Home' Rhythms Magazine : 2017 Jul-Aug Contents 20 Rhythms
there’s no richer legacy in world music than that of fela
Kuti, the late, great nigerian multi-instrumentalist,
polygamist, activist, pan-africanist and several other
things ending in ‘ist’.
Although he died back in 1997, the influence of this
pioneer and progenitor of the genre known as Afrobeat – a
mesmeric groove music that fuses highlife and Yoruba
tribal rhythm with American jazz and James Brown-
influenced R&B, soul and funk – is greater today than it has
For the charismatic, shamanic Fela Kuti (pictured), politics
and music were intertwined. He used Afrobeat as a vehicle
for tirades against venal Nigerian governments, which
cost him 350 court appearances, beatings, harassment and
During a prolific career, the multi-talented singer-composer,
who played every instrument from drums to saxophone,
recorded no fewer than 77 albums. The majority of those
releases were limited to three or four extended tracks of
intensely rhythmic large ensemble improvised jams often
more than 30 minutes long.
Memories of this truly unique musician have been revived
by the release (on the American independent label Knitting
Factory Records) of a 3-CD set of Fela Kuti recordings from
1963-1969 titled, Fela Kuti & his Koola Lobitos, highlife-Jazz
and Afro-Soul. While the audio quality is not the best, the
album clearly shows the genesis of Afrobeat.
Kuti might be long gone, but his loyal timekeeper from
Koola Lobitos days Tony Allen, whose drum patterns were a
salient ingredient of Afrobeat, continues to steer the genre
into fresh pastures. In May, the famous Blue Note label
released an EP on which Allen paid tribute to the legendary
jazz bandleader Art Blakey through an Afrobeat prism.
Kuti’s singing saxophone-playing sons, Femi and Seun,
remain the primary keepers of the Afrobeat flame – the
latter with members of Fela’s former band Egypt 80 – but
they have been quiet on the recording front of late, and in
line behind them is a veritable army of acts from all corners
of the globe helping to keep their father’s legacy alive.
In Nigeria, Ayetoro, led by the jazz pianist-composer
Funsho Ogundipe, is pushing Afrobeat in an exciting new
direction – as the band’s recently released album Irunmole
eloquently attests. His compatriot, singer-saxophonist Seun
Olota, takes a more conservative approach with his latest
waxing, home Brew.
Some of the more experimental recent takes on Afrobeat
emanate from unlikely European countries. Belgium
band Black Flower, for example, mixes Fela’s groove with
Ethiojazz to create a sophisticated and exotic brew on its
third album Artifacts. Afrikän Protoköl unites Belgian brass
players and a Burkina Faso rhythm section for its second
Afrobeat-accented waxing, Beyond The Grid.
On its latest release, Made In Africa, recorded in
Burkina Faso and Mali, award-winning Danish band The
KutiMangoes also plays more classic Afrobeat, while
importing rock elements.
Some of Finland’s finest jazz players combine with
drummers and vocalists from Benin on the Helsinki-
Cotonou Ensemble’s The Road Is Long, an outstanding live
set highlighted by some seriously funky Afrobeat-style sax
Dutch band Jungle By Night’s third album, The Traveller,
also mixes Afrobeat with jazz and wider world music
influences. Compatriots Zitakula showcase a recently
acquired West African songstress on their new release,
Oasis, while retaining an infectious blend of Afrobeat,
swamp-funk and psychedelic rock.
Featuring a charismatic female vocalist of Tanzanian-
Kenyan origin on their debut long-player Brothers & Sisters,
Lakuta is the latest exciting Afrobeat-centric act to lure
punters on to English dance floors. Meanwhile, in Spain
music lovers are gyrating to irresistible Kuti-esque rhythms
and a dynamic Nigerian male lead singer on the Alma
Afrobeat Ensemble’s It’s Time.
Across the Atlantic, Antibalas, who are preparing a new
album for release later this year, still rules the Afrobeat
roost, although a fellow New York band also inspired
by Fela Kuti’s music called Big Mean Sound Machine is
beginning to make a charge with its debut album, Runnin’
For The Ghost.
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