Horns, drums and dance. Some of the major elements of afrobeat are as simple – and complex – as samba. Perhaps this is why the style that started with an initial half-dozen or so vocal enthusiasts, has now won over a large portion of faithful São Paulo fans. Or at the very least, the revellers at Festa Fela, Safári 70 and Bafafá, and followers of the band Bixiga 70, heroes of the independent scene.
Up until now, the genre’s most memorable moment locally has been 2012’s Virada Cultural performance by Seun Kuti, son of the legendary Nigerian musician, composer, political activist and afrobeat founder Fela Kuti (1938-1997). Seun Kuti’s show drew thousands of paulistanos – and hundreds of African immigrants – to soak up afrobeat’s captivating blend of jazz, funk and West African Yaruba music.
The latest homage to afrobeat is the exhibition ‘Fela Kuti – O Design Gráfico dos LP’s’ (Fela Kuti – Album Graphic Designs). There’s a total of 41 covers on display by the artist Lemi Ghariokwu, who hails from the ‘Kalakuta Republic’, Kuti’s nickname for the communal compound where he lived with his family, friends and other musicians in Lagos, Nigeria.
Ghariokwu’s vibrant and anarchic aesthetic continues to influence the genre, from afrobeat party flyers to other musicians’ album art. Most of Kuti’s record sleeves function as illustrated political manifestos, using collage, irregular typography and handwriting. Coupled with the combative songs penned by Kuti – a staunch opponent of the authoritarian regime gripping Nigeria in the 1970s – Ghariokwu’s covers served as a counterpoint to afrobeat’s vivacious musicality.
The selection will be displayed on the Museu Afro Brasil’s ground floor until 18 August (those who prefer a chronological narrative should begin at the end of the exhibition), and will also appeal to fans anxious to hear the live albums for the first time (collectors tend to battle for the rare LPs). To help contextualize Nigeria’s troubled political scene, Ghariokwu appears in a video, where he also reveals his favourite Kuti works, Before I Jump Like Monkey Give Me Banana (1976) and the incendiary Zombie (1977), the latter being the musician’s most popular album in Nigeria.
The art was donated by the Cuban ethnologist, political scientist and current Salvador resident Carlos Moore, author of the 1981 biography Fela – This Bitch of a Life (Nandyala, R$40), which Moore self-released for Brazilian readers in 2011.
Dig deeper into the genre made famous by the Nigerian musician Fela Kuti via our pick of bands, parties and blogs.
This band draws inspiration from the afrobeat of Fela Kuti, samba and Afro-Brazilian drumming, and are a standout on the São Paulo circuit. ‘Balboa da Silva’, from the band’s self-titled debut album was lauded by The Guardian as one of the global music scene’s best tracks.
Clube de Bolso
This instrumental band of Unicamp students boasts a repertoire of funk, afrobeat and Brazilian pieces.
This club night, headed by the journalist and DJ Ramiro Zwetsch, is hosted at Boteco Prato do Dia (Rua Barra Funda 34, Barra Funda, 2371 8534, botecopratododia.org).
This club night brings a diverse mix of hypnotic Moroccan gnawa music, Angolan kuduro and semba styles, and Brazilian genres like coco and boi. It’s an itinerant event, but stay in the loop about their upcoming clubnights by visiting the group’s Facebook page (facebook/bafafa.festa).
DJs Ramiro Zwetsch and Mzk’s annual event dates back to 2007, and is held close to Fela Kuti’s birthday, 15 October. Check the Facebook page for more details (pt-br.facebook.com/festa.fela).
Also created by DJ Zwetsch, Radiola Urbana (radiolaurbana.com.br) is a website featuring entire programmes dedicated solely to afrobeat and Fela Kuti.