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Afrobeat - Released April 20, 2020 | Knitting Factory Records

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Afrobeat - Released November 1, 2019 | Knitting Factory Records

In its own way, this is a kind of grail; a live recording by the great Fela Kuti captured live mere months after his release from prison in 1986. After serving two years on a trumped-up charge of "currency trafficking," he was reluctantly released by the Nigerian government in April due to considerable pressure by Amnesty International. This show took place at Detroit's historic Fox Theater in November. The recording is the first release of "new" Fela material in nearly 20 years. The three CDs clock in at a bit under two-and-a-half hours -- the show could have easily fit on two discs -- and an audience recording by Bob Tegan. While this isn't the best quality sonically, it's certainly very good. It contains four very long tracks -- "Just Like That," "Confusion Breaks Bones," "Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense," and "Beast of No Nation." Interestingly, others who attended the show distinctly remember five jams; what happened to the other one is anyone's guess. Fela and Egypt 80 are in excellent form. His between-song banter with the audience is lively and doesn't detract at all. It ranges from very humorous to pointed to admonishing (especially when teaching them to pronounce Yoruban words). Musically, this band showcases jazz over funk, in contrast to the Africa 70 group, but the audience didn't mind a bit, and neither will listeners. Fela plays keyboards and saxophone, dances, and of course handles most of the lead vocals, backed by a chorus and very capable instrumentalists -- check the close level of communication on "Beast of No Nation." The improvisations are by turns spiraling, instinctively knotty, and sometimes dissonant -- there is a section of "Confusion Breaks Bones" where the whole band just loses its way before fighting back after a few minutes -- it's awesome hearing them try. The audience is somewhat familiar with this material, which adds to the sense of euphoria at the Fox and the electricity of the performance. While it isn't all great, most of it is, and while this isn't the best way for newcomers to acquaint themselves with Fela Kuti's music, it is an essential document for fans. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Afrobeat - Released October 29, 2019 | Knitting Factory Records

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Afrobeat - Released October 15, 2019 | Knitting Factory Records

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Afrobeat - Released October 11, 2019 | Drift Recordings

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Afrobeat - Released January 30, 2018 | Drift Recordings

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Afrobeat - Released November 10, 2017 | BMG Rights Management

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Afrobeat - Released September 1, 2014 | Knitting Factory Records

Finding Fela, the documentary by director Alex Gibney, is a compelling film that was originally intended to portray the cast of the Bill T. Jones musical Fela! during rehearsals and performances in Lagos, Nigeria; it's the first Broadway musical ever staged there. While capturing hundreds of hours of footage with a local film crew about the production and its reception by a Lagos audience, questions naturally arose about the wild life and times of the musical's subject, Fela Kuti himself. Gibney shot interviews with musicians -- those who played with him and those who were admirers -- and family, friends, and acquaintances, and wove them in with performance footage of Kuti's bands. This double-disc soundtrack is not so much a best-of, but it does contain significant music from throughout Kuti's career, from his highlife and R&B sides, to his full-on experiments that wed funk, jazz, and African rhythms in a completely integrative sound that became his invention: Afrobeat. Disc one includes "Highlife Time," cut by his first band Koola Lobitos in Los Angeles between 1964 and 1968. "Viva Nigeria" and "Lover" are from those same sessions but the bands are different -- these are the earliest recordings by Nigeria 70 and Africa 70. "Jeun Ko Ku (Chop and Quench)" was Kuti's first real hit in 1973, selling 200,000 copies in its first six months. Edited versions of "Johnny Just Drop" and "Upside Down," as well as the full-length "Egbe Mi O" (from a live date that featured Ginger Baker) are here, along with the self-titled second part (half the album) of Africa 70's "VIP." The second disc carries mostly edits from some of Africa 70's and Africa 80's best-known tunes, though some of these -- "Teacher Don't Teach Me No Nonsense," "Beasts of No Nation," and "Shuffering and "Shmiling" -- are over 12 minutes long. The two outliers -- "Zombie" and "Colonial Mentality" -- are excellent readings by the musical's Fela! Band. The latter features Femi Kuti leading the group in a blistering extended version, live at the Kuti family's New Afrika Shrine. The fact that the show band covers two tunes here does not detract from the recording's significance. As a soundtrack it works wonderfully. As a musical introduction its lack of source documentation is bit of a drawback, but that's a small complaint. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Afrobeat - Released March 4, 2013 | Knitting Factory Records

