Edited by Azizi Powell
This pancocojams post provides an excerpt of the 2012 redbullmusicacademy.com article by David Katz entitled "I Go Shout Plenty: A Guide To The Work Of Fela Kuti".
In addition to that article, three YouTube videos of Fela Kuti and his entourage are embedded in this post.
The content of this post is presented for historical, cultural, educational, and aesthetic purposes.
All copyrights remain with their owners.
Thanks to Fela Kuti for his musical legacy and thanks also to his entourage of performing artists. Thanks to David Katz for researching and writing this article and thanks to the publishers of these YouTube examples.
ARTICLE EXCERPT OF "I GO SHOUT PLENTY: A GUIDE TO THE WORK OF FELA KUTI"
by David Katz, December 17, 2012
"One of the most important musical and political figures to emerge in post-independence Nigeria, Fela Kuti was the legendary rebel and agent provocateur that pioneered afrobeat, an invigorating hybrid of dirty funk and traditional African rhythms. A complex man that was equal parts shaman, showman and trickster, whose perpetual criticism of Nigeria’s governmental and religious figures made him a constant target, Fela was one of a handful of exceptional individuals that forever changed our musical landscape. What follows is a guide to his voluminous recorded output, related as chronologically as possible.
The ’69 Los Angeles Sessions stem from Fela’s sojourn in the City of Angels, and kicks off with the shape of things to come in the near wordless “My Lady Frustration”, a gritty, funky number that anticipates afrobeat, but the spectre of James Brown still hangs a little heavy here. “Obe!” (“Soup!”) and “Ako” (“Braggart”) are more in the mode of the standard afrobeat that would follow, and both accordingly deal with social issues, while “Viva Nigeria” is a surprisingly patriotic proto-rap inspired by the Biafran civil war. In this transitional phase, you can hear that Fela is still finding his way. Six songs recorded between 1964-68 are included as CD bonus tracks, mastered from a far better source than on Lagos Baby.
Fela’s London Scene was cut in London at Abbey Road, when Fela and his re-named Africa 70 band were on their way back to Nigeria from the USA. Again, songs like “Who’re You” and “Buy Africa” are edging closer to afrobeat, but are still rooted in big-band jazz and less overtly political than future work.
By the time we reach the three-song Open And Close, we’re getting closer to full-blown afrobeat. The keyboard-led title track gives instruction for a provocative dance step, “Swegbe And Pako” is a slow groove that decries incompetence in broken English, while “Gbagada Gbagada Gbogodo Gbogodo” adapts a folk song that recounts a war of liberation waged against the British. Fela’s keyboard playing is distinctive here, but the afrobeat groove is not yet razor-sharp.
The four-song concert album With Ginger Baker-Live! features the equally volatile Cream drummer, who lived in Nigeria from 1970-76. Baker gets right into the groove, while Fela pokes at the keyboards. “Black Man’s Cry” is James Brown-styled funk rock, with Fela crooning, “I am black and proud” in Yoruba....
The real authentic sound of afrobeat as we know it truly begins with Shakara, a groundbreaking two-song LP that first surfaced circa 1972. On “Lady”, Fela explains that African females see the term ‘woman’ as a potential insult; rejecting the Western notions of feminism, the song is a typical Fela reversal. Its flipside, “Shakara”, is also a total killer: its bright horn blasts frame Fela’s exploration of the false bluffing that hallmarks Lagos’s domestic squabbles.
Some say Afrodisiac was recorded during the London Scene sessions, though it sounds like it was cut considerably later. “Alu Jon Jonki Jon” is a driving number in which Fela hoarsely relates a traditional Yoruba folk tale about a famine and a crafty dog. “Chop’n Quench” (aka “Jeun Ko Ku”), a spirited instrumental, was Fela’s first big hit, reportedly selling 200,000 copies. “Eko Ile” is another huskily shouted number, singing the praises of Lagos in its original Yoruba name, while “Je’Nwi Temi” (“Don’t Gag Me”) was one of the earliest songs aimed directly at the authorities: against a disjointed guitar and trumpet motif, Fela informs his governmental adversaries that he is not going to shut his mouth, even if they jail him.
