Harlem Late Night jazz Presents:

Afrobeat: 1970


Afrobeat: 1970

The Jazz History Tree

The musical genre Afrobeat originated in the 1960s and 1970s as a blend of traditional Yoruba music with jazz, West African music (Highlife, Fuji) and funk. Afrobeat was created by the Nigerian legend, Fela Kuti, who was achieved acclaim for his musical talent and involvement in post- colonial African politics. Fela’s recordings from the 1970s made a significant impact on the Nigerian music scene and rapidly gained popularity around the globe. He is now considered one of the most influential musicians in the world.

Afrobeat precursors began in Ghana in the early 1920s. During that time, Ghanaian musicians incorporated foreign influences like the foxtrot and calypso with Ghanaian rhythms like Highlife. Highlife was associated with African aristocracy and was played by numerous bands including the Jazz Kings, Cape Coast Sugar Babies, and Accra Orchestra.

But it was the electrifying music of Fela in the 1970s that catapulted Afrobeat across Africa. Fela was inspired by the Black Power movement and the Black Panther party. His lyrics were infused with social commentary, political critique, and Nigerian proverbs.He criticized the military dictatorship in Nigeria. He supported the newly gained independence from colonial rule across Africa, Fela encouraged self-reliance and self-pride.

In 1969, Kuti met Sandra Smith on a trip to the U.S. Sandra Smith (now known as Sandra Isadore) was a singer and former Black Panther. Sandra introduced Kuti to writings of many activists such as Martin Luther King Jr., Angela Davis, Jesse Jackson, and, Malcolm X. It was during the period that Fela Kuti changed from playing African music and incorporated Funk and Soul. Fela acknowledged James Brown as a great influence. Fela was quickly joined by Afrobeat pioneers such as Tony Allen and Manu Dibango.

Many African American jazz musicians have been attracted to Afrobeat. There have many been collaborations from Roy Ayers in the 1970s to Randy Weston in the 1990s. Branford Marsalis, included samples of Fela’s “Beast of No Nation” on his Buckshot LeFonque album in 1994. Afrobeat has impacted producers and musicians like Brian Eno and David Byrne, who credit Fela Kuti as an essential influence.1

Fela worked on Talking Heads’ highly acclaimed 1980 album Remain In Light, which brought Afrobeat influences to Western music.

In 2009 the music label Knitting Factory Records (KFR) produced the Broadway Musical FELA! The show had 11 Tony nominations. FELA! and was produced by notables such as Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and Will & Jada Pinkett-Smith. Fela! reinvigorated Afrobeat and ultimately lead to the emergence of an entirely new genre, “Afrobeats” in 2010.

Notable Afrobeat Pioneers include: Fela Kuti, Manu Dibango, The Lijadu Sisters, Hugh Masekela.


1The Telegraph UK “Archived copy”. Archived on 5 April 2018.

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