Entertainment History

The Evolution of Afrobeats – The Great 80s

Fela and band members during a dance rehearsal at Kalakuta Republic | TheNetNG
Fela and band members during a dance rehearsal at Kalakuta Republic

Born from a fusion of Jazz, highlife, funk, and traditional Nigerian music, the Afrobeats genre burst onto the Nigerian music scene in the 1960’s, changing it forever.

Created by legendary musician and performer, Fela Anikulapo- Kuti, Afrobeats quickly made waves spreading across the world with its killer sound and vibe, influencing generations that would come after.

Afrobeats was distinct from other genres. It combined high-energy, electric, groovy music with political undertones creating a mass appeal that had people thumping and chanting in the streets.

Hypnotic, mystical and untamable, the Afrobeats pioneer, Fela, used it to propel messages of social change, African identity and revolution.

“With music I create change… I am using my music as a weapon,” he once said.

Fela was undeniably addictive in personality and unmatchable in music. He created such memorable hits as ‘Yeye De Smell’, ‘Gentleman’ ‘Lady’ and ‘Zombie’, while still having the free time to perform such legendary personal acts as forming the Political Party Movement of the People (MOP) and running for president twice, and infamously marrying 28 women in a single ceremony and eventually divorcing them all.

He affected dozens of musicians both during his lifetime and after. Paul McCartney who traveled to Lagos in the 70s to see him perform, hailed him and his band “The best band he had ever seen alive.” Virtually every Nigerian artiste from a range of generations, including Tuface and Wizkid, have been influenced by him in some way.

But Fela was not alone. The eighties saw a height of Highlife music; a jazzy combination of western instruments and African expressions. Beginning in different parts of West Africa like Ghana, Sierra Leone and Nigeria in the 1920’s, Highlife combined instruments like the African drums, harmonicas, guitars, trumpets and accordions to produce sound that delighted people for decades.

Records like High Life by Sonny Okosun, Yellow Sisi by Dr. Orlando, Sweet Mother by Prince Nico Mbarga, Gowon Special by Jim Rex Lawson changed the landscape of music, making it that much sweeter.

Much celebrated and immeasurably talented Highlife Singer Victor Olaiya, and his band the ‘Cool Cats’, later renamed the ‘All Stars Band’, actually hold a place in history, performing for Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to Nigeria and during the Independence and Republic celebrations in the 60’s. A renowned trumpeter, Dr. Olaiya is still active today, collaborating with Tuface in as late as 2013 for the song “Baby Mi Da”.

One of the most influential musicians of our time and Master of Juju music, King Sunny Ade also has roots in Highlife, tutored by Moses Olaiya, more popularly known as comedic genius Baba Sala at the beginning of his career.

King Sunny Ade's songs
King Sunny Ade

He evolved, becoming one of the greatest proponents of Juju music in history. In fact, the release of his album ‘Juju Music’ to overwhelming critical acclaim, cemented him as a critical music icon of our time. The New York Times credits him with beginning the “world beat movement” in the United States.

The first African to be nominated for two Grammys and a pioneer in sound and technique, he continues to inspire a new wave of musicians such as Lagbaja.

And who can forget Michael Jackson? The undisputed King of Pop, undoubtedly one of the best performers of all time, the eighties were an integral period in Michael Jackson’s career. He created some of his most beloved songs ‘Thriller’, ‘Billy Jean’, ‘Bad’, Beat it, Smooth Criminal. The list is seemingly endless.

He transformed music into Art. Even after his death, he’s remembered as the one of the most beloved musicians and innovators in his music, fashion and dance moves. Everyone knows the moonwalk.

All this great music was pushed on the then revolutionary new technology, the compact disc- CD’s. Created in a joint effort between tech giants Sony and Phillips, it became the primary method of distributing music for the next thirty years. In that time over 200 billion CD’s have been sold.

But all this was just the beginning. If the eighties brought revolution, the nineties brought magic.


  • How and why Fela Kuti married 28 women in a day – OldNaija
  • Jaguda – Nigeria’s leading music blog
  • All you need to know about Felabration – OldNaija
  • Trace Magazine
Cite this article as: Teslim Omipidan. (March 22, 2019). The Evolution of Afrobeats – The Great 80s. OldNaija. Retrieved from https://oldnaija.com/2019/03/22/the-evolution-of-afrobeats-the-great-80s/

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