Fela Kuti (1938 - 1997)
Lifespan: 1938 - 1997
Related: AIDS - Afrobeat - Roy Ayers - Tony Allen - black music - African music - Yoruba
Unidentified photograph of Fela Kuti
Cover of a Japanese Fela Kuti compilation album
To the Pan-African world, Fela was a towering figure who arguably combined elements of pure artistry, political perseverance, and a mystic, spiritual consciousness in a way that no other individual ever has. Musically, he achieved a level comparable to Miles Davis, James Brown, Thelonius Monk, and Bob Marley. At times, he was a Peter Tosh or a Sun Ra, yet more. Politically, he subscribed to the point of view of Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah, Malcolm X, and Kwame Ture. Spiritually, less is known about Fela, except that his spiritual vision grew from the African tradition and his belief in the sublime power of musicians. -- Carter Van Pelt, 1997
Fela is to African music what Bob Marley is to reggae; its prophet and ambassador. From house to hip-hop, techno to two-step, arguably all of today’s black music owes something to the man hailed as the James Brown of Africa - and his music: Afrobeat! This legacy is now being put through the sampler and brought up to 2000, with the support of Fela's son Femi - now carrying the Afrobeat mantle. [Aug 2006]
BiographyFela Anikulapo Kuti (b. Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, October 15, 1938 - August 2, 1997), or simply "Fela", was a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist musician and composer, pioneer of Afrobeat music, human rights activist and political maverick. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fela_Kuti [Aug 2005]
Fela Kuti's music had already enjoyed popularity on New York dance floors of the seventies and eighties - Shakara for example being a regular loft classic - but the late 1990s saw a resurgence in Fela Kuti's popularity with releases such as the 1998 "A Tribute To Fela" by Masters at Work to testify. [Aug 2006]
In 1995, Eno told the BBC, "I listen to [Fela] over and over and over again. I have more albums by him than by any other single artist . . . I listen particularly to the way the bass is used; that's what really interests me about these records. The use of the bass as an instrument that is both percussive and melodic at the same time. "
When did you first get into Fela's music?
Bill Laswell: When I started listening to Cream and stuff, I started to read interviews with people like Ginger [Baker] about where they were getting their stuff from. Just like Clapton was getting ideas from blues guys, I realized that rhythm musicians were getting a lot of information from Africa. I immediately started looking for the records, especially Afrobeat. Just that syncopation, the up feel. You get ideas about putting rhythms together. Those early bands Fela had were really tight. Just like when this African guy told me James Brown had just 'messed him up,' Fela had bands that were almost like that. I don't think as aggressively tight, but it had a feel, an Afrobeat, African feel, with a modern sound. - Jay Babcock
- Zombie - Fela Anikulapo-Kuti & The Egypt 80 Band [1 CD, Amazon US] [FR] [DE] [UK]
1. Zombie 2. Mister Follow Follow 3. Observation Is No Crime 4. Mistake (Live At The Berlin Jazz Festival 1978)
The theme shared by the four tracks on this re-release/compilation is: refusal to ignore contemporary reality and refusal to repress one's commentary. "Zombie" (1976) may still be the best-known and best-loved Fela track, with its jagged yet hypnotic instrumental structure and insouciant humor. Here it sounds better than ever before. Its original b-side, "Mr. Follow Follow", is not nearly as iconic, but its subtler charms include a senuous soprano saxophone line that is among Fela's most distinctive melodic statements. "Observation is No Crime" is an outtake from 1977 or '78 (mislabeled in the liner notes as a live track) which represents Fela's love of jazz arrangements with a big-band approach to the horn charts. The track's lack of momentum probably contributed to its relegation to obscurity. The final track here actually is a live one, from a 1978 Berlin jazz festival which in retrospect mirrors Dylan's riotous 1965-66 appearances, with a roar of disapproval greeting Fela's every instrumental move (he plays keyboards more hamfistedly than usual in response); the Africa 70, who would soon leave the bandleader en masse for reasons of pay and exhaustion after years of government harassment, solo inspiredly and play at peak energy, capping an amazing era in music and a fine collection.
- Fela Kuti - Open and Close/Afrodisiac [1 CD, Amazon US]
I first heard the track "Open and Close" on WKCR (NYC/Columbia U.) on their late night soul, funk, and afro-beat program Night Train. I was just getting into Fela, and I was completely blown away by this particular track, which I still think contains some of Fela's best vocal work. Unfortunately, the album of the same name was only available on a fairly rare import reissue.
Now Open and Close appears together with the enormously funky album Afrodisiac (I don't remember what it formerly appeared with), and the pairing combines to make what is probably my favorite Fela disc. The horns are bright and fiery, the grooves are tight, and they range from super fast funk to molasses-slow grinds. When Amazon finally gets around to making an "Essential Fela" list (it's about time!), I recommend they include this. -- joshua-one for amazon.com
- Fela Kuti - Army Arrangement[Amazon US]
For collectors like me, it is great to finally have the original version of "Army Arrangement" available on CD. The early 80s release of "Army Arrangement" was re-mixed by Bill Laswell in the hope of finally getting Fela some cross-over success. What they got instead was a syrupy, poppy, disco-y, keyboard infused piece of garbage that Fela fans hated and the un-indoctrinated ignored. Here we finally get the full 30-minute jam in its original glory, along with a five-times longer account of "Government Chicken Boy" (29:15 here but only 5:47 on the original Celluloid release!). Despite this much improved mix, most of Fela's material with Egypt 80 is still be too keyboard driven for my tastes, and the biggest reason for my withholding a fifth star. Of course, all of the Fela reissues are really indispensable, and you should get them while you can. Michael B Richman for amazon.com
- Expensive Shit/He Miss Road - Fela Anikulapo-Kuti & The Egypt 80 Band [1 CD, Amazon US]
1975's Expensive Shit is paired on this new MCA reissue with He Miss Road, another Kuti release from that same year. The album's centerpiece, lead-off and title track was undoubtedly one of the most influential tracks to the Afro-beat movement, and to artists like the Talking Heads, who experimented with similar tribal rhythms on Fear of Music and their landmark album, 1980's Remain in Light. Its complex, bongo- centric percussion is tempered with funk guitar, discordant piano, and brass eruptions. And when, six minutes into the semi-improvisational, instrumental jam, Kuti awakens with a yowl and begins his political rant, he changes music forever. - Paul Cooper [...]
- Red Hot + Riot: The Music and Spirit of Fela Kuti (2002) [1 CD, Amazon US]
Never has there been a more appropriate Red Hot tribute than this one dedicated to the music of Afrobeat founder Fela Kuti, the Nigerian legend who died from AIDS-related complications in 1997. The artists and groups heard here, nearly 40 all told, cover the musical spectrum: hip-hop (Blackalicious, Roots), jazz (Roy Hargrove, Archie Shepp); soul (Sade, D'Angelo), Afrobeat (Tony Allen, Femi Kuti), world music (Baaba Maal, Jorge Ben), electronic music (Mixmaster Mike, Money Mark) and rock (Nile Rodgers). They have come together to raise money for the 25 million Africans now infected with the AIDS/HIV virus. Red Hot efforts often pair different artists together on the same song, and this album features many once-in-a-lifetime collaborations. Fela's music has been refashioned and mixed together here according to the styles of the artists, rendering several of the 20 songs barely recognizable in comparison with the originals. But such is the strength of Fela's music that even such singular-sounding artists as Macy Gray and Dead Prez get into the Afrobeat spirit of things. --Tad Hendrickson for amazon.com
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