As a genre, Afrobeat music has long served as a connection between listeners and the African culture. With its abilities to move and inspire, Afrobeat affects millions of fans, including Tunde Folawiyo and others throughout Africa with an appreciation for this dynamic mixture of beats and chants. Whilst a genre’s roots are typically attributed to a culmination of efforts, one man – Fela Kuti – stands at the forefront of the creation of this unique style of music.
Fela was born Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti on 15 October 1938 in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria. In 1958, Fela was sent to study medicine in London, but instead opted to study music instead at the Trinity College of Music. During this time, the band Koola Lobitos was formed, playing a fusion of jazz and highlife. It was during this time that Fela further explored his musical talents, ultimately leading to the creation of Afrobeat that lay ahead.
Although Afrobeat’s roots are indeed derived from a wide variety of genres, it was Nigerian multi-instrumentalist Fela Kuti who gave true meaning to the term “Afrobeat” when it was originated in the southern area of Nigeria in the 1970s. The Afrobeat genre is characterised by a large band utilising a variety of instruments, vocals, and a musical structure featuring jazzy, funky horn sections. It thrives on a unique combination of traditional Yoruba music, jazz, funk, and chanted vocals, fused with percussion to form one of the most recognisable musical genres in the world. Kuti’s involvement with the birth of Afrobeat has earned him worldwide fame and admiration amongst millions of fans.
The political climate of Africa was a major influencer for Kuti as his use of Afrobeat music held a valuable role in his quest for change. It was Kuti’s long-held belief that art should have political meaning, an ideal that heavily influenced his own music. Used as a social criticism to battle the social injustices plaguing the continent, Afrobeat paved the way for social improvements and gave a voice to people who had previously been silenced.
Due to the popularity of Afrobeat, many artists — both African and otherwise — began incorporating Afrobeat musical influences into their styling’s as the genre spread across the continent. In fact, prominent contemporary producers such as David Byrne and Brian Eno have credited Fela Kuti for the influence Afrobeat has had on their work. As the musical genre that propelled social change within the continent, Afrobeat’s millions of fans, including Tunde Folawiyo, continue to look to it to further connect with the African culture.