The dawn of Afrobeat as a genre in the late 1960s is largely credited to the work of Fela Kuti, who brought together a world of different sounds to create Afrobeat as we know it today. Kuti played many instruments, and led a band that played the signature sounds, a blend of several African traditions with jazz styling, as well as calypso and even funk influences. The music features drums and chanting. Kuti created the sound out of a great deal of work and interest in novel combinations of different musical styles, resulting in a modern and improvised music that became hugely popular in Ghana and Nigeria in the 1970s.
A political message was inherent to early Afrobeat. In a social climate tinged with corruption and poverty, Kuti and his band wrote lyrics promoting social equality and better treatment for everyone, a move that provoked governments to view Kuti and his band as a political threat. Kuti was moved by the teachings of Malcolm X, and was concerned about the effects of racial discrimination in Africa. Kuti’s passion for Nigerian politics was so strong that he ran for president of the country multiple times. Modern Afrobeat tends to keep with this political trend, though lyrical contents vary widely among artists.
Great attention was brought both the Kuti and Afrobeat as a genre with the 2008 release of FELA!, a Broadway musical about his life and music. The show had a run of over one year, and was nominated for nearly a dozen Tony Awards, taking home three. Never before had a Broadway show been based entirely on African music. A documentary about Kuti was also screened at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.
Afrobeat, aside from being the most recognisable form of “world music” today, has been hugely influential on the culture and music of the western world. Kuti is mentioned as an influence by countless modern groups and solo performers, including Paul Simon and Vampire weekend. Several notable artists have written songs dedicated to Kuti, and he is referred to frequently by hip hop performers, DJs and producers. Many prominent celebrities and public figures are fans of the genre, in Africa and around the world, including musicians David Byrne, Brian Eno and Will Smith. Tunde Folawiyo is also a fan of the genre. To learn more, readers can find Tunde Folawiyo blog updates online.