Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Afrobeat and Afro-Funk 

That throwback funk post got me thinking it would be good to do a couple more genre overview-type posts about musical movements that make me smile.

I don't really have time to spend on one right now, but it sure is more fun than the other shit I'm supposed to be shoveling at the moment, so here's a quicky.

I loves me some roots music. Lately, I've been delving into a lot of afrocentric funk music, and I've always had a big ass soft spot for afrobeat. So here's a little primer, limited by my own ignorance but hopefully helpful nonetheless. Of course I'm neglecting much to focus on my faves, but that's just how the cookie crumbles. If you know something about this corner of the soundosphere, and I'm not big upping your very favoritest ambassadors of afrogroove, that's just too bad. Leave me a nasty comment.


The afrobeat wikipedia entry is kinda weak, but it gives a really basic overview. It does give proper credit for creation of the genre to Fela Kuti, and the entry on him is much better. He's the godfather of afrobeat and a must-know musical boundary-pusher for anyone who loves music or populist politics. Prolific doesn't even begin to describe the man, and there are some pretty decent compilations of his best stuff. But if you're like me, you prefer to enjoy an album from start to finish instead of getting a hodgepodge of tracks from different periods in an artist's development. In my humble opinion, Fela's best work can be heard on his 1976 album "Zombie" - the title track of which is my favorite afrobeat tune ever.

Fela's son Femi has carried on his legacy to some extent, but can't really hold a candle to his dad, if you ask me. I hate to hate, but he's forgettable and so is his music. His heart's in the right place, but if it wasn't for his dad's expansive coat tails, he'd be even worse than forgettable - he'd be forgotten.

If you really dig your Fela and want to hear his legacy continued, then check out Tony Allen's work in recent years. When you think "afrobeat" you think about a certain driving, energetic, hypnotic beat structure. That's thanks to Mr. Allen who is and always will be one of my all-time favorite drummers. He's also good as a nob-twisting studio head, and you can get a glimpse of his breadth of talent and style by checking out his recent releases. "Home Cooking" - released in 2003 - proves Allen's still got it where it counts, and still knows how to collaborate. But the man's got his fingers in about a billion pies right now, so if you like what you hear, dig deeper and you'll find much more.

For the best young blood propagating the afrobeat sound, vibe and culture, look no further than the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra. Straight outta Brooklyn, NYC, these cats are definitely carrying the torch Fela passed into the next generation. For you Austinites, they've played ACL Fest before to a sweaty, dance-till-you drop afternoon crowd. There are some good live shows available for download from iTunes that give you some idea why the crowd was gettin' down and throwin' up fists. They're best served live, but if you want an album, check out "Talkatif" - especially the track "Hypocrite." It's their first album and its more raw and heartfelt than there more recent, more overtly (even polemically) political "Who is this America?"


Fela borrowed heavily from American funk and jazz to build what became afrobeat. So it should be no surprise that other African artists tweaked the sound to add more funk, or that the afrobeat sound boomeranged back to the states to influence funk bands from NYC to L.A.

I'm running out of energy for this post now, so I'm going to punt on this particular topic for the moment. If you're really interested, some newer stuff in this vein is available from The Budos Band on Daptone.


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