The Afrobeat is a music genre that started in the African continent. It reached its highest peak of popularity in the ´70s, and from then it became part of many songs. Nowadays, it still influences contemporary music either in western countries and Africa. The history of Afrobeat explains this phenomenon greatly.
To tell the history of Afrobeat, we need to start mentioning that it was born in Ghana around 1920 but with the name of “Highlife.” At first, it included autochthonous rhythms from this country. Also, a combination of foxtrot and calypso from western countries.
Those years were times of British colonialism, and this type of music became very popular among the aristocracy of the country. Big music bands played it among their repertories. Those were also times to develop the music, and many instruments and music styles enriched it.
The evolution and rise of popularity
From that time, the music evolved by getting new instruments and fusions from other rhythms. Also, its popularity reached other African countries. And, by the year 1970, the music started to become very popular in Nigeria too.
The reason was the Nigerian singer Fela Kuti who became the biggest singer and composer of Afrobeat. His performances in the Shrine entertainment center in Nigeria are still legendary.
During those years, the music genre took its name of Afrobeat. Also, it took a different twist by adding a new sense of political and social protest in its lyrics. That happened because the singer Fela Kuti became a frequent visitor to the United States.
While traveling to the USA, he discovered new ideas and relevant events that were happening to the African-American community in that country. Those included black-power, lack of freedom, dictatorship, and similar. Some of these themes were similar to Nigeria´s political problems, and he was able to develop a new consciousness of political and social problems.
Moreover, he had the chance to compare his music to American music and discovered that the Afrobeat he was playing was not the purest version. It all magically changed his approach, and the Afrobeat took a different path that stills perdure. As a result, Afrobeat became a great representation of African and its values at that time.
Afrobeat influence in today´s music and culture
Nowadays, many Nigerians and Africans still delight with Afrobeat music. But in its purest way, it is not as popular as it was in the past. So, how is Afrobeat present today? It shows its influence in the two following ways:
The New Africa Shrine: this is a cultural and entertainment center located in the city of Lagos, Nigeria. It replicates the old Shrine center where Fela Kuti performed. Currently, Fela Kuti´s sons and other relatives manage the place and celebrate the glorious old days of his performances.
To do so, some of Fela Kuti´s sons play Afrobeat songs and keep the memory of the rhythm alive. Also, the center exhibits pictures of Fela´s performances. Due to that, it became a major tourist attraction that enhances Nigerian culture and its music. In 2018, the French President visited the center and pre-launched an event that would take place in France in 2020. It will celebrate the African culture in that country.
Music fusions with western genres: In the 21st century, some American artists, including singers and producers, discovered Afrobeat. Among them, Diplo, Rihanna, Dua Lipa, and Ariana Grande. They started to add some Afrobeat rhythms into their songs, and the audience is reacting pretty well.
Other artists include Nicky Minaj and Major Lazer, who teamed up for the song “Party Next Door” and had a huge success with it. This exposure with American artists is helping Afrobeat to become globally popular. They enjoy international fame and recognition, and people from all over the world listen to their music.
Global African exposure: due to the Internet, many African artists are being able to expand their reach and show their work to international audiences. African music is very rich and has many sub-genres, and Afrobeat is commonly present in many songs as part of musical fusions.
Due to this, DJ´s, producers, and singers from all over the world are taking notice of Afrobeat too. They include people from Europe, Asia, and other American countries.
From Afrobeat to Afrobeats?
Due to the similarity in their names, the relationship between Afrobeat and Afrobeats has to be always present in the history of Afrobeat. Although they share similar names, except for the final “S,” they are not the same. While Afrobeat is a music genre, many think that Afrobeats doesn´t reach this level yet.
However, they have some similarities in the way they emerged. Firstly, both genres were born in Ghana. But Afrobeats remains as a music phenomenon linked to Ghana with some of the most representative artists coming from there. Then, both genres support ideas, but they are in the opposite direction. This is to say that Afrobeat defends political ideas, and Afrobeats claims that it is seeking to show the world the positive side of Africa as a good and happy place.
And, the most important difference consists of the musical rhythms they mix with. While Afrobeat seeks to enhance African music, the other music seeks to fusion with international music genres such as hip hop and others.
To sum up, the history of Afrobeat is also an important part of the history of western Africa. Due that this continent is so rich in music and culture, it is surprising how one genre could stand out as it did. The reason behind this success is primarily linked to the singer Fela Kutis and then to its original and rich sound.
The prove of the richness of this sound is the natural attraction that famous artists feel toward it. And the fact that new audiences are showing their preference for this type of music also proves that it is timeless music.