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The Soul (and Funk) of Africa

by Rachel Devitt

The Soul (and Funk) of Africa

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Fela Kuti ignited a revolution -- socially as well as musically -- when he paired his love of jazz and funk with African pop and traditional musical forms like highlife and juju in the 1960s and '70s. And while the fiery genre he called Afrobeat often gets the lion's share of the spotlight (especially given his personal and political antics), Fela had his share of funky contemporaries, including his cousins the Lijadu Sisters, not to mention Beninese artists like El Rego who were spawning their own Afro-funk tradition called "jerk."

In Nigeria and other nearby nations, Fela and his cohorts also helped shape a tradition of soul-slinging that blended pop and politics. That tradition continues today with artists like Fela's own sons, along with Nigerian-German singer-songwriter Nneka, whose gut-grabbing, socially conscious, R&B-leaning "Naija-pop" has helped spark yet another revolution in Africa and beyond.