The musical line-up for Felabration 2009 held from October 12 – 18, was more of a return to the roots of afrobeat. The program featured more than 100 artistes and dancers mostly of Nigerian origin, helping to revive the debate on the origin of FELA’S INSPIRATION in the creation of Afrobeat music.
Like in the HISTORY of AFRICA and the history of a colonized people written by her former colonizers, it is the custom among WESTERN MUSIC CRITICS to associate and attribute the inspiration for his creation to what they know – namely JAZZ and FUNK. Fela’s creation of Afrobeat have been claimed to be a combination of JAMES BROWN’S funk, highlife and jazz. This should not be a surprise taking into consideration, the prominence of people of AFRICAN ORIGIN in American music such as jazz, rock and funk being part of their link with their African heritage.
Thanks to archaeological excavations, world civilisation in general owes a huge amount to African traditions - an essential part of FELA’S MESSAGE. Despite Afrobeat being played with so-called “Western” instruments, this does not diminish its African authenticity. Particularly, if we take note that all wind and string instruments have their origin in the African continent before people like Antoine-Joseph (aka) Adolphe Sax produced their first so-called “Western instruments”.
While Fela was accused by MUSIC CRITICS in EUROPE that he did not care about the rules of musical composition, in NORTH AMERICA Afrobeat is considered to be influenced by Western, particularly American sounds - all these to justify the claim of a diversion through a European or American career.
One can say with certitude today that despite his education at the Trinity College of Music in London, the inspiration behind Afrobeat music came from the traditional YORUBA ‘APALA MUSIC’. The way the bass, tenor and rhythm guitars work in short phrases; criss-crossing in unison in Afrobeat, it is parallel to those of the TALKING DRUM family in Yoruba traditional music.
Much has been written about Fela’s 1969 US trip that lasted ten months; the most important is that it was the beginning of a self discovery. He arrived in the US with a nine man band the music he played was HIGHLIFE JAZZ - a mixture of African traditional rhythm corrupted with jazz music. Hopping it will make a difference; unfortunately, Americans were expecting an African band with some originality. Playing traditional folk music and not jazz of which they already have enough exponents.
This was the first reality that hit him. Coming to the US as he did, he realised that he had over-estimated his stock. What has changed in the music? First Fela’s approach to music was no longer the classic student from Trinity College.
Recollecting how the change came about, he said he was rehearsing with his band in Los Angeles when someone offered him a “joint” (marijuana), he who used to be strict with his musicians about marijuana smoking. After smoking the “joint” according to Fela, he felt a kind of deep ‘high’ that enhanced his concentration taking him back to his roots in Abeokuta with all those “Sakara rhythms” and beats.
The idea came to him to transpose those short phrases from those drum beats to give voice to the guitar, bass, and brass sections of his music – resulting into those beautiful short and repetitive phrases of sound he titled ‘My Lady’s Frustration’ his first afrobeat composition.
As we can see, the musical line-up of Felabration 2009 traced the origin of Fela’s inspiration of the creation of afrobeat to traditional Yoruba music with pioneers of the music performing: Fatai Rolling Dollar, Sunny Ade.
Convinced as we are that “music is the weapon that will bring Africa back on the world map” let us make this return back to the roots of afrobeat music the beginning.
In view of the above, let us like the German Leo Frobenius, who furthered the work of Count C.F.Volney in the year 1910 titled: UND AFRIKA SPRACH (AND AFRICA SPEAKS). He urged his fellow Western colleagues to: “Let there be light! Light in Africa! Light in that portion of the globe, to which the stalwart Anglo-Saxon Stanley gave the name “Dark” and “Darkest”.
Light upon the people of that continent whose children we are accustomed to regard as types of natural servility with no recorded history. But the spell, has been broken the buried treasures of antiquity again revisit the sun.” In the same spirit with which the buried treasures of antiquity revisits the sun - thanks to archaeological excavations and works of people like Count C.F. Volney, Cheihk Anta Diop continued by Theophile Obenga, we know with certitude today that world civilisation in general owes a huge amount to African tradition - an essential part of Fela’s message.