Highlife Jazz: A Stylistic Analysis of the Music of Fela Anikulapo Kuti

By Oikelome, Albert O. | Journal of Pan African Studies, December 2009 | Go to article overview
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Highlife Jazz: A Stylistic Analysis of the Music of Fela Anikulapo Kuti

Oikelome, Albert O., Journal of Pan African Studies


A major challenge to the study of African music is the apparent scarcity of materials on urban popular music and a stylistic study of their structure. This view is well articulated by Omibiyi (1981) when she concurs that it is mandatory that scholars broaden their scope of study to include all varieties of musical styles current in contemporary Nigeria. Corroborating this statement are the works of Akpabot (1998) and Adegbite (2006). According to Akpabot (1998), African music should attract, to a very large extent, scholarly enquiries on analysis of its forms and styles. He stressed further that we should talk structurally rather than descriptively about African Music. Adegbite (2006) also observed that although the level of research into African popular music traditions has increased in recent years, studies devoted to stylistic study of Nigerian popular music remain few.

There is therefore the need to undertake a stylistic study of African popular music the view to understanding the fragments that has been intelligently woven together to make the music a unique phenomenon. In considering musical style as an instrument of sympathetic communication and aesthetic sociability, we would also be able to learn a great deal from situation of musical change concerning the ways in which aesthetic behaviour and its consequences as a variable in socio-cultural life (Mukarovsky, 1970).

Theoretical considerations of this sort, however, can be pursued only against a background of conceptual definition, ethnographic and historical and stylistic description. It is the intention if this paper to investigate the stylistic dimensions of Fela' Anikulapo Kuti'si music in the sixties. In doing this, we would identify the principles underlying the highlife jazz that evolved at the time, identify the musical elements that were incorporated into the music and suggest some fruitful directions that future theoretical and analytical enquiry of other popular music genres might take. Fela incorporated both foreign and local styles in the creation of the highlife jazz. The challenge then is to identify these styles and see how Fela incorporated them into a distinctive genre. Hence, the study will not only be targeting the stylistic components used in the music but also postulate reasons for their inclusion in the body of works. This will help in better appreciation of the forms and structure of the musical genre.

Conceptual Framework

The theoretical framework for this study is based on the concept of identity. Identity has been defined as the set of characteristics that somebody recognizes as belonging uniquely to himself or herself and constituting his or her individual personality for life. This definition describes identity as that unique trait that marks somebody or person out from someone else (Palmberg, 2003). According to Strokes (1994), it is first and foremost the unique individuality of a person. The development of personality is characterized by individual and collective membership in a community. Keller (1992) opined that in traditional societies, one's identity was fixed, solid and stable. Everyone is born and dies as a member of one family or clan, a member of a fixed kinship system. However, this concept of a stable identity was widely criticized by Jacques Lacan (1975/1991). Stating the reason for the criticism, Lacan claimed that the individual subject is decentered. There is no autonomous self. A central thesis in Lacan's theory is that the ego, or the personal identity, is constituted in relation to others (parents, friends, relatives, the mass media etc.). The Identity is thus constantly undergoing changes which are dependent on our relationship with others. According to Lacan, it is impossible to talk about stable identity. Instead, identity can be discussed in terms of preliminary structuring of the subject (Lacan 1975/1991).The implication of Lacan's thesis therefore is that identity is formed in relation to the different agents of socialization: family, school, and work, peer group, the mass media and so on.

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Highlife Jazz: A Stylistic Analysis of the Music of Fela Anikulapo Kuti


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