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
The four (lengthy, as usual) songs occupying this album were originally recorded in Nigeria as 45 rpm releases. Afrodisiac consists of re-recordings of these, done in London in the early '70s. While it's true that Fela Kuti's albums from this period are pretty similar to each other, in their favor they're not boring. These four workouts, all sung in Nigerian, are propulsive mixtures of funk and African music, avoiding the homogeneity of a lot of funk and African records of later vintage, done with nonstop high energy. The interplay between horns, electric keyboards, drums, and Kuti's exuberant vocals gives this a jazz character without sacrificing the earthiness that makes it danceable as well. "Jeun Ko Ku (Chop'n Quench)" became Kuti's first big hit in Nigeria, selling 200,000 copies in its first six months in its initial version. © Richie Unterberger /TiVo
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Afrobeat - Released March 4, 2013 | Knitting Factory Records

Originally released in 1971, this LP had Fela Kuti solidifying the format that would take him into international visibility in the years to come: extended tracks with grooves that mixed African and funk rhythms, punctuated by rudimentary lyrics. There are just four songs on the album, none shorter than seven minutes, and all but one going over the ten-minute mark. More than a dozen strong, his band, the Africa '70, cooks pretty well on tracks that fuse jazz, soul, and African music in a trancelike fashion that avoids becoming stale, despite the length of the arrangements. Ex-Cream/Blind Faith drummer Ginger Baker's name was given prominence in the billing, probably to attract rock- and pop-oriented listeners who might not ordinarily take a chance on music from the African continent. However, it's Fela and Africa '70, not Baker, who are the dominant presence on a record that sounds much like a mixture of James Brown, fusion, and Nigerian forms. © Richie Unterberger /TiVo
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Afrobeat - Released March 4, 2013 | Knitting Factory Records

This disc is an overt response to the consistent harassment afflicting Fela Kuti's Kalakuta Republic in the early '70s under the oppressive Lagos authorities. The title track is a direct reference to an actual incident that occurred in which the cops planted a marijuana cigarette on Kuti -- who promptly swallowed it and therefore destroyed any evidence. He was then held until he could pass the drugs from his system -- which miraculously did not occur when his fecal sample was then sent for analysis, thanks to some help from his fellow inmates. Because of the costs incurred during this debacle, Kuti proclaimed his excrement as Expensive Shit. Musically, the Afro-funk and tribal rhythms that Kuti and his Africa '70 put down can rightfully be compared to that of James Brown or even a George Clinton-esque vibe. The beats are infectious with a hint of Latin influence, making the music nearly impossible to keep from moving to. Although the band is large, it is also remarkably tight and malleable enough to accompany and punctuate Kuti's vehement and indicting lyrics. The nature of what Kuti says, as well as infers, amounts to much more than simply whining or bad-rapping the law. His witty and thoughtful raps not only relate his side of the incident, but do so with tongue-in-cheek humor -- such as the statement that his oppressors must really enjoy his feces because they want to examine it so urgently. Yet, he tries to stay away from it, for somewhat obvious reasons. The album's B-side contains the metaphysical "Water No Get Enemy." This is a comparatively jazzy piece, with Africa '70 again exploring and stretching out its impulsive beats behind Kuti's singing. The track features some of his finest and most inspired keyboard work as well. He weaves hypnotic and ethereal electric piano lines over the earthy-sounding brass section. The laid-back groove works well in contrast to the manic tempo of "Expensive Shit." © Lindsay Planer /TiVo
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Afrobeat - Released March 4, 2013 | Knitting Factory Records

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Gentleman is both an Africa 70 and Afro-beat masterpiece. High marks go to the scathing commentary that Fela Anikulapo Kuti lets loose but also to the instrumentation and the overall arrangements, as they prove to be some of the most interesting and innovative of Fela's '70s material. When the great tenor saxophone player Igo Chico left the Africa 70 organization in 1973, Fela Kuti declared he would be the replacement. So in addition to bandleader, soothsayer, and organ player, Fela picked up the horn and learned to play it quite quickly -- even developing a certain personal voice with it. To show off that fact, "Gentleman" gets rolling with a loose improvisatory solo saxophone performance that Tony Allen eventually pats along with before the entire band drops in with classic Afro-beat magnificence. "Gentleman" is also a great example of Fela's directed wit at the post-colonial West African sociopolitical state of affairs. His focus is on the Africans that still had a colonial mentality after the Brits were gone and then parallels that life with his own. He wonders why his fellow Africans would wear so much clothing in the African heat: "I know what to wear but my friend don't know" and also points out that "I am not a gentleman like that!/I be Africa man original." To support "Gentleman," the B-side features equally hot jazzy numbers, "Fefe Naa Efe" and "Igbe," making this an absolute must-have release. [In 2000, MCA released Confusion and Gentleman as a two-fer.] © Sam Samuelson /TiVo
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Afrobeat - Released March 4, 2013 | Knitting Factory Records

