Fela FIFA! Listening to Afrobeat

I don’t care what anyone says, all American music is rooted in African beat. Whether you consider American music to be Jazz, Blues, Rock and Roll, Country, or Hip Hop, buried deep in its history is some form or another of African influence. DJ Meredith’s bi-weekly Thursday program, The Afrobeat Show puts her listeners directly in touch with the source.

Calling the genre “a musical expression of peace, love, unity, truth, and justice,” DJ Meredith make it so the term Afrobeat sound needs no further explanation. It’s easy to get lost in its maze of rhythm and mercurial combinations. When listening to The Afrobeat Show, it is best to hold a frame of mind that is open to the idea that a trance-state is not a waste of time, that sixteen minutes of Fela Kuti is like medicine for the soul, and the phrase “jamming” should be reserved for Dave Matthews Band and Phish; for this music supersedes both cult-bands combined.

When you listen to this kind of music, you can’t help but feel a sort of peaceful joy overcome you. Running through each track like a direct bloodline to Africa’s past, Afrobeat is a promising and reassuring tempo-sound layered musical cake with optimistic brass solos iced in between. Everything appears sanguine in the message behind the music that is laid in Afrobeat’s program. What becomes fascinating is when DJ Meredith explains that, “The meaning behind every song is struggle. These African musicians in the seventies have been through so much. It’s ‘no fear’ music in a way. African artists like Fela Kuti (whom DJ Meredith refers to as the Godfather/Creator of Afrobeat) were constantly prosecuted and punished for playing their music, but it never stopped them.”

Identifying Afrobeat as a combination of Yoruba music, jazz, highlife, and funk rhythms, fused with percussion and vocal styles, it is easy to see how the influences of its unique collaborative sound would not take long to reach America’s shore.

The bands played on the show have all brought the Afrobeat sound to the New York area. Bands like Antibalas, Budos Band, Sugarman Three and Sharon Jones have forged on with the genre. “There are only a few, but important and determined, artists and fans here in America that are fighting to keep the genre alive,” says DJ Meredith. “Often I receive letters or emails thanking BTR for doing their part in supporting Afrobeat musicians.”

The show has a flavor, no doubt, but it is a flavor that can crossover to so many moods and environments. At times, the listener feels he/she should be celebrating liberation in the streets of a dusty and overcrowded Nigerian town (listen to “Dirt and Blood” in the set), and at other moments, one desires to mix a screwdriver over a red shaggy rug behind a semi-circle bar in a dim-lit living room a là Quagmire (listen to “Eastbound”).

I will say this—for those futbol fans that are looking forward to the upcoming World Cup, that is due to kick-off one week from tomorrow, spend some time familiarizing yourself with DJ Meredith’s show. It’s only going to get you in the South African mood, and remind you of how unlucky you are to be missing out on the World’s largest celebration.

However, not entirely unlucky. What other radio station offers you such an eclectic mix of African music as DJ Meredith’s Afrobeat show on BreakThru Radio!

– Kory French


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