So what do you get when you combine James Brown’s funk with traditional Nigerian rhythms, make the songs go for 20mins plus and throw on top one of the most charismatic , cheeky, provocative and revolutionary front men the world has ever seen? That’s easy, you get Fela.
The music he made was called Afrobeat and his influence continues unabated today. It’s because Fela Kuti is not just music, it’s a movement that just happened to create some of the funkiest slabs of ass shaking joyousness you will ever hear albeit with a political edge. Fela was larger than life, he founded a commune in Nigeria, declaring it an independent state, smoked dope openly, married all 27 of his dancers and back up singers in the one ceremony, and attempted to run for parliament. He was a constant thorn in the side of the military dictatorship and he and his followers were repeatedly beaten, raped and thrown in prison for their anti authoritarian stance.
He sang in Pidgin English, combining stabbing brass with repetitive bass grooves, kit and hand percussion, sleazy organ and the incredible shrill cries of his call and response back up singers. This ‘best of’ collection was compiled by his son Femi, who was a member of his band, but also continued his legacy as a solo artist in his own right. All the hits are here on this two cd set (which has been released previously), including Lady, Zombie, Shuffering and Smiling, Army Arrangement, Gentlemen and Coffin for a Head of State. And it’s a great introduction to his genius. Then there’s a DVD, which includes excerpts from the excellent doco Music is the Weapon, interviews with his biographer, also interviews and introductions with, wait for it, the people behind ‘Fela the musical.’ The highlight is Fela doing Roforofo Fight live at the Berlin Jazz festival in the mid 70’s, prancing around stage, tuning his musicians instruments while they’re playing and basically exerting his control. Of course almost all his musicians subsequently abandoned him, vanishing later that evening into the German night. But that’s another story.
Bob Baker Fish