Pioneered by multi-instrumentalist Fela Ransome-Kuti, Afrobeat was an exciting mixture of West African sounds and rhythms, and American styles such as jazz, funk and soul. Its genre-bending form was so far ahead of the curve, it seems that time is only just catching up, and that was certainly the case with his 1973 album, Afrodisiac. Now getting a timely 50th anniversary release, Afrodisiac still sounds fresh and exciting and if you want to know where the roots of much modern music lay, it’s right here.
If you are yet to experience the delights of Fela Kuti (lucky you) then it may take a while for uninitiated ears to attune to his modus operandi. The opening to first track ‘Alu Jon Jonki Jon’ is like a shrill alarm clock waking you from a deep sleep and its weighty funk rhythm and bamping keys are certainly not made for somnambulists. There’s something very hypnotic about the tempos that the band employ, they increase and decrease almost imperceptibly and effect the listener in strange and subtle ways. In what can only be described as the boiling frog apologue, new instrumentation is added gradually meaning that when Fela decides it’s time for the music to hit you, it hits hard. There’s so much going on here that you might be dizzied by its psychedelic soup, as jazzy guitar weaves between heavy, masculine call-and-response tribal vocals whilst Ray Manzarek-style lithe keyboards float atop. It’s testament to Kuti’s compositional skills that this track (and indeed the whole album) retains a strong focus and a steady groove that will keep you hanging on every note.
Listening to Afrodisiac with the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to hear its influence echoing down the years. The powerful brass section that drenches ‘Jeun Ko Ku (Chop’n Quench) was obviously an influence on the British 2-Tone movement and informed much of the early hip hop scene too. Even into the ‘80s Afrodisiac’s power beat pulsed and laid down the template for Talking Head’s Remain In Light album, and the new wave explosion that followed. Therefore, it’s hard to state just how ground-breaking this album was, and while Afrobeat has had its edges softened for mass consumption, Afrodisiac remains a carnival for the ears. The artist I’d most closely align Kuti with is Sun Ra, they both share a desire for sonic experimentation, and both took music into new dimensions, but Kuti was definitely built for the long haul. The interplay between the various instruments and vocals is perfect. Closing track ‘Je.nwi Temi (Don’t Gag Me)’ takes its cues from jazz, while the strong, funky groove renders it extremely danceable, and the two previously opposing genres exist in a perfect harmony.
When Fela Ransome-Kuti lets out a succession of victorious yells at the album’s conclusion, you get the feeling that he knew he had recorded an album that would stand the test of time. And he was quite right.
- Afrodisiac is released via Partisan Records on 2nd December 2022 and is available here.
- Official Website
- Alu Jon Jonki Jon
- Jeun Ko Ku (Chop’n Quench)
- Eko IIe
- Je’nwi Temi (Don’t Gag Me)