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Afrobeat is a music genre which developed in the 1970s when African musicians began combining elements of West African musical styles such as jùjú music and highlife with American funk and jazz influences, with a focus on chanted vocals, complex intersecting rhythms, and percussion.[1]

The term was coined by Nigerian multi-instrumentalist and bandleader Fela Kuti, who is responsible for pioneering and popularizing the style both within and outside Nigeria.[1] It was partially borne out of an attempt to distinguish Fela Kuti's music from the soul music of American artists such as James Brown.[2]



Afrobeat originated from Ghanaian highlife, Juju, Fuji and heavy Nigerian drumbeats.[3][4] It was later exported to the southern part of Nigeria in the 1970s, by Fela Kuti, who experimented with many different forms of contemporary music of the time.[5][6] The new sound hailed from a club that he established called the Afrika Shrine. Upon arriving in Nigeria, Kuti also changed the name of his group to Africa '70. The band maintained a five-year residency in the Afrika Shrine from 1970 to 1975 while afrobeat thrived among Nigerian youth.

Prevalent in his and Lagbaja's music are native Nigerian harmonies and rhythms, taking different elements and combining, modernizing, and improvising upon them. Politics are 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.


Big band (15 to 30 pieces: Fela-era afrobeat) and energetic performances

  • Lead vocals (may play sax/key solos as well)
  • Chorus vocals (may include horn players)
  • Rhythm guitar(s) (plays funk strumming pattern)
  • Tenor guitar (plays a finger-picked ostinato groove)
  • Bass guitar
  • Drum set, generally in the form polyrhythmic percussion
  • Saxophone(s)
  • Trumpet(s)
  • Trombone(s)
  • Organ/keyboards
  • Rhythm conga #1
  • Rhythm conga #2
  • Solo (lead) conga
  • Akuba: a set of 3 small stick-hit Yoruba congas (play flourishes/solos, and ostinatos). Also mistakenly called "gbedu" (gbedu is the name of a large ceremonial drum), but are related to the Gbedu.[7]

Fela Kuti included the traditional Gbedu drum in his ensemble, with a percussionist pounding out a thunderous rhythm from a 2.5 metres (8.2 ft) drum lying on its side.[8]


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 "Beast of No Nation" on his Buckshot LeFonque album. The new generation of DJs and musicians of the 2000s who have fallen in love with both Kuti's material and other rare releases have made compilations and remixes of these recordings, thus re-introducing the genre to new generations of listeners and fans of afropop and groove (see Afrobeats section below).

Afrobeat has also profoundly influenced important contemporary producers and musicians like Brian Eno and David Byrne, who credit Fela Kuti as an essential influence. Both worked on Talking Heads' highly acclaimed 1980 album Remain In Light, which brought polyrhythmic afrobeat influences to Western music.

The horn section of Antibalas have been guest musicians on TV On The Radio's highly acclaimed 2008 album Dear Science, as well as on British band Foals' 2008 album, Antidotes. Some Afrobeat influence can also be found in the music of Vampire Weekend and Paul Simon.

Notable afrobeat musiciansEdit


Iyanya during a performance

From early in the 21st century, a new type of sound, originating in West Africa, has become increasingly prominent in African popular music.[9] This sound was initially referred to simply as 'Naija music' after the common slang term for Nigeria, but has become known as Afrobeats. This name echo's Afrobeat, the 1970s fusion of jazz and traditional Ghanaian and Nigerian music which is an important influence, but Afrobeats is a largely different style. Early hits included "African Queen" by 2face Idibia (2004) and "No One Like You" by P-Square (2007).[10][11] More recent hits include "Bumper2Bumper" by Wande Coal (2008), "Oleku" by Ice Prince (2010) and "Ojuelegba" by Wizkid (2014).

