The Activism Of Afrobeat
‘Music has to be for revolution. Music is the weapon.’ – Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. Music is one of Nigeria’s biggest exports. Seeing the adequate potential, and a means for vast revenue, industry giants, streaming and music discovery services joined the movement that is “Nigerian Music To The World”, all armed with the sole aim of giving the local acts international exposure.
PwC estimates that Nigerian music streaming consumption alone will grow to 1.85 billion GB by 2023, with revenue rising to $18 million.
Afrobeat and Afrobeats are a highly coveted sound and the biggest target for investment in the Nigerian music scene. Leading said scene, Fela Anikulapo Kuti and Tony Allen began the journey of fusing James Brown’s funk, the traditional West African dance rhythms with jazz and Fela’s very own take on chamber/classical or one player part music for compositions of considerable length.
This will influence one of the sounds that will birth a unified sound in Afrobeats, Afro-Pop, and Afro-Fusion. The Afrobeat sound is a pioneering sound and has a tremendous profitable impact on the industry greats like Wizkid, Burna Boy, Davido, and Tiwa Savage. They have the audience, they have the platform, and they claim to owe it all to Fela. But it begs the question, How?
To be influenced by one is to have them be instrumental to what you have become by either guiding you along the way, building character or by emulating every single thing they did, and assigning yourself a version of that person, assigned with the task of carrying on their vision.
Contrary to what a school of thought believes, it is not by dancing on stage with panties, neither is it by increasingly sampling a majority of Fela’s songs. In fact, it can be argued that the influence Afrobeat has had on the new generation is the social kind.
Social influence is best defined as “the ways in which individuals change their behavior to meet the demands of a social environment. It takes many forms and can be seen in conformity, socialisation, peer pressure, obedience, leadership, persuasion, sales, and marketing.”
If artistes claim that their behaviour is influenced by Fela, then where and when did the taming of Afrobeat begin? Following in the footsteps of the one who pioneered audacity is not to act oblivious to the ills of all he fought for.
Afrobeat, as a musical genre, pioneered the inclusivity of the Africans in the diaspora, to have a sense of belonging and identity, making way for inclusivity and the possibility of collaboration or inference.
An opportunity arose for the world to know just who Africans really were and what they were about, and it was received, rightly so. Many still believe Africans live on trees. But how do they get to be educated when the educator has forgotten his lessons or does not understand what it is?
Homage is paid every year to Fela, but sadly, a few want to be associated with the struggle that is Fela’s Africa. To them, Africa is only glamorous when it is profitable.
The outside world is quick to call Africa “motherland” but would never run to save the matriarch when she is in need. Make a few beats and sell a few loops and edges, and we are as African as can be. And that is on us for forgetting who we are and where we come from once we are outside these shores. Africa has been downgraded to becoming a fashion statement.
Widely referred to as one of Africa’s most “challenging and charismatic music performers” and accurately described as “a musical and sociopolitical voice” of international significance, the Father of Afrobeat, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti used Afrobeat as a mechanism to fight the colonial powers that carved up Africa as well as the corrupt systems that kept Nigeria’s leaders in power. Fela gave off “anti-authoritarian” defiance, one we hope to see again.
For a couple of leafy notes, we sing a new tune to the Anthem and we cry that the country does not serve us. Rather than get the courage to speak and fight back, we succumb to the injustice, and as Fela rightly put it, live in a habitual state of “Shuffering and Shmiling.”
Afrobeat has become synonymous with survival, and that is not what it stands for.