Recorded in 1969 under duress courtesy of the Department of Immigration and Naturalization, the Los Angeles Sessions are among the earliest glimpse of Fela Anikulapo Kuti's developing Afrobeat sound. What makes this release different from much of his recorded work is the length and number of songs: ten tracks, average length 4:39. Unusual, since most Fela material is 15 minutes or more. The foundation of this music is still the classic highlife sound, but there are influences here that bespeak Fela's absorption with funk and soul. In fact, the opening track, "My Lady Frustration," sounds so much like James Brown, you'd swear it was Jimmy Nolen playing guitar and Clyde Stubblefield on the drums. A good intro for Fela neophytes, but by no means the only Fela recording you should own. Also, tracks like "Nigeria" show how important radical politics were in informing his sound. © John Dougan /TiVo
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Afrobeat - Released March 4, 2013 | Knitting Factory Records

The entire mid-'70s found Fela Kuti and his Afrika 70 really honing in on their signature sound. Yellow Fever, released in 1976, sits right up there with No Agreement (1977) and Confusion (1975) both in terms of quality of the groove and Fela's tact in putting out his message. "Yellow Fever" opens with a couple of measures of guitar and bass interplay that sets up the standard funk-jazz vamp that will prod the entire length. The horn solos are reaching, explosive, and (though the word is overused) funky. Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker have some tough competition here, as these guys are unwielding in their voice. After eight minutes of instrumental eminence, Fela makes his own voice heard and gets to the meat of his product. The words speak of the strange practice of Africans lightening their skin -- this idea just doesn't jive with Fela's strong pan-African sentiments. As he gets progressively worked up, the choir responds to him exemplifying the idea and the vibe. Once Fela feels he's got his point across, he just lets the musicians have their fun until the end of this 15-minute rollick. An unbelievable and hard-hitting groove opens up "Na Poi" and slams in with absolute genius. This is actually another version of the same song from 1972. "Na Poi," banned by the Nigerian Broadcasting Company due to its sexual content, makes one wonder -- what was really going on in the Kalakuta Republic (his walled-in residence)? The instrumentation of "Na Poi" that began as genius settles into the familiar and works itself out until, once again, Fela decides to get down and literally dirty. This is an entertaining piece, but it doesn't really hold up to the rest of his material. [MCA released Yellow Fever and the full-length Na Poi as a two-fer in 2000.] © Sam Samuelson /TiVo
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Afrobeat - Released March 4, 2013 | Knitting Factory Records

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
The album Shakara was a turning point for Fela Kuti. The year was 1972: he had just experienced his first continental success with Chop ’n’ Quench, changed his band’s name from Nigeria 70 to Africa 70, learned to play the saxophone (in just 24 hours according to legend) and adopted Pidgin, an English Creole, as his writing language to reach a larger audience. He had also just taken over the club of the Empire Hotel, in Lagos, renamed African Shrine, where he was performing legendary concerts on a nightly basis with his band and a myriad of dancers. The ingredients for success and legend were present, and Shakara – that featured the title track and the famous Lady −, proudly marked the beginning of a glorious era for the most scandalous and respected African musician. The two epic tracks both stretch over 13 minutes. Fela, with his Rhodes organ and a playing style reminiscent of the Doors’ Ray Manzarek, injects drama, while Tony Allen sets the rhythm so specific to afrobeat and conducts the musicians. Guitars keep up the pressure, brass mount their attack like warriors, marking the shapes and volutes of this sensual epic. Fela’s imperial song, and the response from female choirs, still provide the most irrepressible chills. Both Lady and Shakara are addressed to women, in an ambiguous way that triggered the wrath of some feminists. In Lady, Fela makes the distinction between a simple African woman – docile, obedient and obliging to her husband −, and the educated lady who, influenced by western morals, wants to be man’s equal. One could sense Fela’s preference for the former, and his fear of the latter, because even though he is well known for having married 27 Nigerians on the same day, he was also madly in love with an English mixed-race woman, Remilekun Taylor, with whom he had his son Femi. In Shakara (braggart), he takes to pieces the schemes of dominant males who threaten women with violence, but whose claptrap is empty. Be that as it may, the musical discourse is foolproof and constitutes the very essence of an always-active historic genre. As good as his successors and descendants may be, afrobeat will never be as clearly penetrating as through the voice of the initiating maestro: Fela Anikulapo Kuti. © Benjamin MiNiMuM/Qobuz
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Afrobeat - Released March 4, 2013 | Knitting Factory Records

