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"In Calabar they have over two hundred inches of rain a year. This night they proved it. Everybody got soaked. It's a wonder no one got electrocuted."
April 5, 2012 4:43 PM   Subscribe

Seven intense minutes of Fela Kuti and The Africa '70 performing in a night club in Calabar, a small Nigerian port city, in 1971, filmed by Ginger Baker. Seven years later, in one of their last performances before The Africa '70 disbanded, they performed at the Berlin Jazz Festival: V.I.P. (Vagabonds In Power), Power Show, Pansa Pansa (part 2), Cross Examination of the African Colonial Soldier.
posted by Kattullus (36 comments total) 75 users marked this as a favorite

 
Intense minutes are the only minutes with Fela Kuti.
posted by Hoopo at 4:53 PM on April 5, 2012 [12 favorites]


I've been aware of Fela for a long time, but have only recently started exploring his work due to a growing interest in Africa '70's drummer, Tony Allen. Any tips regarding a good entry point for listening to his body of work?
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:17 PM on April 5, 2012


This is just pure awesome. Thank you.
posted by slackdog at 5:21 PM on April 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


A while back they put out a double-cd best-of called something like "The Best Best of Fela Kuti" which has some great music and informative liner notes (although I don't remember any mention of Tony Allen).
posted by wobh at 5:30 PM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm of the opinion that musically Fela Kuti could do no wrong when he was backed by The Africa '70. I'm fond of Sorrow Tears and Blood, Zombie and Gentleman, but you honestly can't go wrong with any 1970s Fela Kuti album.
posted by Kattullus at 5:33 PM on April 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


Any tips regarding a good entry point for listening to his body of work?

To be honest, most of his recordings hew to a particular structural mold, so in that respect you're going to have a hard time finding something like a short, easy single to start out with. Still, check out "Zombie", from the eponymous album; it's one of his most well-known tunes and one of his most memorable grooves (plus some awesome, shifting and surprisingly delicate snare work from Tony Allen). After that, I'd listen to "Water No Get Enemy" off of the album Expensive Shit (there's a great story behind the title), the sort-of-scat accompaniment to the horn line in the chorus reminds me (in a good way, if you can believe it) of those bossa-lite orchestras that flourished for a little bit in the sixties.
posted by invitapriore at 5:34 PM on April 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


The Gentleman link was supposed to point here.
posted by Kattullus at 5:36 PM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Best Best of Fela Kuti isn't bad, but I think Two Sides of Fela: Jazz & Dance is a better compilation.

Or, if you're a start-at-the-beginning type, seek out the three-disc Koolas Lobitos box (it's more highlife than Afrobeat, though).

Of those two-albums-on-one-CD MCA/Wrasse/Knitting Factory reissues, my favorites are probably Confusion/Gentleman and Expensive Shit/He Miss Road.

One more entry point, but this one's just for the Roy Ayers superfans: Music of Many Colours.
posted by box at 5:38 PM on April 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, one of my favorite Tony Allen grooves is actually on the track "I No Get Eye For Back," from Alagbon Close. Nothing fancy, but it's got a nice little antecedent-consequent structure even though it's only a measure long, very satisfying.

Also, thanks for the video, Kattullus. Such a pleasure to watch them in the flesh.
posted by invitapriore at 5:39 PM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Another goodie is Kalakuta Show
posted by dydecker at 5:39 PM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


(If you're specifically interested in Tony Allen, you might also enjoy the stuff released under his own name: Jealousy/Progress, No Accommodation for Lagos/No Discrimination and the electro-Afrobeat-ish N.E.P.A..

He also had a sort-of renaissance in the 2000s and 2010s, hanging out with Damon Albarn and Jimi Tenor and people like that.)
posted by box at 5:47 PM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


That first clip is fabulous. I loved the sign of The Luna Nightclub at the end and the cutaway to the neighborhood. Went to find out more about the club. The blog With Comb and Razor talks about his view of the Luna when he was growing up. (And it's an awesome blog)

He says the neighborhood was dicey, and a further search indicates that the Luna is still in operation (across from the Nelson Mandela) and the neighborhood is currently a very dangerous area for cult groups.

