Controversy over who created Afrobeat cleared


By Nehru Odeh

The controversy over who created Afrobeat has finally been laid to rest, as Lemi Ghariokwu, the artist who illustrated Fela’s album covers for 18 years (1974 -1992) has said Fela is the sole creator of Afrobeat. He made this claim in a statement entitled: Fela Kuti and Tony Allen: Mek I talk my own o he posted on his Facebook page on 14 May, 2020.

“I can authoritatively attest to the fact that he (Fela) normally composed his songs single handedly (and I was privy to the rationale behind many of those songs). He would usually score the music on a sheet of paper and may adjust until he is satisfied. He asks for rehearsals to be set up for the new song. There he shared out the parts to be played by every single musician in the band,” Ghariokwu said.

Ghariokwu also said though Tony Allen was a highly gifted master drummer for whom he had great respect, he never created Afrobeat with  Fela.

Late Tony Allen, famous drummer and former musical director of late Fela Kuti band Africa (Photo credit: NAN)

“Tony was a highly gifted world class drummer as he has proven himself to be on the global scale. Master drummer per excellence. No one can take that away from him. All said and done I do not see a rationale and need to convert Tony’s role in Fela’s band to that of a co-creator at all. History must be served right I believe. This is my major reason to lend my voice to this debate. Had kept quiet until now just for reason of respect for the recent demise of Tony Allen. I knew both Fela and Tony quite well. My love, respect and admiration for both men remain unflinching. I’m further inspired for greatness by their individual accomplishments and that is what Africa needs so badly most of all,” he explained.

Ghariokwu, still trying to set the records straight, explained that though Allen and Fela were always in sync with each other, the later (Allen) always made sure “he played his drums impeccably to the master’s (Fela) full satisfaction.”

“I can remember also precisely how Tony Allen was always in syncopation and quick to flow with the rhythm. He occasionally is able to present some alternative beats for Fela to choose from. I never for the life of me see Fela get upset with Tony Allen on the drums at all. Fela would chastise an erring musician on stage like an emperor. Tony was untouchably just so cool and perfect timing was his second nature. He played his drums impeccably to the master’s full satisfaction. I believe this should be the normal thing for a great team mate,” he said.

When legendary drummer, Tony Allen, recently passed on, the story went the round that he co-created Afrobeat with the legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti. However,  Fela’s daughter , Yeni Kuti came out on YourView, all all-female chat show on TVC to debunk it, saying that Fela was the only one who created Afrobeat.  “Nobody created Afrobeat with Fela. They are all trying to rewrite history,” she averred. Sandra Izsadore, the lady who influenced Fela’s kind of music also supported her in a Facebook comment