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Five Basics of Afrobeat Music

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It’s hard to choose five essential Afrobeat albums. My selection is based, in some cases, on the importance that their authors have had within the history of the genre, such as Tony Allen or Femi Kuti, or what they have meant within the diffusion of Afrobeat, as is the case of the compilation “Red, Hot & Riot“.

There are others in the Afrobeat community, such as Antibalas or Fanga. I haven’t included Fela Kuti, because I assume that he is the backbone of everything and it’s who you should start with. However, here are some examples: “The 69 Los Angeles Sessions” (1969), “Roforofo Fight” (1972), “Afrodisiac” (1973), “Kalakuta Show” (1975), “Expensive Shit” (1975), “Zombie” (1976) and “I. T. T.” (1979). Or the compilation “The Best Of The Black President” (2013).

Various Artists | Red, Hot + Riot: The Music And Spirit Of Fela Kuti (Universal)

The tribute Red Hot + Riot: The Music and Spirit of Fela Kuti, published in 2002, has contributed to the enhancement of his figure and his work: the Afrobeat. In it, musicians from all latitudes and styles review the Nigerian activist’s songs, giving them a new perspective. Among them Femi Kuti, Baaba Maal, Manu Dibango, Keziah Jones, Cheikh Lô, D’Angelo, Macy Gray, Common, Antibalas, Sade, Nile Rodgers, Dead Prez, Jorge Ben Jor, Lenine, Kelis, Meshell Ndegeocello, Ray Lema, Taj Mahal, Archie Sheep, Sade, Yerbabuena and Blackalicious. It was an initiative to raise awareness and combat the AIDS epidemic on the African continent and around the world. AIDS killed Fela, who refused to recognize the disease, after an intense life. A new installment, “Red, Hot + Fela”, has been released in 2013 to raise funds to end mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Africa by 2015.

Tony allen | N.E.P.A. (Wrase)

Tony Allen is one of the biggest mouthpieces of Afrobeat and one of the culprits of its birth (the other, of course, is Fela Kuti). Allen put in the necessary beat for that sonic wall to walk. Fela said it sounded like they were playing four drums at once. In 1979 Allen leaves Africa 70 and begins to collaborate with other African musicians such as King Sunny Adé or Ray Lema, a task that has marked his entire career. Since then he has been required by bands from all over the world. His collaboration with Damon Albarn has ended with the creation of The Good, The Bad & The Queen and recently Rocketjuice & The Moon, again with Albarn and Flea by Red Hot Chili Peppers. Tony Allen has brought soul, hip hop and electronica closer to afrobeat in his latest albums. It is undoubtedly a fundamental piece in the creation and diffusion of Afrobeat. His album N.E.P.A. (“National Electric Power Authority”), an acronym corresponding to the Nigerian electric company, was recorded in 1984 in London, inspired by another great Nigerian music: JuJu. It’s one of the best afrobeat root records.

Femi Kuti | Africa for Africa (Label Maison)

Femi Kuti is Fela’s heir in every sense of the word. He has been able to collect and update his music, his way of analyzing the reality of Africa and Nigeria and he has even managed to open a new Shrine, the mythical club owned by his father, as a centre of political and musical upheaval. He started playing in his father’s band, Egypt 80, and even had to lead it when Fela was imprisoned. In 1986, Femi Kuti created his own group, Positive Force, along with his sisters Yeni and Sola as dancers and Dele Sosimi on keyboards. In 2010 he released the album Africa For Africa, recorded at Decca Studios in Lagos, a mythical place in the history of Afrobeat, the experimental territory for most of the masterpieces made in Nigeria at that time, including Fela’s albums. It was a conscious decision, it was to keep the raw Afrobeat, in its purest form both musically and politically, denouncing that never has the situation of their people been so serious.

Antibalas | Talkatif (Ninja Tune)

Antibalas is one of the pioneering Afrobeat groups in the United States. Founded in 1998 by Martín Perna as Conjunto Antibalas, with members from The Soul Providers, The Daktaris and King Changó. Their music is a faithful reflection of Fela Kuti’s musical and political legacy. With a powerful sound that follows the approaches of Africa 70, the band of the Nigerian musician, with wild winds and lyrics that call for revolution and full of anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist content. They have collaborated with rock groups such as Foals, Tv on the Radio or in the musical about Fela on Broadway. Some of its members have founded parallel groups with those developing other readings of Afrobeat. For me, one of their best albums is Talkatif, recorded in 2002, full of hypnotic and intense songs like N.E. S. T. A. (initials of never ever submit to authority “nunca te subetas a la autoridad”).

Fanga | Natural Juice (Underdog)

Fanga is one of the most attractive and creative groups in French afrobeat. The influence of Fela and Tony Allen is very common in their music. Formed as an alliance of complementary personalities and cosmopolitan energy, they began to take shape in 1998 after the return of Serge Amiano from a trip to several African countries, loaded with Fela vinyl and Afro funk of the 70s. He shares them with the rapper Yves Khoury (aka Korbo) from Burkina Faso. This discovery of African urban music from the 1970s forms the basis of a shared passion. Fanga has lines of reflection based on defending being different, promoting harmony between humanity and nature and denouncing social injustices. In 2007 they released their second album, Natural Juice, in which Tony Allen participates on drums. It includes Crache La Douleur, a song that was part of the Republicafrobeat Vol. 3, and that, according to critics, was “a meteorite that travels from Lagos to France.

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