The music of African origin is the sun and the heartbeat. We recognize African music by its quiet frenzy, a promise of vitality, color and pep.
However, music of African origin supports little or no research as an intellectual exercise. The shape, form and science of African music has yet to be appreciated and acknowledged. We see this evidence in the misrepresentation of sounds and works from Africa, especially on a stage as global as the Recording Academy.
The Global Music category seems to encompass all evolving sounds across the continent. It is perhaps a movement that praises the Recording Academy’s image of its perceived stance on colonization. With the world music category having recently been flipped over, it ignored developments in the evolving sounds from Africa.
Recently, the afrobeat(s) genre has taken the global music community by surprise. Music critics and art patrons have their ears tuned to Nigerian popular culture, other African countries are borrowing from this sound for inclusion and relevance.
Perhaps there is nothing new in this sound that has spread. The unpublished truth is its roots in afrobeat music: a genre of activism mixed with brass sounds, with Fela Anikulapo Kuti as the vanguard.
Afrobeat(s) is neo-afrobeat or a distilled version of afrobeat with African induced pop. However, afrobeats thrive and run on the flames of another genre called fuji.
Afrobeat is an amalgamation of highlife, free jazz and fuji music. The spiritual roots of jazz help situate the history of afrobeats, particularly in its ability to exert influence by speaking truth to power.
Jazz is black improvisational music developed by African Americans and influenced by European harmonic structure and African rhythms.
Jazz carries the painful pangs of slavery and offers an outlet for freedom of expression. A jazz ensemble is a hotbed of experimentation, tolerance, restraint and harmony.
Highlife music emerged in colonial Africa. It was the music of the Ghanaian aristocracy. Lower-class citizens were not allowed access to concert halls; hence the music brand was called highlife.
The genius of afrobeat sound is its ability to produce a compelling hybrid of culture and sound, fusing together classic beats and making that rich sound egalitarian.
Afrobeat became the sound of the outcast because it commented on political nonsense and promoted human decency and self-respect. It has the central theme of reggae music but with a harsh and rebellious lyrical tone, softened by brass sounds.
Popular Nigerian music can be said to originate from the sounds of two brothers: Afrobeat and fuji. Their spiritual ancestry is Christian and Muslim respectively. While afrobeat has a slight spiritual or neutral undertone, fuji is purely an Islamic sound from southwestern Nigeria and remains so to this day.
While Afrobeat has obvious and traceable influences, it is imperative to note that fuji music is purely organic and constantly evolving. Perhaps that’s why he finds a residency with rave musicians in every generation of Nigerian pop music many years later.
History recalls that fuji music began with Ajiwere, a sung call to prayer to awaken Muslim worshipers during the annual Ramadan fast.
Sikiru Ayinde Barrister is the originator of fuji music. He named the genus fuji, inspired by an image of Mount Fuji he saw while visiting Japan. Asked about the ancestry of fuji music, he explains that it is a combination of apala, sakara, juju, aro, afro, gudugudu and highlife.
This fuji genre distills like local sounds for export; as a result, it clearly depicts the temperaments and energy of the socio-cultural dialects of southwestern Nigeria, especially Lagos. However, what reggae is to Kingston, Jamaica and hip-hop to black America, fuji is to the Yoruba of southwestern Nigeria.
Fuji is one of the most prominent musical genres in Nigeria. The history of Nigeria is incomplete without reference to the immense contributions of the founding pioneers of Fuji who used their voice for activism during the military regimes. Through their music, the musicians fought against military oppression and brutality and called for a better Nigeria for its citizens.
Fuji in the early 1990s was a melting pot. It was a national language. The dance moves of their fuji music videos have been widely imitated by everyone, young and old, of all classes and ethnicities.
