the creation of the style and spreading the genre outside of Nigeria. Fela Kuti invented the famous music genre name Afrobeat in Accra, Ghana in 1968. Afrobeat, was born out of Fela’s dislike for late American music star James Brown and also because he wanted to distinguish his name from soul and the comparison to James Brown. Fela used it to revolutionize musical structure as well as the political context in Nigeria.
Afrobeat, when played in its best form, enjoys orchestrated music coming from a wide range of instruments including Saxophones, Rhythm guitars, Trumpets, Tenor Guitar, Bass Guitar, Drum set, Trombone, Organ, Rhythm Conga (1 &2, Solo), Akuba, Sticks/Claves, Shekere, Gbedu Drum, Lead and Chorus Vocals.
Artistes who have successfully stuck to the Afrobeat genre include the offsprings of Fela Kuti – Femi and Seun Kuti, Tony Allen, Segun Bucknor, and many other Afrobeat bands.
What is Afrobeats?
The term ‘Afrobeats’ was coined in the UK by London disc jockey, DJ Abrantee. A reductionist neologism fed to the international media, and providing a foreign and convenient narrative to classify the African popular music which contains a 21st-century fusion of western rap influences, and contemporary Ghanaian and Nigerian pop music.
This sound, conveys the up-tempo African vibe, and appeal to young vibrant Afropolitan minds. The ensuing music, which is an amalgamation of beats and influences have become popular in the international scene, with technology aiding the spread of the immersive and infectious tunes to all around the world. The export of this sound, does not solely rely on technology. Africans living in the diaspora, through their ubiquitous communities also helped with the spread of the pop sounds emanating from their home countries.
Over the years, these sounds have grown stronger, with D’banj’s ‘Oliver Twist’, and 2face Idibia’s ‘African Queen’ dominating international charts. Recently Wizkid’s ‘Ojuelegba’, did penetrate Western radio, leading to the collaboration with Drake, Nigerian upstart, MC Galaxy is working closely with award-winning US producer, Swizz Beatz, pop star Davido has a deal with Sony Music Global, Wizkid is also performing at Wireless Music Festival, and the spread keeps reaching.
Afrobeats, as the western narrative has termed it, is no genre. Instead what it refers to is the pop music emanating from the growing African music hotbeds of Nigeria, Ghana, Congo, South Africa and many others. When pop music is created in America by Rihanna, it is referred to as ‘Pop’. When it is synthesized in Europe by Rita Ora, Nico & Vinz, and many others, it is still referred to as pop. Why do we then have the term ‘Afrobeats’, limiting our musicians to a concocted misnomer, that Africans had no hand in its creation? Davido, Wizkid, 2face Idibia, and many of our stars create pop music, drawing from the influences in their home country. They have the potential to be greater than pop acts from any part of the world. Labelling their work, and reducing it into a nonexistent genre is limiting, and isn’t a true categorization of their sounds.
There is no Afrobeats genre. Only Afrobeat, created by Fela Kuti, and passed on through generations as an African identity. Pop music in Africa, by Africans, for the world is ‘Pop Music’. Let’s all tell our African story and provide the world with one unifying and strengthening narrative for our music, our sounds and extensively our art. Because in the absence of this, foreign misrepresentations would sprout, grow, and be forced down on us all. Afrobeats is a clear example of this.