Fela Kuti in London

Mike noticed that today was the 10 anniversary of the magnificent Fela Kuti’s death. There are only a few deceased musicians I would have really liked to have met in person, Fela was one. Most musicians are really just ordinary people who happen to make interesting (or not) music, Fela was more.

The Best Best of Fela Kuti
“The Best Best of Fela Kuti” (Fela Kuti)

You cannot have too much Fela in your house.

Ben Ratliff wrote (in 2000):

Album of the Week – New York Times:
FELA KUTI: ”Shakara/Fela’s London Scene” (MCA). For a foreign musician who didn’t have a serious audience stronghold in the United States during his life, MCA’s reissue program of Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s 1970’s and 80’s records — there will be 10 CD’s by the end of the year — borders on extraordinary.

This, the first of the CD reissues, combines two early 1970’s records by Nigeria 70, which is what the Nigerian band leader called his ensemble after returning from a nine-month American stay in 1969.

Fela absorbed James Brown wholesale — the scrubbed rhythm guitar over drum patterns, the intermittent horn-section bursts, the leader’s hectoring vocal cries as he directed the band to change rhythm, ushered in choirs, played keyboards. But there is more to it than that. This music stays with single ideas even longer than Mr. Brown’s most truculent stretches, and Fela’s intensity is broader: the music was a political platform as well as an emotional one.

The percussion, the seat of both men’s music, is entirely different: some of the funkiest sections of Fela’s long tunes like ”Who’re You” and ”Fight to Finish” rely on combinations of Tony Allen’s waxing-and-waning drum kit patterns and an array of shakers, congas and tapped wood and metal. (Making the cultural exchange come back around, Mr. Brown, who visited Lagos in 1970, borrowed from Fela in return, as examined in Michael Veal’s forthcoming book

Fela: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon
Fela: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon

A word for Mr. Allen, the band director during this period of Fela’s career: he can’t be beat. Everything he does here is spread out, spacious, an inversion of tight, popping American funk patterns. On these records he uses toms as American funk drummers used cymbals and vice versa, and the incredible drama in the space between the music’s slithering quiet moments and its climaxes is due in large part to his great skill.

Really, can’t go wrong with these albums. Play one at your next party, about an hour from when the party starts grooving. You’ll see what I mean.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.