When Wizkid’s ‘Ojuelegba’ found its way to Drake, and a remix of the record was made on the spot, it opened a new generation to the sound of Afrobeat, which Wizkid drew from to make the record. That feeling, the vibe and the press inspired more records, including the phenomenal ‘One Dance’.
Afrobeat is Nigeria's most prized music export to the world. It is a genre that defines us thematically, contains our country's happiness and struggle, and expresses what it means to live the Nigerian way.
Afrobeat, the music genre was developed in the 70s out of a combination of West African musical styles, such as Highlife and Yoruba rhythms, with American funk and jazz, with a focus on chanted vocals and percussion. The genre features chants, call-and-response vocals, and complex, interacting rhythms.
A key figure in its development is Nigerian multi-instrumentalist and bandleader Fela Kuti who popularised the style both within and outside Nigeria. It was partially borne out of an attempt to distinguish Kuti's music from the "soul music" of American artists such as James Brown.
The music of Fela was partly inspired by the Black Panther movement, and they were created with social and political leanings, and Nigerian slangs and proverbs. He threw all of these together to create a genre that is conscious, fighting against the military dictatorship of Nigeria at the time. Some of it was also targeted at the vestiges of British colonial rule, which made Africans aspire for the trappings and lifestyle of Westerners.
His work in the genre has made him one of the most influential musicians of the world. His albums The ’69 Los Angeles Sessions, Best of the Black President, Expensive Shit, Live!, Zombie and The Underground Spiritual Game remaining popular.
2017 marks 20 years since the death of Fela, and his music has spread across the world. Fela’s genre has become engrained into world music traditions, birthing movements and inspiring thousands of records. Away from his sons Femi and Seun Kuti who have furthered Afrobeat, outside Nigeria, the genre has taken root. Bands such as Antibalas, Tony Allen, London Afrobeat collective, and many others have performed the genre in various continents.
Elements of Afrobeat have been passed down, stripped and utilised to create new records. In Fela’s home country, Nigeria, a new generation of artists have tapped into his music to create hit records. Artists such as Wizkid, Davido, Tekno, Runtown, Mr Eazi and more are pushing for international recognition.
It is this root that has made Western media coin the controversial term Afrobeats, - Adding an ‘s’ – to classify African pop sounds.
“I think the fact is a new population of the world are calling our new strain of pop music coming out of Nigeria Afrobeats. We have chosen to interpret that in a positive way, while acknowledging very clearly and repeatedly the difference between ‘Afrobeat’ and ‘Afrobeats’,” says Sam Onyemelekwue, Managing Director, Trace Nigeria.
“And the fact that the world is now calling Wizkid, and others Afrobeats. We will continue to highlight that difference. What we don’t want is for the young movement of music to lose the power of what Afrobeats is, what people make that connection to. So we don’t mind the term. We are yet to get Yeni onboard because she said Baba (Fela) is still knocking her head for the mistake,” he said.
Varied and strong as the current Afrobeat scene is, no performers so far are going to take the style away from Fela Kuti.
Fela’s influence stretches beyond Africa into distant lands. And artists from all over the world continue to draw inspiration from him. The latest is Wyclef Jean who released a new song titled ‘Fela Kuti’.
Global superstar and famed Hip hop artist, Wyclef is working on a new album titled “Carnival III: The Fall and Rise of a Refugee.” The project which will be released under the label, Heads Music is due to hit the market on September 15, 2017.
The 12-track project will be Jean’s eighth studio album since releasing his debut album “The Carnival” in 1997.
To lead the album though is track drawn straight from Fela’s breast, and named after the legend. The track, ‘Fela Kuti’ samples “Eko Ile.” It was produced by Supah Mario, who also worked on Young Thug’s ‘Wyclef Jean’ single, housed on his 2016 “Jeffery” album.
Fela’s vocals, the gongs and horns come on, reworked with a rattling emphatic drum creating an immersive yet muscular groove, upon which Wyclef delivers his story about a lady who is on an adventure in Hollywood and wants to have fun. He tells her: “The voodoo is workin' on me, Dance like Fela Kuti, Mama say ma coosa Energy”
“I decided to name it Fela Kuti because, for me, I feel like we be thinking of [Bob] Marley, we give a lot of people from our past props, so when the kids hear Fela Kuti, I really want them to Google it,” Wyclef tells XXL.
“Fela Kuti studied jazz in England. Wyclef studied jazz at Vailsburg High School. Fela Kuti then went back to his country and tried to help his country by running for president. Wyclef, you know, did the same thing.
Then, Fela, through all his obstacles and all that, his music is what pillared him right back to the top. He understood the strongest way to help politically was to make sure the music was bangin.’
So for me, the same way kids can have songs called ‘Wyclef Jean’ who are influenced by me, I want kids to know who Fela is and what he means.”
Beyonce have recorded a full-length album based on the Nigerian’s material. Her recent African-themed baby shower also had Fela’s music as part of its soundtrack.
Wyclef isn’t the only popular international artist to get inspired by Fela. “We did a whole Fela album that didn’t go up,” Producer The-Dream wrote, in an entry for Beyoncé song End of Time on lyric annotation site Genius. “It was right before we did [album] “4.” We did a whole different sounding thing – about 20 songs. She said she wanted to do something that sounds like Fela.”
2017 marks 20 years since his death from AIDS in 1997. And as the years go by, Fela’s music continues to inspire across the world.