Sunday, 27 October 2013

Afro-beat. What next?

Making Sense of the Fela Bandwagon:

Fela Kuti died in 1997. His unexpected death was a blow to fans of afro-beat. Before Fela, the genre didn't exist. That alone, is a great achievement.

We know that the music industry marginalised African music in general for decades. Fela's chaotic lifestyle, his uncompromising attitude, his politics and the music industry's bias, ensured that his music (as brilliant as it was), remained in the doldrums until after his death.

A Felabration

From 2003, the music emerged to take it's place exactly where it should have been. There became an awareness all over the globe. It created a wider fan base and even more appreciation for Fela's work. The tragedy is, Fela did not live long enough to see and enjoy the fruits of his labour.

A lot of bands and artists have emerged trying to play afro-beat. Few have succeeded, often playing a watered down version of Fela's sound. None have come close to doing it as well as the originator. Nobody I know of anyway.

Every continent on the planet today, have speculators and bands performing afro-beat, but none of them seem to have released an afro-beat standard capable of taking the world by storm. Why?

A reason could be, a reluctance to hire, or take on board songwriters capable of composing the hit songs that will take, and establish the genre, a powerful foothold in an increasingly competitive world. Another reason could be an egotism that develops from the acclaim. An egotism that can hinder an artist, especially when it is based on absolutely nothing.

There is a patronising attitude from some of the musicians within the genre today that is alarming. A patronising, sometimes hostile attitude, bordering on paranoia has also been experienced by some people who were lifelong fans of Fela's music. This off-putting behaviour is capable of infecting the next generation of afro-beat musicians as effectively as Fela's afro-beat was infectious. 

Musicians previously within the music wilderness have also jumped on the Fela bandwagon, claiming to play afro-beat when in fact, they aren't. Some have been gleefully embraced by ex-Fela musicians, giving them undeserved credibility for reasons only best known to themselves.

JK Brimah

Fela's birthday is celebrated every October as a Felabration all over the world. This is usually the only period speculators and hustlers come out of the woodwork and approach Fela's best friend JK Brimah, looking for some endorsement regarding promotions, documentaries etc without offering him any financial recompense or credit. It's all so beginning to get boring. The world is watching!


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