Afrobeats is a collaborative sound that at any point may combine or highlight a number of different black musical art forms across the black diaspora. It pools the sounds of hip-hop, techno, R&B, house, soul, and many others into a popular genre of music. However, Afrobeats is most identifiable by its signature driving drum beat rhythms, whether electronic or instrumental. These beats harken to the stylings of a variety of traditional African drumbeats across West Africa as well as the precursory genre of Afrobeat[12]. The beat in Afrobeats music is not just a base for the melody, but acts as a major character of the song, taking a lead role that is sometimes equal to are of greater importance than the lyrics and almost always more central than the other instrumentals. Another distinction within Afrobeats is the notably west African, specifically Nigerian and/or Ghanaian, accented English[12] that is often blended with local slangs, pidgin English, as well as local Nigerian or Ghanaian languages depending on the backgrounds of the performers.

DJs and producers like DJ Black, Elom Adablah, and C-Real (Cyril-Alex Gockel) for example, have been a crucial part in spreading the popularity of this form of music[13]. Their artistic mixing of beats and sounds allow a younger audience to experience a sound that is somewhat familiar in its influences and yet uniquely African. Their mixing and promotion of popular hits on the continent is also a tried and true method for success. Often what the play in clubs, radio shows, podcasts, etc. are what become popularized both within Africa and abroad[13].

Since 2012, Afrobeats have gained mainstream recognition outside of Africa, especially within the UK. UK hits have included "Oliver Twist" by D'banj, which reached 9 on the UK Singles Chart in 2012, and "Million Pound Girl (Badder Than Bad)" by the British artist Fuse ODG, which reached 5 on the UK Singles Chart in 2014. Afrobeats nightclubs are now primary features of UK's nightlife with clubs opening in most major cities.[14]

Other mainstream popularity garnered by Afrobeat is shown in U.S. artist Drake's music. Drake's most recent album "More Life", contains many Afrobeat and Dancehall influences.[15] He uses the genre as cultural appropriation through lyrics and his beats made during production. The addition of these influences to his production has allowed Drake to attempt to connect with the worldwide consumer.


According to David Drake, the eclectic genre "reimagines diasporic influences and—more often than not—completely reinvents them."[16] However, some caution against equating Afrobeats to contemporary pan-African music, in order to prevent the erasure of local musical contributions.[17]

Afrobeats is primarily produced between Lagos, Accra, and London. Paul Gilroy, of The Black Atlantic, reflects on the changing London music scene as a result of shifting demographics:

"We are moving towards an African majority which is diverse both in its cultural habits and in its relationship to colonial and postcolonial governance, so the shift away from Caribbean dominance needs to be placed in that setting. Most of the grime folks are African kids, either the children of migrants or migrants themselves. It's not clear what Africa might mean to them"[18]

Many first and second generation African immigrants follow - and produce - Afrobeats music. Fuse ODG, a UK artist of Ghanaian descent, coins #TINA or This is New Africa as a means to change perceptions of Africa:

"This movement will shed light on Africa in a positive way and focus on how we can improve Africa. It’s not about just plying your talents in the Western world; it’s about going back home and helping Africa."[18]

But despite all the positives the genre is bringing Africa, including positive exposure and financial gains, there is a contingent that thinks it's problematic to lump all types of African pop music -- from different countries and subsequently different cultures -- into one broad genre of music. This misrepresentation of Africa as united culturally is what contributes to the neglect it faces in the discussion of the African diaspora and concepts like The Black Atlantic. Afrobeats cannot be left out of the discussion of musical influence among the black diaspora simply because Africa cannot be. Hancox touches on this idea in an article on the genre and says that the music itself is more important than what we call the music, but some still don't want to dismiss the idea of hesitating before calling all of this music Afrobeats, especially when almost all of it is coming from just two countries, Ghana and Nigeria. Nonetheless, the music appears to be continuing on an upwards trajectory of exposure in the U.S. and European mainstream.[19]

Notable afrobeats musiciansEdit

Notable musicians whose music have been classified as Afrobeats:

