Afro-beat is a genre of music which has been enjoyed by many, including Tunde Folawiyo. It is a combination of funk, highlife, jazz and Yoruba music, and often features percussion instruments. Both chanting and ‘call and response’ vocals are used, and the melody lines tend to have an almost melancholic quality, which is reminiscent of the style used by soul musicians. The music itself tends to be extremely polyrhythmic, and is characterised by the use of prolonged instrumental sections.
Fela Kuti, a Nigerian musician, is credited with having developed this genre. In his younger years, he intended to study medicine in London. However, upon arrival in England, he chose instead to focus on music. Returning to Nigeria several years later, he created a band called Koola Lobitos; the music produced by this band retained the qualities of traditional Yoruba music, but combined it with the styles employed by jazz musicians, creating an entirely new sound which would eventually form the basis of the Afro-beat genre.
The fusion of elaborate, instrumental jazz riffs, with the complex, booming Yoruba drum rhythms made this one of the most intriguing and unique styles of music to emerge in decades. Gradually, this genre began to spread around Africa, with hundreds of bands using this style as the basis for their songs. Although these early recordings did not receive a great deal of attention from the media, many of their albums are now available from specialist music stores.
Politics plays an important part in this genre, as its founder used music to express his views regarding issues such as civil rights and governmental corruption. His style was unequivocally controversial and confrontational, and he never hesitated to voice his thoughts on the world’s most important matters. In terms of the music itself, Kuti favoured intense rhythms, improvised jams, and extended grooves, all of which were supported by large ensembles.
Afro-beat is still popular with music fanatics like Tunde Folawiyo today, and has had an enormous influence on many contemporary composers, including David Byrne and Brian Eno. Both of these men were involved in the creation of the album ‘Remain in Light’ by the Talking Heads, which is characterised by heavy polyrhythmic sounds. Specifically, Kuti’s 1973 recording, ‘Afrodisiac’ is said to have been the template for this album. In more recent times, Afro-beat sounds have been featured in the music of Paul Simon, and Vampire Weekend.