Sunday, July 19, 2020

PBS Short Fest ‘20: The Birth of Afrobeat

You can definitely say jazz drummer Max Roach was influential. He inspired an entire genre of music with one Downbeat article. At least, that is how the late, great Tony Allen explains it—and he should know. He is the one who applied Roach’s lessons playing with Fela Kuti. Allen looks back on the beginning of his career and forward to new projects in Opiyo Okeyo’s all-too-brief short documentary, The Birth of Afrobeat, which is far-and-away the best film streaming as part of the PBS Short Film Festival.

Hopefully, Okeyo extensively recorded Allen, both in performances and interviews, while he had the chance. Sadly, the great drummer passed away on April 30
th, but his legendary powers were not the slightest bit diminished when he performed and recorded with the Chicago Afrobeat Project. Several bandmembers duly express what an honor and thrill it was to collaborate with Allen, but they clearly have some pretty funky chops themselves.

Okeyo and co-cinematographer Michael Gabriele shot the film in black-and-white, which well suits the vibe of Chicago’s gritty and edgy jazz scene. He also incorporates some retro-style animation to illustrate Allen’s Afrobeat creation story. Everything about the film is very cool. The only problem is it is just too short. Allen could easily carry a full-length feature documentary, so hopefully that is what Okeyo ultimately has in mind.

Birth of Afrobeat certainly leaves viewers wanting more, so go explore the music of Allen, Fela Kuti, The Chicago Afrobeat Project, and Max Roach too. Highly recommended as s neat thing to watch on the internet (but seriously, we want too see it expanded), The Birth of Afrobeat screens online through July 24th, as the best selection of the PBS Short Film Festival.