OTHER SIDE OF THE TRACKS Artist Q&A with Segun from Yankari Afrobeat Collective
Afrobeat is a modern genre of West African music that incorporates elements of traditional Yoruba music and Ghanaian highlife with the Western sounds of jazz, funk, and soul. Afrobeat bands tend to be large (upwards of 10 members) and include both Western guitars and horns and African rhythm instruments, among others. The beat of the music is heavily polyrhythmic, and the vocals can range from traditional call-and-response and chanting styles to stylized, wailing melody lines.. A lot of afrobeat songs feature extended instrumental sections, punctuated by vocal elements. Afrobeat was essentially invented by one man, the inimitable Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Kuti's experimentations with various pan-African sounds and exploration of African-American music led to his creation (along with substantial input from the members of his enormous backing band) of the genre, leading to a massive Afrobeat craze in Kuti's home city of Lagos, and throughout Nigeria and West Africa. Kuti's lyrical message was unquestionably political and was viewed for many years as a threat by the authorities in Nigeria and other African countries. The anti-corruption and pro-civil rights messages in Kuti's music tend to be present in the music of most modern Afrobeat groups as well.
Segun from Yankari told us a bit about their style of Afrobeat, the authenticity and power of this kind of music, and blending Afrobeat with influences like hip-hop to appeal to people and make the kind of music the world needs to hear.
Q. Can you tell us a little bit about your style of Afrobeat music?
To talk of style we have to mention our influences. Apart from Fela Kuti, there were a host of afrobeat bands from west Africa at that
time. Bands such as Jay-U Experience, Sahara All Star Band Jos and many others were not as known but equally made amazing music that we loved. We like to think of our style of Afrobeat as a contemporary version of classic Afrobeat music from the 60s/70s and 80s.
Q. How did you get into this genre of music? What about it appealed to you?
Our parents would be the first people to introduce this music to us. My dad for example had a lot of Fela records at home and he'll usually
spin a Fela record on vinyl every Sunday morning before church service. It was more like a ritual. His favorite was "Centre of the World" by Fela Kuti feat. Roy Ayers.
Apart from the sometimes heavy lyrics (which we only got to really understand as we grew), we were interested in the rawness and realness of the music. We would practise Tony Allen's drum patterns on our kitchen pots with spoons as our sticks whilst singing the basslines and guitar licks with our mouths. We would then try to replicate this whenever we had the opportunity to play a real drum set. This was our window into learning how to play our instruments. Having learned all this, we are motivated by Fela's saying, "Music is the Weapon”.
Q. Why is it important for you to introduce different elements - jazz, funk, electro, or any others to the Afrobeat style?
We naturally wanted to incorporate these elements into the music to make our style of afrobeat more authentic, fresh and interesting for our listeners.
We also want to explore instruments and sounds that have not been traditionally classified as afrobeat or african sounds. We live in the era of hip-hop right now. It's in everything you hear on the radio. And the more hip-hop continues to grow the more we see it spread. Successful Pop music has hip-hop at its base. And the people who do it well are those who take these elements and combine it with a real spark of honest emotion or expression. Yes there are production tools that can be overused and the result can sound uninspired but if you have something to say, hip-hop has just closed the gap between “niche” music and the mainstream. Hip-hop has established rhythm as an important foundation in pop music. And Afrobeat music has a lot of rhythm. So we feel like with this rhythm, with the palette of sounds our members grew up with through their respective childhoods outside of Nigeria, and musical sensitivity... it's been a natural progression. We really hope to inspire more people to pick up an instrument and make the kind of music they feel the world needs to hear. In turn we hope to use our platform to share our experiences and provide a voice for a section of our society that previously has not been heard ( i.e migrants, those in various diaspora communities, those living in Direct Provision) in the same way and with the same spirit that Fela Anikulapo Kuti (and nowadays his Children Femi and Seun) did for the silent majority in Nigeria.
Thanks Sean! Come along to hear Yankari at 8pm this Sunday 28th July in Smithfield Square, for the close #HotterthanJuly2019
Have a listen to Yankari here:
Curious about Afrobeat? Have a listen to some classics here: