Afrobeat music; a fresher, musically expanded and enriched version, is being played and recorded for posterity; somehow under the popular radar.
This phenomenon has evolved from a dream and focused experimentation on the shape of Afrobeat to come-that has been actively going on for two decades-to the happy reality of the permanent presence of a new Afrobeat today!
Pianist and electronic keyboardist Funsho Ogundipe and his various Ayetoro band/s have been the major force in redefining, reshaping and now [by recorded evidence] entrenching the new Afrobeat.
It is no surprise then that he does not incorporate erotic pelvic-gyrating so-called dancers into live performances by his Ayetoro band.
It is inevitable that change and progress; in terms of new ideas, modalities, concepts, fresh energy and passion, are periodically injected into a music genre, to revitalise, refresh, sustain, rebrand and rekindle interest in the genre; without altering its basic foundation and format.
This happened in jazz music, Highlife music and now in Afrobeat music. And usually, it is musicians who are inquisitive students of the genre in which they perform, that spot the failing health of the genre and identify the need for new blood and life. Funsho Ogundipe is a very good example.
In the late 1990s he released a piano-driven, blues-influenced Afrobeat hit album Something Dey with such gems as Something Dey and Tribute to Fela [with wonderful guitar work by Cameroonian Oscar]. He left Lagos in 2000, because he “wanted to play with better people and hear better people play.”
He lived in London from 2000 to 2007 and then started shuttling between London and Accra and, now Lagos. So, Funsho Ogundipe became what he is today; a very unique modern-day wandering nomad musician/band leader with a pool of trusted and tested musicians in London, Accra and Lagos; with whom over the decades he has formed different aggregations of his Ayetoro band and, recorded a huge body of music that documents his journey in creating his own brand of new Afrobeat.
In a chat with me in Lagos in 2009, he offered the rather startling opinion that Afrobeat was, “near dead!” He amply justified the reasons. “Early Afrobeat musicians did not want the music to expand in terms of sound and colour. Afrobeat at its best is African classical music. People should not forget that all the revolutions in music have been rhythmic, Remove the beat from Afrobeat, and it is nothing.”
He strongly disagrees with the perception that Afrobeat is a drug-crazed and sex-addicted music. Rather for him, it is “serious music.” It is no surprise then that he does not incorporate erotic pelvic-gyrating so-called dancers into live performances by his Ayetoro band.
He informed that as of 2009, he and Ayetoro had recorded and released two seminal albums/CDs in his on-going Afrobeat Chronicles series. Two of such are Afrobeat Chronicles Vol. 1-The Jazz Side of Afrobeat and, Afrobeat Chronicles Vol. 2 – subtitled Omo Obokun [tribute to his Ilesha origins] which features a choir of expatriate Cuban bata drummers and percussionists.
Funsho and Ayetoro’s music is available online for purchase and there are numerous you-tube recordings that document the progression of his Afrobeat music over the years. He deliberately chooses to play occasional live concerts in Lagos, Accra and London and performs at International Music Festivals.
Ten years on, in late 2019, I had a long conversation with Funsho Ogundipe in Lagos; during which we broached many topics including his philosophy on music and Afrobeat, his research and study of music in the African Diaspora over the ages and updating me on what he and Ayetoro had been up to musically.
He proudly announced that Afrobeat Chronicles Vol. 7– the 7th in the series that started in 2001, would likely be released soon as a double 12-inch vinyl album, CD and digital package. With about ten tracks, it was recorded in Accra and Lagos. The Ghana band featured trap drums and th new Nigerian formation relies only on traditional percussion.
“Highlife is more important than people know. Highlife is the crucible from which Afrobeat was forged,” he states. “The influence of the African Diaspora and the earlier folk music forms, are a heavy presence in my musical research”, he explains. “Later on I moved into studying the Afro-Cuban style. These are the real links in our musical family.”
Funsho Ogundipe and Ayetoro play A+ Afrobeat music. It is Afobeat music with melodious horn voicings, enchanting male and female voices; all propelled by throbbing percussion. It is Afrobeat music textured with sounds and rhythms. His horn players in particular exhibit musicianship and proficiency when they solo.
In addition to influences from Highlife, Folk Music, Afro-Cuban and Jazz especially in his own keyboard approach, Ayetoro’s Afrobeat sound has always been achieved by a mix of seasoned star instrumentalists and a bevy of young talent he has systematically groomed over the years.
“The whole idea,” he explains, “is to pass the music to the next generation by including them in the making…setting up the structures which will allow them to thrive while assimilating the techniques and attitude necessary to practice the music.”
Three outstanding sample tracks from Afrobeat Chronicles Vol. 7, encapsulate the current dimensions of the state of Funsho Ogundipe’s Ayetoro.
Dflat High, which is 8.57 minutes long [Dedicated to Professor Longhair] is, unquestionably my vote for the new anthem of Afrobeat! The opening mood is a gorgeous interplay of Funsho’s mellow Fender Rhodes sounds with the steely electric guitar sounds from Anthony Akablay [Ghana’s master guitarist]. Then the horns take off on the punchy a-la-rumba riffs driven by a rhythm section that includes a trap drums and cow-bell percussion.
There are sublime solos on Fender Rhodes, guitar, conga, tenor saxophone by Nigeria’s Yinka Olukunle and an outstanding solo on oja-igbo flute, by the master Gerald Eze. A truly global futuristic Afrobeat sound.
Yelvelaa, which is of 7.30 minutes duration, is a brilliant ambitious ballad that is musically stunning for its blend of horns and voices, literarily floating on multi-rhythm percussion of trap drums and membrane drums with electric piano punctuations . A classic one-of-its type Afrobeat ballad!
Ghana’s Ruth Ama Williams a truly great singer with a flawlessly controlled range, sings in Fanti. And later in the song she goes really creative with some refreshing innovative scat singing.The horns evoke a flowing haunting melody anchored by a tenor saxophone solo by the young Nigerian Anjola Ayinde
Gbege, 6.18 minutes long, is a saucy sassy sexy love song, with a Monkquese piano introduction. “Wetin be the gbege/wey wan spoil my love for you?” The lead singer is Ruth Ama Williams ably backed by Nigeria’s Ejiro Okoro. There is a lyrical tenor saxophone solo by Yinka Olukunle.
These songs from Afrobeat Chronicles and many compositions in the entire Afrobeat Chronicles series, are documented evidence that confirm that Funsho Ogundipe and Ayetoro have successfully elevated Afrobeat. They have advanced Afrobeat as a global music genre.
Afrobeat is alive and very well; growing from strength to strength. It will never disintegrate into Afrobeats!
- TAM FIOFORI, March 2020.
This article is dedicated to Manu Dibango who just died.
Tam Fiofori has been writing about music since the mid-sixties and has been published in the leading music and arts magazines, journals and newspapers in the U. S. A, Britain, Europe, Japan, Nigeria and Africa. He was the first New Music/Electronic Music Editor of DownBeat magazine in 1970. He has been a Recording Engineer. His book Sun Ra Space Music Myth will be published in 2020 and his feature documentary film Peter King AfroJazz Pioneer will be released in 2021.