Photo credit: The African Exponent (Fela Kuti)
No one could or would dispute that Fela Kuti was a force to be reckoned with. His formidable cocktail of talent, charisma, and intense conviction made him the ideal spokesperson and advocate not only for the people of Nigeria but oppressed peoples of all stripes. To summarize the modern political history of Nigeria in a couple of sentences is impossible. However, it would not be an overstatement to say that their fight for freedom came at a steep cost—which was certainly the case for Fela—and required undeterred perseverance during decades of colonialism and military dictatorships.

Afrobeat is dynamic, polished, and impossible to ignore. The forces of the jazz orchestra were expanded to include an array of African percussion instruments and male and female choruses, which could effect a timbre as scathing as fire and brimstone or as pure as a child’s plea. Afrobeat’s inclusion of Nigerian pidgin further extended semantics to portray dialectical relationships, mirrored by the responsorial treatment of musical material. Afrobeat was a product of Fela’s Yoruba lineage, Nigerian nationality, education at London’s Trinity College in classical music and jazz, and, perhaps most decisively, his exposure to the ideology and radicalism of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers. The result was a unique and glorious brand of musical activism that is cosmopolitan in its aesthetic, imbued with directness and urgency in its call to action. We are urged to be educated about injustices that are being committed, and to not turn a blind eye lest we be tacitly complicit.

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