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Afrobeat; Nigeria; African Music



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Synchronous movements for African independence and American civil rights emboldened each other, inspiring a global flourish of black popular music. Fẹla Kuti is celebrated in literature and media but his contemporaries are largely forgotten. According to Waterman (2002), “Afro-beat music was associated almost exclusively with one charismatic figure.” This is reinforced by Moore (1982), Olaniyan (2004) and others. Nigerian journalist Tam Fiofori and the multiple-author blog “afrobeat, afrofunk, afrojazz, afrorock, african-boogie...” tell a different story. In 1960s Lagos, a nascent musical movement formed fusing Highlife and African-American popular music, fortified by James Brown’s 1970 tour of West Africa (Emielu 2013). In the 1970s, the corruption and violence of Obasanjo’s regime was confronted by music, catapulting Fẹla to stardom and silencing Ṣégún Bucknor (Atane 2014). Fẹla bought press coverage to advance his political and cultural views (Olaniyan 2002) while other artists with similar musical styles presented a more benign pan-Africanism. Ṣégún Bucknor, Orlando Julius and Peter King contrast Fẹla’s narrative. All are still living. All fused Highlife and African-American music. Fẹla must be credited with raising the profile of African music, but this positive impact is diminished because Afro-beat became more of a brand than a genre. Two years of fieldwork in Lagos, including interviews with the artists, reveals an alternate history of 1960s-70s Lagosian music. Julius claims origination of Afro-beat; King focused on instrumental music and now nurtures young musicians; Bucknor was intimidated out of protest. Analysis of recordings shows the development of, and individual contributions to, post-Highlife music.

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