Afrobeat… Hip Hop… They all owe quite a bit to Fela Kuti…
I have heard it pronounced Fee luh (the way I have always said it), Fay luh and Feh luh… and Feh luh Koo tee seems to be accurate.
Going to see Fela the musical tonight at the Ahmanson, so what better choice than the man himself.
Fela Kuti – Expensive Shit
This one has two songs… That’s it… Two songs… twenty-four minutes and a whole lot to say. Many of his records had only a few songs… long, jammy, brilliant songs.
So what is Afrobeat, the music he helped pioneer?
Wikipedia defines it as “a complex fusion of Jazz, Funk, Ghanaian/Nigerian High-life, psychedelic rock, and traditional West African chants and rhythms. Afrobeat also borrows heavily from the native “tinker pan” African-style percussion that Kuti acquired while studying in Ghana with Hugh Masakela, under the uncanny Hedzoleh Soundz. The importance of the input of Tony Allen (Fela’s drummer of twenty years) in the creation of Afrobeat cannot be overstated. Fela once famously stated that, ‘without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat'”
AllMusic says “Afrobeat’s combination of blaring horn sections, antiphonal vocals, Fela’s quasi-rapping pidgin English, and percolating guitars, all wrapped up in a smoldering groove (in the early days driven by the band’s brilliant drummer Tony Allen) that could last nearly an hour, was an intoxicating sound. Once hooked, it was impossible to get enough.”
He has so many albums to choose from… My favorites are this one… Gentleman, Live! with Ginger Baker… was really tempted to do that one… It has a 16-minute drum solo… or duo, I guess as both Ginger and Tony play… and No Agreement.
This one just seemed right, given his story and the way he was treated… and the irony of the title. It seems to sum up so much.
From Wikipedia: “The title of the album refers to an incident in which the Nigerian police tried to arrest Kuti by planting a joint on him. Kuti managed to eat the joint, prompting police to bring him into custody and wait for him to produce the excrement.”
He was able to use someone else’s… I know, sorry it’s graphic… and was released. But such is the way this man, this rebel, this musician and political figure was treated.
According to AllMusic: “It’s almost impossible to overstate the impact and importance of Fela Anikulapo (Ransome) Kuti (or just Fela as he’s more commonly known) to the global musical village: producer, arranger, musician, political radical, outlaw. He was all that, as well as showman par excellence, inventor of Afro-beat, an irredeemable sexist, and a moody megalomaniac. His death on August 3, 1997 of complications from AIDS deeply affected musicians and fans internationally, as a musical and sociopolitical voice on a par with Bob Marley was silenced.”
Questions still surround his death and many are convinced that he died from too many beatings and not in fact AIDS…
That puts both him and the genre into perspective… but like all artists, it is the creation… the gold they mined from the pile of shit that is most important and endures. We must not ignore context and the impetus for creation, nor the reasons for why art comes to be… but the end result is what ultimately carries the day.
This is truly some expensive shit… priceless in fact.