The French word for “shiver” is “frisson,” but in this instance, we’re not shivering from the cold; rather, we’re trembling from the stimulation of Afrobeats music. Traditional Yoruba music, jazz, West African highlife, and funk were combined to create the musical genre known as afrobeat in the 1960s and 1970s. The Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, known for his colorful personality, musical prowess, and involvement in post-colonial African politics, is credited with creating the original afrobeat genre.
Jazz musicians have been drawn to Afrobeat in large numbers. Collaborations have given rise to albums like Roy Ayers’ 1981 Polydore label record Africa: Center of the World, which spans the decades from the 1970s with Roy Ayers to the 1990s with Randy Weston. Fela’s “Beasts of No Nation” was sampled by jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis in 1994 for his Buckshot LeFonque album.
Important modern producers and musicians like Brian Eno and David Byrne, who acknowledge Fela Kuti as a major influence, say that afrobeat has had a significant impact on their work. Both worked on Talking Heads’ highly acclaimed 1980 album Remain in Light, which brought polyrhythmic Afrobeat influences to Western music. 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.
A tiny Afrobeat movement emerged in Brooklyn, New York, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with groups like Antibalas, The Daktaris, and the Kokolo Afrobeat Orchestra. Since then, other performers have emerged on the scene, including Zongo Junction. Many additional artists, including The Budos Band and El Michels Affair, two bands affiliated with Daptone Records, have credited Afrobeat as an influence. Both the critically praised 2008 album by TV on the Radio, Dear Science, and the 2008 album by the British band Foals, Antidotes, featured the Antibalas horn section as guest performers. Paul Simon and Vampire Weekend both use some Afrobeat elements in their music. Antibalas was a Grammy Award nominee for Best Global Music Album in 2020.
Following in the footsteps of Fela Kuti are Afrobeat musicians from the 2000s and today, such as his sons Femi Kuti and Seun Kuti, Franck Biyong & Massak (from Cameroon), Segun Damisa & the Afro-beat Crusaders, Shaolin Afronauts (from Adelaide, Australia), Newen Afrobeat (from Santiago, Chile), Eddy Taylor & the Heartphones (from Cologne, Germany (from Vilnius, Lithuania),Afrodizz and Dele Sosimi and the ex-Africa ’70 members Oghene Kologbo (guitar) with Afrobeat Academy, Nicholas Addo-Nettey (percussion), who is also known as Pax Nicholas [de], with Ridimtaksi (both based in Berlin, Germany). Namibian artist EES (Eric Sell) associates Afrobeat with reggae and kwaito.
The Broadway production Fela! was created by the music company Knitting Factory Records (KFR) in 2009. The narrative told the tale of Kuti’s life as well as his “courage and extraordinary musical talent.” The play received three Tony nominations for Best Costumes, Best Sound, and Best Choreography out of its 11 total nominations. Produced by well-known people like Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith, Fela! spent 15 months on Broadway. Denzel Washington, Madonna, Sting, Spike Lee (who watched it eight times), Kofi Annan, and Michelle Obama are just a few of the famous people who were spotted at the performances. Sandra Izsadore is portrayed in the movie by former Destiny’s Child vocalist Michelle Williams.
Afrobeats has gotten to a point now where it’s surviving without the co-signs of major players like Drake, Jay-Z and others.
The influence of the genre has now spread outside of West African artists with R&B artists like Beyoncé, Chris Brown and Roy Woods plus British pop singers like Dua Lipa and Anne-Marie incorporating the sounds into hits of their own.