Fusion music

  • Find out what fusion music is and listen to artists Fela Kuti, Four Tet and Nubya Garcia.
  • Explore famous examples of fusion genres such as afrobeat and jazz fusion.
  • Start making your own fusion music.
Max Wheeler explains what fusion music is and how he wrote a grime opera.

Fusion music describes what happens when musical styles are combined together to make something new.

Fusion music usually combines two different styles.

Successful fusion music is often controversial as it tries to combine the traditional and the new, mixing things up.

When two styles of music are fused in this way, it can create a new scene of musicians, new record labels and events where musicians can meet up and exchange ideas.

Examples of fusion music

A fusion can be created between any two styles of music. In the video above, producer Max Wheeler describes working with grime artist Eyez to make a fusion between grime and opera. In the past, fusions such as afrobeat and jazz fusion have been breakthrough moments in music history.

Afrobeat

It started with Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, who grew up on styles of African music like highlife and songs and rhythms from Fante and Yoruba culture.

Kuti combined his music with the funk and jazz sounds he heard when he travelled to America as well as strong political messages encouraged by civil rights leaders like Malcolm X and the Black Panthers.

This new style - Afrobeat - didn’t sound like either the traditional African sounds that came before it or a copy of the sounds from the US. It was a powerful fusion that created something totally new.

Jazz fusion

This style was created when jazz was blended with rock music styles in the 1960s. Musicians started to play with rock and roll instruments like electric guitars and use rock rhythms.

One breakthrough moment was when the famous jazz trumpeter Miles Davis plugged his trumpet into effects pedals like a rock guitarist.

Many jazz traditionalists were not happy about his new sound and thought that he had ‘betrayed’ jazz.

Trumpet player Miles Davis (left) playing with saxophonist John Coltrane (right).

Listen to fusion music by Fela Kuti, Four Tet and Nubya Garcia

Listen to No Agreement by Fela Kuti. He pioneered Afrobeat by fusing highlife with US funk. Can you hear the electric guitars, jazz keys and African rhythms in this clip?
Listen to Morning Side by Four Tet. This is a fusion of western club music and traditional Indian music. Four Tet has produced a range of experimental electronic and fusion tracks.
Listen to Hold by Nubya Garcia. There are elements of soul and even a hip-hop style groove in this jazz fusion track.

Make your own fusion

  • On your own or with friends, think about what styles of music you all know and enjoy. How can they be fused?
  • What kinds of music do you play between you? If there’s a rapper and a ukulele in the group, you could try combining them in a piece of music. Look for the most unusual combinations of sounds and play them together.
  • Experiment and try mixing the traditional with the new - like how Four Tet combines traditional Indian music with club beats. What unusual combinations can you draw on from the types of music you already know?
  • Try taking the drum beat from one style and the melody or chords from another. Do they work together? Does it create a new sound?

Keywords

KeywordDefinition
highlifeA style from Ghana featuring horns and guitars.
afrobeatThe style created by Fela Kuti, fusing highlife with African rhythms. Don't confuse this with ‘Afrobeats’, a contemporary style with more electronic sounds and often rap.
jazz fusionA style combining rock and jazz.

Next steps

Make your own fusion composition
Playing together
How to write a song