Great post, Kattullus, thanks.
posted by madamjujujive at 5:54 PM on April 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Any tips regarding a good entry point for listening to his body of work?

Well, you could do what I did, which is to get a copy of Army Arrangement and listen to it over and over and over, but admittedly this was before the Internet and easy access to all the world's music.
posted by benito.strauss at 5:58 PM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh my, that yellow paisley jumpsuit!
posted by ssg at 5:59 PM on April 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thank you all for the suggestions (and thanks to Kattalus for sharing some pretty sublime links). I apologize for the selfish derail here - the link deserves more attention than my Fela ignorance.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:00 PM on April 5, 2012


Any tips regarding a good entry point for listening to his body of work?

Play Crosseyed and Painless by Talking Heads and then play Zombie by Fela Kuti and then have a discussion about musical possibilities and then listen to more Fela.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:03 PM on April 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is just pure awesome. Thank you.
posted by slackdog


Agreed!
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:06 PM on April 5, 2012


get a copy of Army Arrangement and listen to it over and over and over

If you do this, you might wish to avoid (or seek out, what do I know?) the overdub-heavy Celluloid version.

"When Kuti was jailed, Army Arrangement was awaiting release by Paris-based Celluloid Records, who had made a deal to rerelease some of his back catalogue along with the new album. Believing, misguidedly, that the tapes needed invasive attention, Celluloid first asked Dennis Bovell to do a remix. Because Bovell was unavailable immediately, Celluloid house producer Bill Laswell was drafted in. Laswell was dismissive of the album, scrubbed all Kuti's solos, added synthesized percussion, speeded it up and brought in Bernie Worrell and Sly Dunbar to overdub new keyboard and drum parts. Friends smuggled a tape of the Celluloid album into jail for Kuti to hear. "Listening to it was worse than being in prison," he said later."
posted by box at 6:08 PM on April 5, 2012 [7 favorites]


Very nice, and weirdly playful.
posted by OmieWise at 6:32 PM on April 5, 2012


In my comment above I was trying to say that the Talking Heads album Remain in Light could be a way to introduce someone to Fela Kuti's music, because a lot of the tracks on that album are quite consciously westernized versions of Kuti's music. If you already know Remain in Light then Kuti's music will seem familiar. Also, if Remain in Light is already old and familier, you might not know Fela's Riff (Unfinished Outtake), which wasn't released until the later remastered CD release of the album.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:48 PM on April 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


Seconding the comment above about the debt that Remain in Light owes to Fela. In any event, it's a great place to start. Even better is to start with some live performances of Remain in Light, because those are even more kindred spirits.
posted by blucevalo at 7:14 PM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Remain in Light absolutely, and also Naked. I like how they get such great grooves on those records. (Heh) Which is also a big reason I love African music, and Fela Kuti is one of my favorites. Thanks for the post, this is awesome!!!!
posted by Eekacat at 7:31 PM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Fela meant many things to those who knew him both up close and from afar. To some he was a rebel, rabble-rouser, lady killer, human rights activist, musical pioneer, GENIUS! His music and philosophies continue to inspire and astound listeners many years after his untimely passing. Here's what a few of his many peers and admirers had to say about the man, his myth and of course, his music."
posted by shoesfullofdust at 8:13 PM on April 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


If you do this, you might wish to avoid (or seek out, what do I know?) the overdub-heavy Celluloid version.

box, that's an interesting story. I'll have to find my old LP and see if it's Celluloid. But it would make sense, as I frequently hear my favorite work by an artist dismissed as "overproduced". I probably owe Fela a posthumous apology.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:55 PM on April 5, 2012


Thanks for the insanely beautiful music. Was going to sleep early tonight but after watching that, probably not now.

