In a continent with over 8000 ethnic groups and 60 native instruments spanning horns, percussion and strings, there is a dizzying variety and richness of African music that has truly reached a global appeal like never before.
Over the last couple of decades, the dance scene in all corners of the continent has gathered momentum. From the clubbing scene in Cairo to Ethiopiawi Electronic emerging from the furthest reaches of Ethiopia; festivals bursting out from Morocco and the new genre set for world domination from Ghana known as ‘Afrobeats’. The dance music underground stood up and took note when Boiler Room conducted their True Music Ballantine sessions in Johannesburg. Africa is blessed with the youngest population in the world so what significance does this have on dance music? With youthfulness comes creativity and potential…
The movement started in the late 70’s with the Nigerian Golden Era of Boogie. The oil industry exploded and there was a return to democracy after years of military dictatorship. Money started flooding into the country and the creative industry was booming. Nigeria in particular became a positive place to be for musicians from all over Africa and the notion came about that a person could ‘actually make it’.
In that era, there was a commercial sound that dominated; it had slick modern dance grooves which synthesised elements of afrobeat, disco, and funk. A huge pioneer of this sound was enthusiast and blogger Uckenna Ikonne as he promoted the release of “Brand New Wayo: Fun, Fast Times and Nigerian Boogie Badness 1979-1983”.
However, the distribution of wealth was unequal and all profits were unfortunately grossly mismanaged. Although artists tried to remain fun and energetic, they began to get bogged down in social and political issues. None more so than Fela Kuti for as he addressed these topics and became a spokesperson for the masses, he got punished for it. His house was burned down, his mother was killed and he was beaten and shot at. Other people simply didn’t want to go through the same ordeal. Towards the 1980’s, Kuti’s music was almost side lined as he became a ‘rabble rouser’ for the people against the establishment. Ikonne says,” There was a return to more constructive values; the flashiness, the flamboyance, the glitziness was all swept under the rug by the mid-eighties. Religion became more of a force in society and took the place that pop music, film and art had earlier in the decade.”
Sure enough, in 1983 Nigeria went under another military ‘coup’ and the golden era of boogie was over. There were still individuals structuring resistance to the suffocation of funk music, namely William Onyedabor who self-released nine albums over the eighties which he recorded, printed and pressed at his own pressing plant in Nigeria. The pioneer of electronic funk sadly died earlier this year on 16th January, much to the sadness of the world as well as his native Africa. He was given the honorary title of ‘justice of the peace’ in the 1980’s and during an interview in 2014 he confessed to never performing live which speaks volumes for the mood of the period and political makeup of the country.
The sequenced beats and squelchy bass became a trademark of Onyeabor and not only sounded incredibly funky but was a style way ahead of its time. More recently it has been celebrated and reissued on David Bryne’s ‘Luaka Bop’ imprint and played live (finally) by a tribute band.