Neo Afrobeat : The Sisters Sock it to Fela

As everybody knows, the African section of the planet shifted on its axis with the vinyl release of Black President by Fela Ransome Kuti in 1981. And if you missed that seismic event, you were probably listening to Queen (vomituous arena rock), Adam and the Ants (thnx Malcolm), Phil Collins or Barry Bloody Manilow. Throw in Oasis and we have some exemplary candidates for the Final Solution for musical rubbish.

Fela was the founder of Afrobeat, and I’ve written about him before ad nauseum. However before we begin today’s musical lesson, your task is to read the excellent wicki entry on the elements – a complex fusion of jazz, funk, Ghanaian/Nigerian highlife, psychedelic rock and traditional West African chants and rhythms – which formed this highly influential West African genre. On second thoughts, forget the homework, since all of us have an internet attention span of about seventeen seconds these days.

Afrobeat is characterized by a fairly large band with many instruments, vocals and a musical structure featuring jazzy, funky horn sections. A riff-based “endless groove” is used, in which a base rhythm of drums, shekere, muted West African-style guitar and melodic bass guitar riffs are repeated throughout the song. Commonly, interlocking melodic riffs and rhythms are introduced one by one, building the groove bit-by-bit and layer-by-layer. The horn section then becomes prominent, introducing other riffs and main melodic themes.

Fela’s band was notable for featuring two baritone saxophones, whereas most groups were using only one of this instrument. This is a common technique in African and African-influenced musical styles and can be seen in funk and hip hop. Fela’s bands at times even performed with two bassists at the same time both playing interlocking melodies and rhythms. There were always two or more guitarists. The electric West African style guitar in Afrobeat bands are paramount, but are used to give basic structure, playing a repeating chordal/melodic statement, riff or groove.

Now I hear you say, why all this analytical stuff KT, I was rather more impressed by the fact that he subjected his audiences to long marijuana blasted rants of a political nature, and was a polygamist of epic proportions. Both impressions are correct. In total he had 80 something wives, held obnoxious patriarchal views and not surprisingly died from HIV/AIDS.

Black President – Fela at his peak.

Yet, the really affirming aspect of Fela’s music lay in the massive bands he used in the studio and in live performance, usually exceeding twenty or more members. Very much based on a collective or ensemble approach with a loose groove that enabled even the second trumpet to get their bit of spotlight. A bit like musical Mexican Wave anchored by percussion and bass. The shekere player is having a hissy-fit or has family matters to attend to, no problems, other instruments can take up the slack on the day. The band coordinator holding together a collective identity.

Wanted to conclude with this track Colonial Mentality found on Black President, but had to put it here due to my technical bads. This is talent of the first order and I love the guitarist channeling some of Miles trumpet playing.


Newen Afrobeat were formed in  Chile in 2009 and you can read their publicity blast HERE

Try this track.

Here’s a full concert and you don’t have to stay glued to the screen overindulging your critical faculties.

Do that housework which you normally avoid. You’ve been having too much fun.

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