1973’s Gentleman is one of Fela’s first statements decrying his countrymen’s colonial mindset. Following eight minutes of distracted horn solos, Fela says in Pidgin that he is “Africa Man Original”, rather than a ‘gentleman’ that seeks to ape the British – powerful stuff. Less inspired, but still holding attention, “Fefe Maa Efe” uses an Ashanti proverb about women’s beauty as the launching pad for a tight number in which Fela symbolically relates various topics in different languages….
Zombie is one of the most outstanding works of the period. It starts off strong with a rousing horn fanfare that holds portents of the important message he will deliver: the zombie of the title, who does whatever he is told unthinkingly, is revealed to be a soldier of the Nigerian Army. The song became a huge hit, but cost Fela dearly, as it led to a thousand soldiers unleashing a brutal attack on Kalakuta in February 1977, in which Fela was nearly killed, his wives raped and his mother thrown out of a window. The record is simply superb – Fela firing on all cylinders and the band at their prime. Original flipside “Mr Follow Follow” is also thoroughly excellent: a powerful creeper in which Fela warns listeners not to follow blindly – if one needs to follow at all, it is best to follow with eyes and ears open! Some CD reissues also include outtake “Observation Is No Crime”, another slow and surprisingly playful track in which Fela proclaims in Pidgin that he will not accept censure. There is also a live Berlin Jazz Festival bonus track, “Mistake”, in which Fela differentiates between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ mistakes, calling on African leaders to acknowledge their errors.
1985’s Army Arrangement is another complex creation that looks at Nigeria’s neo-colonial situation. After searing horns and distracted choruses, Fela starts his complex Pidgin sermon on injustice, which is incongruously disrupted by ribald commentary. There follows thoughts on the way that Nigeria’s military governments always end up giving the reins back to the same politicians that were in power before their coups – a highly contradictory situation – and reminds that dissenting political parties such as Fela’s MOP are always obliterated; all of which is dismissed as an “army arrangement,” a corrupt and repressive double-dealing that results in death and destruction. Some CD reissues also included the previously unreleased “Government Chicken Boy”, revealed as those petty civil servants and media fools that support Nigeria’s corrupt political system. The peculiar track, which rides a pseudo-Latin rhythm, has a terribly muddy, cluttered mix – perhaps it was unfinished.
Wally Badarou produced 1986’s Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense, a high point of this sparse period, making full use of the audio spectrum though a superb arrangement that emphasises the brass through expert spatial placement. This time, Fela’s message concerns the role of teachers, but he fears that after schooling, the corrupt governments of post-colonial Africa become our teacher; instead of democracy, Nigeria has “dem-all-crazy.” Therefore, he surmises, if the former colonisers of Europe and the neo-colonial US are meant to be Africa’s teachers, then please, don’t teach me no nonsense! B-side (of overseas editions) “Look And Laugh” resembles a melancholy highlife: in it, Fela attempts to explain why he had become so reclusive, due largely to the brutal attacks by soldiers.
1989’s Beasts Of No Nation has many targets, being another great Fela diatribe, despite some vocal weakness. This quietly meditative number starts with fine musical interplay and some Yoruba choruses, before Fela appears as “basket mouth” to deliver his message: he speaks of time spent in prison on trumped-up charges, and references a campaign unleashed by the military government led by General Buhari, known as the ‘war against indiscipline’, in which the Nigerian public were deemed “stupid.” Fela then speaks of the “animals in human skin,” such as Thatcher, Reagan, Botha and Mobutu – the “Beasts Of No Nation” of the title. Overseas issues also had the track “Just Like That” (issued in Nigeria as a separate album with “MOPP”), a witty, funky ditty in which Fela says that change can come swiftly in Africa – both positive and negative.
