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An Afro-Beat Primer

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Every week, Sound Travels with a theme in mind (even if it's a lack of one I suppose), and this week it's afrobeat. Why not? Somebody has to invoke the spirit of summer and afrobeat can't help but be tropical.

And it should be thus as it was developed in equatorial Africa, Nigeria to be precise. While some genres are in fact inventions, afrobeat is actually an evolution from Nigerian highlife as well as a fusion of that sound with American funk. In particular, the funk that James Brown was all about. We know this because it's been admitted to by the man who pioneered afrobeat and even coined the term; Fela Anikalupo-Kuti aka Fela Kuti. A sound that though pioneered by Fela, was enabled by his collaboration with one of Africa's best drummers, Tony Allen.

Fela began his career in highlife bands and furthered his study of music in the UK's prestigious Trinity College and ultimately returned to Nigeria with a greater sense of his homeland's struggles from his studies abroad. The music is only a part of the story here and much of Fela's work was also political and social. Afrobeat, for this master musician was a means to spread ideas into and about the society and world we live in. A tradition that continues to this day and that we will also explore later in the week.

On day one of the theme however, I wanted to get you something from Fela and his right-hand man Tony Allen. So I did that with one of my favorite's from Fela "Shakara" and one from Tony Allen. Here's what you heard...

Fela Kuti "Shakara"

[audio=1]

Tony Allen "No Discrimination"

[audio=2]

Tune in tomorrow for some of the other early players on the afrobeat scene and later this week, the modern face of this global sound.