News, reviews and commentary on afrobeat and related music from Africa, The Caribbean and The Americas

Thursday, April 20, 2006

History of the Name "Afrobeat"

By David McDavitt
What’s in a name? In 1969 Fela coined the term, “Afrobeat” to describe his new amalgam of Yoruba, highlife, soul & jazz. Quoth Fela, “I was playng highlife when Geraldo Pino came to town in ’66… that’s what upset everything, man. He came to town singing James Brown’s music…. Made me fall right on my ass, man… I went to Ghana shortly after… Pino was playing there… To me it was swinging music. I say, ‘Look the drummer, how he play drums! Ohhhhh, I say… this is heavy-o’… One day I was sitting in a club in Accra, listening to soul music… Everybody was playing soul, man, trying to copy Pino… I said to myself: ‘I have to be very original … and clear myself from this mess. I must identify myself with Africa… I must give it a name-o, a real African name that is catchy… I’ve been thinking of calling it 'Afrobeat' ' (Carlos Moore, Fela Fela- This Bitch of a Life, 1982).

Thirteen years later, Fela stated, “How do I define my music? People continue to call it Afrobeat. I call it ‘African Music’. But African music is so extensive…. Let’s call it ‘African music by Fela,’ then. Finish!” (Carlos Moore, Fela Fela- This Bitch of a Life, 1982).

The name “Afrobeat” survives, but in a 1992 interview, Fela denounced the term as, “a meaningless commercial nonsense with which the recording labels exploited the artist.” (excerpted from Sola Olarumyomi, Afrobeat! Fela and the Imagined Continent, 2003)

Of late Femi Kuti employs the moniker “Afrobeat” while Tony Allen alternates between “Afrobeat” and “Afrofunk”.

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