Our Top 5 afrobeat tracks will give you the best of the genre founded by Fela Kuti
By Jenifer Gonsalves | Meaww
Fela Kuti — ‘Fear Not For Man’
As the pioneering force behind Afrobeat, a genre that fused West African music with American funk and jazz, Kuti is a legendary figure who influenced both African and Western music through his fusion of often contrasting styles. Along with drummer Tony Allen, who sadly passed away on April 30, and inspired by the political unrest and racism he witnessed during his time in America, Kuti created an entirely new genre that allowed him and his fellow musicians to speak about politics, history, culture, and beyond.
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‘Fear Not For Man’ was released in the late ’70s during the height of Kuti’s conflict with the military during which his mother, then aged 77, was thrown out of a window and fractured her leg. The track features a voiceover from Kuti that criticizes the authoritarian regime’s brutality and boldly emphasizes his lack of fear in the face of their physical violence. The album of the same name that this song is featured on also carried an image of Kuti, beaten and bleeding, yet continuing to play his saxophone.null
The mostly instrumental track is as soothing as it is energizing. Kuti’s courage and strength in the face of everything he faced is an excellent reminder to us all to stay strong and true to ourselves even in times of struggle.
Check out the ‘Fear Not For Man’ LP, including commentary from Afrobeat historian Chris May, below.
Lijadu Sisters — ‘Life’s Gone Down Low’
As Kuti’s ‘afrobeat’ genre took root and gave a voice to many oppressed people to demand more from their governments, another musical act was also beginning to emerge on the scene — the Lijadu Sisters, second cousins of Kuti, and pioneers in their own right.
While many in the genre adopted its sound, the Lijadu Sisters took it a step further, releasing four albums filled with tunes that ranged from funk, soul, and reggae to psychedelia and disco. Despite them emerging in the late ’60s, their music still remains unique and quite difficult to mimic.null
On ‘Life’s Gone Down Low’, the afrobeat soul sisters sing about the precarious space mankind finds itself in, predicting the eventual downfall of the race. But as foreboding as it may sound, the track actually has an uplifting message as it encourages its listeners to “stop and look” in addition to highlighting that “it’s not too late for me and you if we hurry.”null
Listen to ‘Life’s Gone Down Low’ HERE.
Tony Allen and Hugh Masekela — ‘We’ve Landed’
As two of the most legendary afrobeat-defining artistes, Allen and Masekela’s 2020 release ‘Rejoice’ is filled with some of the most stunning music the genre has to offer. But in addition to the wonderful fusion of West African and American jazz sounds, this album had some poignant messages and lessons infused with the wisdom of two people that have seen some of the worst and some of the best the world has to offer.
‘We’ve Landed’, to that end, is a track that celebrates the journey these two artistes have had, while also sending a powerful message to the youth of today: “Ise lori lo fii nsere,” which is a Yoruba phrase that loosely translates to “your work begins.” Masekela is making a clear statement to his listeners, encouraging them to embark on their own journey of self-awakening as they fight for what they believe is right.
When one considers this message against the backdrop of what both Allen and Masekela have seen, including the horrors of racism, apartheid, and government brutality, it’s impossible to miss the weight of its words. As Pitchfork wonderfully puts it, their message is one that states: “Our time is passing, and it’s your turn to stand up.”null
Listen to ‘We’ve Landed’ HERE.
Burna Boy — ‘Ye’
One of the most popular Nigerian singer-songwriters, Burna Boy’s afrobeat, reggae, and dancehall tunes are all absolute bops that you can’t help but want to get up and dance to.null
But while many of his songs are dance numbers, Burna Boy has shown time and time again that he isn’t afraid to get more emotional and vulnerable with his music. ‘Ye’, which samples Fela Kuti and The Africa ’70’s ‘Sorrow Tears and Blood’, has the singer discuss how hard it is to work against the criticism levied against him and how he perseveres, despite it all. The song also sees Burna Boy say he does not have time for hate as he invites his fellow Africans to enjoy their lives, just as he plans to.null
Using Kuti’s sample, Burna Boy also conveys that instead of accepting one’s oppressive fate, one can choose to rise up and speak their truth.
Besides the song’s uplifting and catchy sound making it a fan-favorite, it also found fame due to many thinking it had something to do with Kanye West. Nonetheless, the song does carry a powerfully empowering message.
Beyoncé, Jay-Z, and Childish Gambino — ‘MOOD 4 EVA’
Once rumored to have had an entire 20-song Kuti-inspired afrobeat album ready and then scrapped, Beyoncé is no stranger to the genre. She has infused traditional African musical styles into several of her songs, including ‘End of Time’ as well as several other tracks on the ‘Lion King’ soundtrack, and sampled Kuti’s ‘Zombie’ on ‘Déjà Vu (Homecoming Live)’.https://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
‘Mood 4 Eva’ has a distinct afrobeat sound but still has just enough contemporary Western hip-hop music in it to make it a perfect blend of cultures. Lyrically, the song has all three artistes acknowledge their own accomplishments while contrasting it to the accomplishments of fellow African and African-American greats including sports legends, royalty, and political and social activists and leaders. A more thorough breakdown of all the history and culture in this song can be found in this video from Genius.
In addition to its message of self-appreciation, the song also sees Beyoncé own her position and power, asking “Why would you try me? Why would you bother?” before confidently stating, “I am Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter.
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