It's true that Fela Kuti's early-'70s records tend to blur together with their similar groupings of four lengthy Afro-funk-jazz cuts. In their defense, it must be said that while few artists can pull off similar approaches time after time and continue to make it sound fresh, Kuti is one of them. Each of the four songs on the 1972 album Roforofo Fight clocks in at 12 to 17 minutes, and there's a slight slide toward more '70s-sounding rhythms in the happy-feet beats of the title track and the varied yet rock-solid drums in "Go Slow." There's just a hint of reggae in "Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am," in the pace, vocal delivery, ethereal keyboards, and lilting yet dramatic minor melodic lines. The James Brown influence is strongly heard in the lean, nervous guitar strums of "Question Jam Answer," and the horns cook in a way that they might have had Brown been more inclined to let his bands go into improvisational jams. © Richie Unterberger /TiVo
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Afrobeat - Released March 4, 2013 | Knitting Factory Records

By the time of 1976's Kalakuta Show, Fela Kuti's releases seemed not so much like records as ongoing installments in one long jam, documenting the state of mind of Nigeria's leading contemporary musician and ideological/political dissenter. Thus, any one album works better on its own than it does when it has to bear comparison with the rest of his mountainous output. The track "Kalakuta Show" was unexceptional by his own standards, though it was a respectable lock-groove song that followed the usual graph of Kuti's song progressions. The lyrics, at any rate, go far outside the usual funk/pop spectrum, detailing his harassment at the hands of the Nigerian police. "Don't Make Garan Garan" was musically more effective, particularly in its use of the artist's characteristically eerie, out-of-sync-sounding electric keyboards. © Richie Unterberger /TiVo
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Afrobeat - Released March 4, 2013 | Knitting Factory Records

He Miss Road was produced by none other than Ginger Baker, who was a semi-regular jamming partner of Fela Kuti's as well as a close friend. And the tunes Fela wrote for this platter are wild, cosmic, sexy as hell, and deeply saturated in funk à la James Brown. The B-3 solo at the beginning of the title track is simply a device for inviting the band in. The B-3 is way up in the mix, supercharged. The echo effects Baker used on the organ and the horns add a nice touch and create a different textural quality, one that is spacious, to be sure, but still rooted in the shamanic repetition as the riff goes on forever no matter what instruments enter or leave the mix. The vocals show up midway through as everything gets tense and explodes. "Monday Morning in Lagos" is deep, dark, swirling Afro-funk. It's moody, spooky, and its organ line just stitches the whole groove together. The final cut, "It's No Promise," is pure Nigerian trance music. The longest track here, it's also the most abstract. It's held together by Tony Allen's drumming and the popping bassline by Franco Aboddy. This is one of Fela's cookers, an album from his most creative period, and it reigns among the best in his extensive catalog. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Afrobeat - Released March 4, 2013 | Knitting Factory Records

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Afrobeat - Released March 4, 2013 | Knitting Factory Records

Even if American commercial radio did play more world music, they'd have a hard time with Fela Kuti's albums -- which tend to be very loose and improvisatory and favor extended, jazz-influenced horn solos. Kuti believes in finding an irresistible groove or an appealing theme, staying on it, and working it to death -- something he has in common with everyone from Hindu and Islamic singers to James Brown and George Clinton. It's an approach that works wonders on this set's two extended pieces: the 31-minute "O.D.O.O. (Overtake Don Overtake Overtake)" and the 29-minute "C.B.B. (Confusion Break Bones)," both of which show us how appealing repetition can be with the right theme. Funk and soul fans will appreciate Kuti's love of the endless groove, while jazz aficionados should pay attention to the long sax solos. Kuti has recorded many good albums over the years, and O.D.O.O. is certainly among them. © Alex Henderson /TiVo