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You are in: Learning English > Watch and Listen > Music Directory
Learning English
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Katrina Leskanich

Take the improvisational character of jazz, combine it with the raunchiness of funk, flavour the mixture with African tradition and add a political message to it. What do you end up with? An Afrobeat record!

But where does Afrobeat come from? What's political about this genre and why does it appeal to people in many countries outside Africa? Find out here with the help of our expert guest, some fans and Katrina Leskanich.

Listen to Katrina and three fans of Afrobeat. See if you can spot the words and names associated with Afrobeat music. Then check below to find out if you got the meanings right

big massed band: the word 'massed' describes a large group of people gathered together for the same purpose (in this case, to play in a band)
raunchy: fiery, full of energy and excitement
repetitive: (here) where the same musical movements get repeated many times
improvisation: performing without set music, inventing music as you play
mixture: (here) a combination of various musical influences
Fela Kuti: the Nigerian musician behind both the musical idea and the political message of Afrobeat

Dominic, an Afrobeat fan
Listen to some fans say these words, while an extract is playing from the Afrobeat record 'Look Around' by Femi Kuti  
Listen to Olufunsho Ogundipe, an Afrobeat musician who comes from Nigeria in West Africa. As you listen, try to answer these questions: Where does Afrobeat come from? What is the sound like? What exactly is the political message of Afrobeat?
Where does Afrobeat come from?
It comes from a part of Nigeria, the southern part of Nigeria. It was a 60's thing influenced by, perhaps, the free jazz movement - the Americans. The chap who was at the vanguard of this all was Fela Anikulapo Kuti. He went through different forms of music - basically starting by playing High-life, which was common to West Africa then. And then modernising it, evolving it by, I believe, taking different elements of other forms of contemporary music then… Putting that together to form Afrobeat. At its best, Afrobeat would be whopping, exuberant, big band jazz.
What do Afrobeat records sound like?
Afrobeat is a mixture of different forms of music. When you listen to an Afrobeat band, the first thing you hear probably would be the jazz influence. Because a lot of times the harmonies are jazzy. And also there is a lot of improvisation involved in this music. Also, you hear the funk. Because funk, as the Americans play it, is actually West African traditional music. Very repetitive, very groovy. Very exuberant. The electric piano is at the soul of the music. As well, you hear echoes of classical music in, perhaps, the way the themes are structured, the arrangements as they are. Afrobeat really is just a way of putting together all those influences and mixing them with traditional African harmonies and rhythm. So, it is very powerful emotionally.
What is the political message of Afrobeat?
Politics is essential to the genre of Afrobeat. More so because the founding fathers, that is Fela and his like, were into social criticism as a way of effecting social change. And you know, you cannot do anything in isolation. Whatever your art form, it really has to reflect on the times you live in. If you look at the folk music movement in America, people like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, they also had a lot of criticism in their music. I remember, when Fela died, one of the visitors to his house said, 'Here lies Africa's Bob Dylan'. The music is fiery, it is confrontational because the times he was living in. If you looked at all the African countries then, there had been this transition from the colonial governments to self-determination on the part of most of the African countries. People were now governing themselves. Well, Africans found out that self-determination did not mean the eradication of ills in society. So, that was where the fiery and confrontational attitude of Afrobeat came out.
Olufunsho Ogundipe
Colin Babb talks to Afrobeat fans in Sterns Record Shop/Cafe in Central London
'Hello once again, this is Colin Babb for the Music Directory. I'm in Sterns Record Shop and Cafe in Central London. And I'm listening to the very jazzy rhythms of Afrobeat. This is a place in London where a lot of people come to talk to each other about different types of African music including Afrobeat, and there's a good atmosphere. Everybody's having a good chat with each other... Right, I'm gonna get involved in everything now. I'm gonna find my way around this place and find out what people think about Afrobeat...' Colin Babb
As you listen to Colin's interviewees, see if you can spot the key words and expressions people use to talk about Afrobeat
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