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d Grass, Randall F. "Fela AnikulaThe Art of an Afrobeat Rebel". The Drama Review: TDR. MIT Press. 30: 131–148. doi:10.2307/1145717. JSTOR 1145717. 
  2. ^ "Fela Kuti coined Afrobeat in Accra out of hate for James Brown – Prof John Collins". 
  3. ^ Chris Nickson. "Ghana Soundz: Afrobeat, Funk and Fusion in the 70's - Various Artists - Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards - AllMusic". AllMusic. 
  4. ^ "The Infectious Songs of Ghanaian Afrobeat". 
  5. ^ Clyde Macfarlane (2012-07-18). "Album Review: KonKoma". Think Africa Press. Retrieved 2015-03-22. 
  6. ^ "Radio: AfroBeat Airwaves". Rhapsody. 
  7. ^ David McDavitt (21 April 2006). ""Lead Congas" in Afrobeat". The Afrofunk Music Forum. Retrieved 2010-01-30. 
  8. ^ Michael E. Veal (2000). Fela: the life & times of an African musical icon. Temple University Press. p. 3. ISBN 1-56639-765-0. 
  9. ^ Edu, D. J. (2014-03-29). "Guide to Nigeria's Afrobeats stars". BBC News. Retrieved 2018-02-04. 
  10. ^ "How Nigeria's Afrobeats are redefining the sound of Africa". The Guardian. 24 April 2014. Retrieved 4 August 2014. 
  11. ^ Drake, David. "Say Yes: How a Michelle, Beyoncé and Kelly Gospel Record Points to Pop Music's Nigerian Future". The Fader. Retrieved 4 August 2014. 
  12. ^ a b Hancox, D. (2012). The Rise of Afrobeats. The Guardian.
  13. ^ a b Shipley, J. W. (2013). Transnational circulation and digital fatigue in Ghana's Azonto dance craze. American Ethnologist, 40(2), 362-381.
  14. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-04-27. Retrieved 2014-04-27. 
  15. ^ Houghton, Eddie "Stats" (2018). "How Dancehall-Inflected Is Drake's Album More Life, Really?". The Fader. Retrieved 2018-02-04. 
  16. ^ "Pop Music's Nigerian Future". The FADER. Retrieved 2015-11-30. 
  17. ^ "At the crossroads of BET, Afrobeats, and #BlackLivesMatter". Africa is a Country. Retrieved 2015-11-30. 
  18. ^ a b Dan Hancox, "The rise of Afrobeats", The Guardian, 19 January 2012.
  19. ^ "It's Called Afrobeats And It's Taking Over London". Thump. Retrieved 2017-12-05. 
  20. ^ a b c d Dan Hancox (19 January 2015). "The rise of Afrobeats". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 May 2017. 
  21. ^ Kenner, Rob (13 February 2017). "Introducing Mr Eazi, the OVO and Wizkid Favorite Bringing Afrobeats to the Masses". Complex. Retrieved 22 March 2017. 
  22. ^ Robin Scher (6 August 2015). "Afrobeat(s): The Difference a Letter Makes". Huffington Post. Retrieved 15 May 2017. 
  23. ^ Olusegun-Joseph, Y. (2014). Transethnic allegory: The Yoruba world, hip hop and the rhetoric of generational difference. Third Text, 28(6), 517-528.
  24. ^ Hazelann Williams (9 April 2012). "Quick Chat With... Afrikan Boy". Young Voices. Retrieved 15 May 2017. 
  25. ^ a b c d e f Lakin Starling. "10 Ghanaian Afrobeats Artists You Need To Know". The Fader. Retrieved 15 May 2017. 
  26. ^ Ofulue, C. I. (2016). Language of Politics and Identity: A Sociolinguistic Study of Linguistic Practices in Nigerian Political Campaign Advertising Discourse on Social Media. Ihafa: A Journal of African Studies, 8(2), 229-261.

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