By Jenevieve Monroe
Afrobeat is a collection of jazz and funk rhythms, extended instrumental solos, and highlife music. This music genre has not only gained immense popularity from pioneering West African pop but has also acted as a form of Nigerian civil protest.
The father of the genre was Fela Kuti, a Nigerian artist and activist who lived his young adult years in the midst of a Civil War (1967-1970). He used the power of community, political discourse, and Afrobeat to challenge the militant coups that arose from colonialist dissension. The impact of Fela Kuti’s legacy is visible to the Bay Area today; the annual “Afrofunk Festival” has made its way to venues in San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles.
One Saint Mary’s course has brought Afrobeat and other non-European musical and dance traditions to the classroom. Professors Sixto Montesinos and Rogelio Lopez Garcia are offering the course “World Music and Dance” (PERFA 014-01) this spring, which educates students on the complexities of musical composition that stem beyond Western music theory.
According to Professor Montesinos, most music theory taught in schools focuses mostly on the musical styles and techniques of 18th-century European composers like Mozart and Beethoven. This eurocentric approach, he says, excludes other interesting and more complex types of music theory like Indian or Indonesian music theories.
“It’s alarming that many musicians have spent their entire lives and careers only studying the styles of 18th-century European composers when there is so much more out there to know!” Montesinos says.
Professor Montesinos finds it surprising that many students do not know who Fela was but hopes that students can appreciate his career and the influence he had in music. Montesinos also hopes that students can appreciate the depths and complexities of African music.
“There are many limiting stereotypes about African music out there that the story and music of Fela debunks. For example, people think African music is only drums. That’s incorrect,” Montesinos says. “There is so much more than drums. Fela’s music combines jazz and also highlife and has so many different instrumentations, saxophone, guitars, trumpets, etc! That’s what this class hopes to accomplish. Debunking stereotypes and focusing truly on the richness of dance and musical traditions not only in Africa but also from other regions explored like Indonesia, Middle East, México.”
COURSE PERFA 014, Professors Montesinsos and Garcia
Afrobeat reverberates throughout Bay Area – East Bay Times
The Politics of Fela Kuti's 'Zombie' by Samuel McIlhagga — Ostrich Records
Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970) • (blackpast.org)
Melanie Moyer '22,