With each Fuji disc, the listener is nurtured with themes of life, death, wealth, pride, ego, betrayal, identity, conflict and more. There is a duality in the fuji music genre. The music videos had icons of wealth, bold fashion statements expressed with sequinned agabdas, flashy cars, large gold chains, trophy women and provocative choreography. Along the same lines, almost every studio record opened with Quranic references and Islamic praise. This duality makes this kind human and very linked to its people.
Also, fuji was the original kind of “battle”. Long before the “beef” among American rappers became a global spectacle, the Fuji Fathers used puns and metaphors to proclaim their superiority over each other. Most widely reported is the battle between two of the genre’s greatest – Ayinde Barrister and Ayinla Kollington – a riff that sadly never had a resolution until the former’s demise over 10 years ago.
There is no denying the influence of fuji music in modern celebratory culture; fuji music invented the song of praise. From the end of the 1970s, fuji artists sang in front of influential men; they were the original traders of politicians and captains of industry. Since the genre has existed, it has always provided a platform for setting an agenda.
But the most profound impact that fuji music has had on its listener is its innate activism. This was most pronounced during the struggle for democracy under Nigeria’s brutal military rule. Since fuji artists have had an incredible influence on local communities in the South West region of Nigeria – some of the most prolific political activists ever recorded on tape are on the B-sides of the genre perfectly used to urge equality – a call to end oppression.
Recognizing what made this genre one of the most original musical genres to come out of Africa is how it inspires musicians from the continent, even as far away as Asia. The genre is slowly burning when measuring its influence among non-Africans.
Fuji music is rather permeable and identifying. The yellow buses that line the landscape of the suburbs of Lagos all carry jargons, symbols, memories and images of the musical genre Fuji. These create a permeable subculture immune to cultural trends and shifts but tolerant to use as a reference for subsequent creative output. Fuji music is like a grandfather with a big house with giant fences, but he keeps his pearly doors wide open.
To establish the influence of fuji music on popular music today, listen to fuji lines from Bankuli, the Nigerian artist who made vocal contributions to Beyonce’s The Lion King album.
Burna Boy, the 5th Grammy Award winner, a Nigerian, has his lyrics, vocal texture and is firmly rooted in fuji music.
New rave from Nigerian music artists such as Kizz Daniel, Zinolesky and Portable, all draw inspiration from the rich effervescence of the fuji music genre. The world still seems to turn a blind eye.
However, it is unfortunate that the patrons of the sound of Fuji music today are not recognized for their musical acumen and contribution to the betterment of the Fuji musical genre. The Recording Academy rewards musical excellence by all artists, of all genres and of all ages. Fuji music has never been on that recognition radar, maybe it’s time.
The submission above reminds me of Naomi Campbell’s open letter to the Recording Academy for being deaf after the World Music category result in 2022. In her words, “Changing world music to world music is not enough; get up to speed on the state of popular music and include Afrobeats Artist of the Year, Album of the Year, any subcategories this genre deserves, just like any other respected and recognized music genre “.
The world music category should be thought of as a tribute to the creation myth, which alludes to Africa as the cradle of man. The world music category at the Grammys confuses and seems misunderstood by Western music critics. Over the years, the world music category has come across as a forced inclusion. The big question is whether the evolution of the Global Album category would recognize fuji music and other proliferating sounds from around the world.
The Recording Academy could redefine itself as a musical research unit for uncelebrated music of foreign origin, creating a broader recognition chart with disciplined categories.
More than the defense of afrobeats, there is its benevolent twin brother, fuji music. The campaign should recognize these two music genres as cultural influencers worth investigating because they are more relevant than the accolades they might deserve.
Yes, afrobeats have traveled the global ear and found residence and admiration. Yes, it’s a beautiful exportable veneer of fuji with afrobeat with traces of influences from rhythm and blues, soul and funk, not to mention genreless drum slaps and pulsating rhythms with a promise of groove.
However, let’s reimagine these two genres, as we will in the story of the prodigal son. The wandering brother was fickle, lively and whimsical; the other was obedient, welcoming and resourceful. The older brother who stayed home deserves his flowers.