Afrobeat is a music genre that involves the combination of elements of West African musical styles such as fuji music and highlife with American jazz and later soul and funk influences, with a focus on chanted vocals, complex intersecting rhythms, and percussion. The term was coined in the 1960s by Nigerian multi-instrumentalist and bandleader Fela Kuti, who is responsible for pioneering and popularizing the style both within and outside Nigeria. Distinct from Afrobeat is Afrobeats – a sound originating in West Africa in the 21st century, one that takes in diverse influences and is an eclectic combination of genres such as highlife, hip hop, house, jùjú, ndombolo, R&B and soca.The two genres, though often conflated, are not the same.
Afrobeat was developed in the late 1960s led by Fela Kuti who, with drummer Tony Allen, experimented with different contemporary music of the time.
Afrobeat stemmed from Highlife, which began in Ghana in the early 1920s. During that time, Ghanaian musicians incorporated foreign influences like the foxtrot and calypso with Ghanaian rhythms such as osibisaba (Fante). Yoruba percussion and vocal traditions were incorporated as well. Highlife was associated with the local African aristocracy during the colonial period and was played by numerous bands including the Jazz Kings, Cape Coast Sugar Babies, and Accra Orchestra along the country's coast. This was the music Fela Kuti and Tony Allen played and listened to when they were young.
In the late 1950s, Kuti left Lagos to study abroad at the London School of Music where he was exposed to jazz. He returned to Lagos and played a highlife-jazz hybrid, albeit, without commercial success.
In 1969, Kuti and his band went on a trip to the U.S. and met Sandra Smith, a singer and former Black Panther. Sandra Smith (now known as Sandra Izsadore or Sandra Akanke Isidore) introduced Kuti to many writings of activists such as Martin Luther King Jr., Angela Davis, Jesse Jackson, and his biggest influence of all, Malcolm X. As Kuti was interested in African-American politics, Smith would inform him of current events. In return, Kuti would fill her in on African culture. Since Kuti stayed at Smith's house and was spending so much time with her, he started to re-evaluate his music. That was when Kuti noticed that he was not playing African music. From that day forward, Kuti changed his sound and the message behind his music.
Upon arriving in Nigeria, Kuti also changed the name of his group to "Africa ′70". The new sound hailed from a club that he established called the Afrika Shrine. The band maintained a five-year residency at the Afrika Shrine from 1970 to 1975 while Afrobeat thrived among Nigerian youth. Also influential was Ray Stephen Oche , a Nigerian musician touring from Paris, France, with his Matumbo orchestra in the 1970s.
The name was partially borne out of an attempt to distinguish Fela Kuti's music from the soul music of American artists such as James Brown.
Prevalent in his and Lagbaja's music are native Nigerian harmonies and rhythms, taking different elements and combining, modernizing, and improvising upon them. Politics is essential to Afrobeat, since founder Kuti used social criticism to pave the way for social change. His message can be described as confrontational and controversial, which can be related to the political climate of most of the African countries in the 1970s, many of which were dealing with political injustice and military corruption while recovering from the transition from colonial governments to self-determination. As the genre spread throughout the African continent many bands took up the style. The recordings of these bands and their songs were rarely heard or exported outside the originating countries but many can now be found on compilation albums and CDs from specialist record shops.
Many jazz musicians have been attracted to Afrobeat. From Roy Ayers in the 1970s to Randy Weston in the 1990s, there have been collaborations that have resulted in albums such as Africa: Centre of the World by Roy Ayers, released on the Polydore label in 1981. In 1994, Branford Marsalis, the American jazz saxophonist, included samples of Fela's "Beasts of No Nation" on his Buckshot LeFonque album.
Randolph Edward "Randy" Weston (April 6, 1926 – September 1, 2018) was an American jazz pianist and composer whose creativity was inspired by his ancestral African connection.
Weston's piano style owed much to Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk,whom he cited in a 2018 video as among pianists he counted as influences, as well as Count Basie, Nat King Cole and Earl Hines. Beginning in the 1950s, Weston worked often with trombonist and arranger Melba Liston.
Described as "America's African Musical Ambassador", Weston once said: "What I do I do because it's about teaching and informing everyone about our most natural cultural phenomenon. It's really about Africa and her music.
Branford Marsalis (born August 26, 1960) is an American saxophonist, composer, and bandleader. While primarily known for his work in jazz as the leader of the Branford Marsalis Quartet, he also performs frequently as a soloist with classical ensembles and has led the group Buckshot LeFonque. From 1992 to 1995 he led the Tonight Show Band.