Speaking of Tony Allen, here's one of my favorite songs with eminently sensible lyrics: Road Safety.
posted by honestcoyote at 8:57 PM on April 5, 2012


Ginger Baker and Fela did a live LP together that features and absolute monster of an opening track.
posted by jade east at 9:29 PM on April 5, 2012


This makes me v v v happy.
posted by PinkMoose at 10:30 PM on April 5, 2012


I stumbled upon a Fela Kuti/De La Soul mashup a while ago (Fela Soul), created by Gummy Soul artist Amerigo Gazaway. You can see some of it here, here, and here.
posted by KillaSeal at 12:29 AM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


He also had a sort-of renaissance in the 2000s and 2010s, hanging out with Damon Albarn and Jimi Tenor and people like that

Am I the only one that bought Psyco On Da Bus? Tony Allen and his band playing on the tour bus between Montreal and Toronto, mixed by some French DJ. There are tracks where the bus reversing beep sound is looped. Weird kind of record, but I really liked it.
posted by Hoopo at 12:33 AM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


A while back they put out a double-cd best-of called something like "The Best Best of Fela Kuti" which has some great music and informative liner notes (although I don't remember any mention of Tony Allen).
posted by wobh at 8:30 PM on April 5


Anthologies like that are good for an introduction, but once you\re past that, it is well worth exploring his complete discograpy as there are many, many gems as the packagers of that Y2K anthology missed personal favorites like Excuse O and an early version of Black Man's Cry on a recording with Ginger Baker.

Fela has the distinction of being the Miles Davis, Bob Marley, James Brown, Charles Mingus and Larry Young of African music, with an intentional lysergic emphasis.

His music represents a missing link in late '70s music, as he's doing a non-electric fusion of Blue Note style jazz, funk and psychedelia. Instead of the infectious 10" and 15" jams of Fela and the Africa 70, American commercial (and alternative music embraced the mellifuos tones of producer Creed Taylor and gems such as Freddie Hubbard's Red Clay and Chic Corea's Reurn to Forever. And then there's the issue of those long jams being inappropiate for American radio, simply due to their length.

What is rarely mentioned is that Fela's (and Tony Allen's) soundscape was appropriated by the Talking Heads, Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. (Brian Eno and David Byrne discuss Fela's influence on them here.)

There are bits of Fela's influence scattered across everything that Eno produced during this period (see Talking Heads, Remain in Light), and the tympani percussion of U2's October, not to mention plenty of New Wave music that came out of New York in the early 80's. Like the Blues guitarists before him, American music owes Fela an inestimable debt.

If British director Steve McQueen's Fela biopic (due in 2013) is any good, we're all going to see another great wae of interest in Anikulapo Kuti that wiill exceed the acclaim of the Broadway show. Chiwetel Ejiofor is slated to star, but I would have preferred Don Cheadle.
posted by vhsiv at 3:21 AM on April 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'd love to hear this with cleaner audio.

Saw Fela and his massive entourage live just once, around 1989 or so. Amazing and I still remember it vividly. Lucky me.
posted by spitbull at 5:25 AM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


(The story gets better: Celluloid also released a non-Laswell version.)
posted by box at 5:36 AM on April 6, 2012


The first video kind of disappointed me. I absolutely love Fela's music, but I found the way his female dancers were treated in the first video pretty disrespectful.
posted by louigi at 6:49 AM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well louigi, he had 27 wives that lived in his walled compound that he claimed was his own sovereign territory so I suspect you'll have a lot more to be disappointed with.
posted by Hoopo at 10:00 AM on April 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


The "lot more to be disappointed with" also includes a pretty big one: Fela Kuti was an AIDS denialist, claiming it was a rumor invented by white people to scare black people so they wouldn't have sex. Because Fela Kuti's opinion counted for a lot, given his monumental status as a folk hero, that probably ended up hurting a lot of people. It's tragically ironic that Fela Kuti himself ended up dying of AIDS, denying that he was sick all the way to the grave.

He's one of many for whom I separate the life from the music. And what joyous music it is. Thanks for this, Kattullus.
posted by koeselitz at 11:45 PM on April 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


ORIGINAL
NO ARTIFICIALITY
posted by pxe2000 at 9:04 AM on April 8, 2012


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