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Trace TV The evolution of Afrobeats: The great 80’s

Throughout the month of August, Trace TV will be taking you on a musical journey through the evolution of modern day Afrobeats.

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Fela Afrobeats play

Fela Afrobeats


Born from a fusion of Jazz, Highlife, Funk, and traditional Nigerian music, the Afrobeats genre burst onto the Nigerian music scene in the 1960’s, changing it forever.

Created by legendary performer Fela Ransome-Kuti - one of the greatest musicians in Nigerian history, Afrobeats quickly made waves spreading across the world with its killer sound and vibe, influencing generations that would come after. 

Afrobeats was distinct from other genres. It combined high-energy, electric, groovy music with political undertones creating a mass appeal that had people thumping and chanting in the streets.  

Hypnotic, mystical and untamable, the Afrobeats pioneer, Fela used it to propel messages of social change, African identity and revolution.

“With music I create change… I am using my music as a weapon,” he once said.

Fela was undeniably addictive in personality and unmatchable in music. He created such memorable hits as ‘Yeye dey Smell’, ‘Gentleman’ ‘Lady’ and ‘Zombie’, while still having the free time to perform such legendary personal acts as forming the Political Party, Movement of the People (MOP), and running for president twice, as well as infamously marrying 28 women in a single ceremony; eventually divorcing them all.

He affected dozens of musicians both during his lifetime and after. Paul McCartney who traveled to Lagos in the 70s to see him perform, hailed him and his band the best band he had ever seen alive.

Virtually every Nigerian artiste from a range of generations, including Tuface and Wizkid, have been influenced by him in some way.

But Fela was not alone. The eighties saw a height of Highlife music; a jazzy combination of western instruments and African expressions.

Beginning in different parts of West Africa like Ghana, Sierra Leone and Nigeria in the 1920’s, Highlife combined instruments like the African drums, harmonicas, guitars, trumpets and accordions to produce sound that delighted people for decades.

Records like ‘High Life’ by Sonny Okosun, ‘Yellow Sisi’ by Dr. Orlando, ‘Sweet Mother’ by Prince Nico Mbarga, and ‘Gowon Special’ by Jim Rex Lawson changed the landscape of music, making it that much sweeter.

Much celebrated and immeasurably talented Highlife singer Victor Olaiya, and his band The Cool Cats, later renamed the All Stars Band, actually hold a place in history, performing for Queen Elizabeth the 2nd during her visit to Nigeria, and during the independence and republic celebrations in the 60’s.

A renowned trumpeter, Dr. Olaiya is still active today, collaborating with Tuface as recently as 2013 for the song, ‘Baby Mi Da’.

One of the most influential musicians of our time and Master of Juju music, King Sunny Ade also has roots in Highlife, tutored by Moses Olaiya, more popularly known as comic genius, Baba Sala at the beginning of his career.

He evolved, becoming one of the greatest proponents of Juju music in history. In fact, the release of his album ‘Juju Music’ to overwhelming critical acclaim, cemented him as a critical music icon of our time.

The New York Times credits him with beginning the “world beat movement” in the United States.

The first African to be nominated for two Grammys and a pioneer in sound and technique, he continues to inspire a new wave of musicians such as Lagbaja.

And who can forget Michael Jackson? The undisputed King of Pop, undoubtedly one of the best performers of all time, the eighties were an integral period in Michael Jackson’s career.

He created some of his most beloved songs ‘Thriller’, ‘Billy Jean’, ‘Bad’, 'Beat it' and 'Smooth Criminal'. The list is seemingly endless.

He transformed music into art. Even after his death, he’s remembered as the one of the most beloved musicians and innovators in his music, fashion and dance moves. Everyone knows the moonwalk.

All these great music were pushed on the then revolutionary new technology, the compact disc - CD's.

Created in a joint effort between tech giants Sony and Phillips, it became the primary method of distributing music for the next thirty years. In that time over 200 billion CD’s have been sold.

But all this was just the beginning.  If the eighties brought revolution, the nineties brought magic.

Throughout the month of August, Trace TV will be taking you on a musical journey through the evolution of modern day Afrobeats.

Stay with us for more on the great 90’s afroculture and the greats of the greats.

Continue the conversation with Trace on social media at @tracenigeria on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

This is a feature by Trace TV.

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