The Rise of Afro Fusion
Fate has a funny way of revealing itself. What began as a friendly chance meeting between Atlanta neighbors has now blossomed into an ambitious, cutting-edge production music partnership that's poised to inject the industry with some much-needed beats.
Afrobeats, that is.
And not just Afrobeats, but a hybrid project that incorporates both the steady, percussive stomp of the traditional Afrobeat sound, as purveyed by its pioneer, Fela Kuti, as well as dollops of dance hall, pinches of pop, hip-hop, electronic music and a whole lot more. The result of that random encounter between Nigerian music producer Arinze Iheme and Level 77 Music CEO Patrick Avard is a synthesis of many musical tributaries, and their collaborative efforts have yielded an exciting new album, dubbed Afro Fusion.
The Atlanta-based Level 77 Music has already secured a reputation as a leader in spectrum-spanning production music for film scores, commercials, YouTube videos, TV shows and beyond. First launched by Avard in 2016, Level 77 was designed to help users tell their stories through the high-impact work that has earned many of its contributing artists, producers and composers recognition in mainstream music and entertainment circles. Avard's music has been featured on Netflix's Cheer, America's Got Talent and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Other Level 77 producers have been featured in numerous television projects, including Hulu, Fox Sports, ESPN, ABC and more.
When Arinze and Avard met as neighbors in their community and found out they both made music, they made a plan to visit each other's studios. Avard learned that Arinze focused on Afrobeats music, and very quickly, a collaboration began between the two producers. This spark ignited the fire that yielded the innovative mashup of tracks found on Afro Fusion.
"I love the idea of Afrobeats," says Avard. "It's cutting-edge, it's right on trend, and this is something that interests me as a creative company. We always try to innovate and do something that has never been done before, so Afrobeats—and specifically Afro Fusion—is something I've never heard in a production music library."
The popularity of Afrobeats has been on the rise since the early 2000s, combining the wide-ranging sounds of West African music with eclectic genres like hiplife, jùjú, highlife and Caribbean pop. Netflix has even recently debuted an engaging documentary called Afrobeats: The Backstory. Clearly, Level 77 and Arinze have struck their partnership while the iron, as they say, is red hot.
"Afrobeats … it's a whole vibe," explains producer Maestro Bobby. "It's a whole feeling. You can't listen to Afrobeats and not feel it. I can't express all of it; that's why you need to listen to this music."
The album's 15 tracks—five of which contain incredible vocals—explore fertile sonic real estate, folding in a cornucopia of musical influences together with Afrobeats to create a versatile underscore for film, TV and advertising projects. The beat-heavy thud of Afro Fusion is imbued with an authenticity that is the direct result of Level 77's unique framework of allowing full creative control for its composers once there is a mutual vision conjured. Having Level 77's hands on every piece of the final product ensures everything the company produces goes through a level of review and ultimately provides consistency across their music productions, regardless of the composers and artists involved.
For Arinze, this artistic freedom coalesced into a stunning collection of pop-tinged bangers that come straight from the heart, and which bring many Nigerian artists living in Atlanta into the mix. There is a global undercurrent that resonates heavily into the production, too, with Pidgin, English, Yoruba and Igbo languages represented throughout the vocal tracks.
The somewhat improvised nature of Afrobeats is exemplified by rapper/writer Tito, whose presence on vocals is driven by pure feeling, riding the melodic wave of summer-ready jams on Afro Fusion, often without the benefit of a safety net.
"I use my past, experiences, and how I'm feeling to relate it to the people. That's how I write my music," explained Tito. "When I listen to a beat, I already know what fits in with it. It's all in my head."
Indeed, Avard and Arinze both acknowledge that when vocalists add their lyrics to the tracks, they almost never put pen to paper; instead, they put their feelings and how the beat moves and makes them feel directly into the lyrics of the songs.
While the seeds of the music are infused by creative spontaneity, there is a meticulous process employed by Level 77's braintrust once the tracks have been conceived that catapults Afro Fusion's chameleonic breadth to a polished, license-ready sheen. Once the tracks are created, they come back to Level 77, whose engineers conduct a final mix and master to completion. The team also goes through a series of revisions, as needed, between Avard, executive producer Jason Rudd and CTO/lead engineer Anthony Arasi to make sure the resulting product is perfectly executed. For Level 77, there will always be a consistent level of high-quality sound, professionalism and excellence at the forefront of their diverse library.
"When I first heard the project, I was instantly taken by the clever use of drums and percussion," says Arasi. "In this genre, drums and vocals usually reign supreme, and that was no different here. I really focused on maintaining the body and warmth of these unique-sounding hits and instruments in the post-production."
The technical precision given to the mixing and mastering by Arasi helped to hone the aural aesthetic of the album, enhancing it to bloom into its lush, final product.
"Panning was a huge factor in the mixing process, making sure that every production element has its own sonic space carved out," continues Arasi. "This was important, given how many nuanced things were happening in the rhythm section. Some of these songs have 30-40 tracks of percussion, so it was fun to make it all gel together.
"I think anyone familiar with the genre who hears these tracks will instantly recognize the sound as something that needs a lot more exposure in the production music world, and we're proud to play a part in helping make that happen."
The Level 77 team, and especially Avard, are over the moon about what they've helped bring into the world.
"The finished product of our Afro Fusion album sounds even better than I could've ever imagined," says Avard. "It's truly authentic! This music will make anyone who hears it feel the passion that went into creating it.
"I am really excited to share Afro Fusion with our clients. The tracks are really universal. I could hear them in a movie, on television or in a commercial. This album has no limits!"