On 1989’s Overtake Don Overtake Overtake, a clavé-type cowbell leads the insistent rhythm. Fela references past classics like “Kalakuta Show” and “Zombie”, moving on to attack the military governments of Africa, which fail to liberate the people. Musically, the second bass that appears late in the song adds another layer of texture. Some US issues include the track Confusion Break Bone (a separate LP in Nigeria), a slowly creeping update of “Confusion”. After sax solos and a trippy conga break, Fela speaks of police, military and governmental wrongdoings. Then, a weary Fela ultimately says that the situation that turned Lagos into a corpse on “Confusion” has now seen the corpse run over by traffic; hence the idea that “confusion break bone.”
The final Fela studio album was 1992’s Underground System, a messy disc that evidences a chaotic frame of mind. “Underground System” starts with a ghostly bass, adds throbbing percussion and stabbing piano, then shrieking female choruses and horn fanfares. Fela begins to chant in Yoruba, then speaks in garbled Pidgin about trying to stop soldiers from ruining Africa. He praises Nkrumah and curses “great African thieves,” like Obasanjo and Abiola. He says the “underground system” that operates in Africa will always see a leader like Nkrumah, Lumumba, Sekou Toure, Thomas Sankara or Idi Amin killed off, while scoundrels will always force their way into office at the expense of the people – evidence of the underground system at work. B-side “Pansa Passa” is also chaotic: drums clash with wobbly piano, then bass and guitars are met by a woodblock, and sax solos start, but Fela says little, other than recalling the earlier defiant masterworks he cut, such as “Alagbon Close” and “Monkey Banana”. The overall feeling here is of weariness, rather than originality, which is perhaps unsurprising, considering all he had gone through, his wariness of harassment by the repressive regime of Sani Abacha, and the AIDS that was already wreaking havoc with his immune system. In just a few short years, Fela would make his final transition, leaving our physical plane on August 2, 1997, aged 58.
Of the posthumous releases, there are two must-have DVDs: Music Is The Weapon (included in the Fela Kuti Anthology), a revealing documentary made largely in Nigeria by Stephane Tchal-Gadjieff and Jean Jacques Flori in 1983, and Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense, a BBC documentary from 1984 which has a sober interview, interspersed with concert footage and bolstered by contextual scenes exploring Nigeria’s recent history. Fela is also part of Konkombe: The Nigerian Pop Music Scene, from Jeremey Marre’s excellent Beats Of The Heart documentary series. Concert DVDs include Live at Glastonbury from 1984 and Live In Paris from 1981.”...
[These examples are given in chronological order based on their publishing date on YouTube, with the earliest date given first.]
Example #!: Fela Kuti & Africa 70 - Pansa Pansa 1/2 (Berlin 1978)
Henri de Saussure, Published on Nov 20, 2010
One of the few pro-shot concerts of legendary musician Fela Kuti with his band Africa 70, playing for the jazz festival in Berlin, 1978. Fela was a social activist and leader who fought for freedom and justice in Nigeria. He died in 1997.
DVD taken from "Fela Kuti Anthology 2"
Example #2: Fela Kuti & Egypt 80 [Arsenal TV3 Catalonian TV 1987-08-04]
midnightraverblog1, Published on Oct 9, 2013
Fela Kuti & Egypt 80
Arsenal TV3 Catalonian TV 08.4 1987
Rebroadcast 08.10.2008 Turmix Classic
Interview with Fela Anikulapo Kuti, in which he spoke about the role of women in African culture, marriage, the politics of his country, his stays in prison and on africa and the message of Africa. The interview is intertwined with images of a concert with his band Egypt 80.
Running time: 36mins. approx.
Example #3: Fela Kuti - Zombie [sound file]
Fela Kuti, Published on Nov 9, 2015
Zombie (1976) Fela Kuti
From the LP Zombie (CD release 2001)
This sound file includes historical captions about Fela Kuti's song "Zombie" and gives an account of the violence that was inflicted upon Fela Kuti and his family as a direct result of that song.
Thanks for visiting pancocojams.
Visiting comments are welcome.