Though it can be said that Afrobeat never died, in recent years its seen levels of exposure that would’ve seemed unheard of when the genre was first created in the 1960s.
The man responsible for Afrobeat, Fela Kuti, was a notorious musical and political figure in his native Nigeria during the 1970s and 1980s. After spending time in the United States in the late 60s, he returned to Nigeria with his band and a new direction for his music. He fused his African highlife music with American funk and jazz music and changed the subjects of his songs from love songs to highly political topics.
The shift in topics, and the brashness with which Fela tackled them alarmed the Nigerian government. Songs like “Zombie,” and “I.T.T. (International Thief-Thief) epitomized Fela’s boldness when addressing topics of a political nature.
During the late 90s, shortly after Fela’s death, Fela’s music, and the afrobeat genre in general experienced a rebirth as Fela’s discography was re-issued and compilations featuring other afrobeat artists, many of them largely unheard outside of Africa, were released. Hip-hop producers began sampling afrobeat records, and afrobeat bands started forming in the United States, the most notable being New York City’s Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra.
The renewed interest in Fela Kuti and afrobeat reached fever pitch levels with the debut of the off-Broadway play Fela! in 2008. The response to the musical was so positive that it opened on Broadway the following year with Jay-Z, Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett-Smith on board as producers. In 2010, the musical was nominated for eleven Tony awards, including Best Musical.
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