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Afrobeat - Released March 4, 2013 | Knitting Factory Records

In the AMG review of 2009's The Best of the Black President, critic Richie Unterberger wrote: "A Fela Kuti best-of is especially daunting, when you consider trying to condense more than 70 albums into a mere two-CD set, and also needing to work with an artist whose tracks were usually in the neighborhood of ten minutes and more." Apparently, Knitting Factory thought so too, because it took over four years for a second volume to hit the streets. Like its predecessor, this set spans Fela's career, though the tracks are sequenced aesthetically rather than chronologically. There are a total of 12 cuts spread over two remastered discs. Highlights include the extended version of "Sorrow Tears and Blood," which closes disc one; 1971's "Black Man's Cry," which kicks off disc two; the furious second part of "Underground System," from his last album in 1992, and 1975's "Expensive Shit." In addition to the killer Afro-beat, critic Chris May's track-by-track analysis is indispensable. The booklet is also introduced by no less than Akon, who claims he's been listening to Fela's music all his life. [The Deluxe Edition also contains a DVD featuring a live performance from the Glastonbury Festival.] © 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

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

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
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Afrobeat - Released March 4, 2013 | Knitting Factory Records

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Afrobeat - Released March 4, 2013 | Knitting Factory Records

Another long-thought-lost gem from the Fela Anikulapo Kuti archives, Open & Close was originally released in 1971 and, in the manner of He Miss Road and Fela's London Scene, is a total groove-fest loaded to the gills with raucous horn blowing, ferocious percussion (once again, Tony Allen take a bow), and song lengths over ten minutes. By this point, Fela could do no wrong when it came to recording; Afro-beat dissenters will claim that there is a trance-inducing similarity to much of Fela's '70s recorded output, that the grooves aren't enough to make the songs distinctive enough on their own. That's true of some of his later recordings (like in the mid- to late '80s), but at this point he was still breathing fire and the band was in top form. Perhaps the distinguishing factors of records like Open & Close and some of Fela's other '70s releases are that as much as he liked to ride a groove, he also liked to disrupt it, twist it and turn it, reshape it, only to bring it back to its original shape. There was less of that later in his career. © John Dougan /TiVo
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Afrobeat - Released March 4, 2013 | Knitting Factory Records

Pioneering musician, activist, and bandleader Fela Kuti is the first word in Afro-beat, making such strides in the genre over the course of his career that his contributions are foundational and nothing less than legendary. Why Black Man Dey Suffer is a relatively early chapter in the Fela discography, originally recorded in 1971. Put to tape with early band Africa 70 and Cream drummer/Afro-beat enthusiast Ginger Baker on board as well, the record is made up of two extensive, repetitive, and loping pieces. The rhythmic title track is a blueprint of early Afro-beat and "Ikoyi Mentality Versus Mushin Mentality" is a deep groove of burning horns and fearless percussion. © Fred Thomas /TiVo
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Afrobeat - Released March 4, 2013 | Knitting Factory Records

Underground System was among the better recordings of Fela's late career, comprised of two extended tracks, the title cut and "Pansa Pansa." "Underground System" starts off with rhythms that are far faster and more urgent than those on most of Fela's characteristically lengthy tracks. If that sounds like a marginal quality upon which to judge a song as a standout, well, something like a much faster and played-as-though-we-mean-it tempo really does help to differentiate it from the singer's generally similar output of the 1980s and 1990s. The backup singers also come in quickly with infectious chants, prior to a typical Fela lyric observing the difficulty in enacting positive political change in Africa. Hearing them sing in tandem with Fela instead of doing call-response patterns, as they do during much of the 28-minute cut, also makes for a refreshing variation. "Pansa Pansa," at a mere (for Fela) 17 minutes, also gets your attention more than his average effort, with rapid propulsive beats and sprinkles of slightly dissonant jazzy piano. The 2001 CD reissue on MCA adds a half-hour song from his 1990 album, ODOO, which is considerably slower and moodier than the prior two tunes, the beginning emphasizing mournful electric keyboards and sax soloing. © Richie Unterberger /TiVo
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Afrobeat - Released March 4, 2013 | Knitting Factory Records

In 1977, the government of Nigeria had enough of Fela Kuti and decided to take evasive action on his walled-in residence that he called the Kalakuta Republic (Fela declared it a separate state). Over a thousand soldiers descended on the compound and savagely beat the residents. Fela himself escaped death (but not incarceration), but his activist mother was thrown through a window and broke her hip -- causing an injury that would take her life within that month. This prompted Fela to begin recording reactions to this event: Unkown Soldier, Sorrow, Tears, and Blood, and Coffin for Head of State were those reactions. "Coffin for Head of State" was an elegy for his lost mother, to whom he was very close. The song opens lackisdasically and never really steps to any sort of fire that many of his compositions contain. He starts singing with the lines "Amen, Amen, Amen...," but he continues to talk about how those that live "by the Grace of Almighty Lord" do wrong by their fellow man. He talks about walking through the cities of Africa and seeing those that do bad things by the "grace of Allah." Throughout the song his sadness grows: "Them kill my Mama/So I carry the coffin." He then directly blames Nigerian President Obasanjo for her death: "Obasnjo dey there/With him big fat stomach." "Coffin for Head of State" is the saddest in his repertoire. Fela has certainly dealt with sad issues in his songs, but here he deals with sadness in a very direct, morose personal way. [In 2000, MCA released Coffin for Head of State and Unknown Soldier as a two-fer.] © Sam Samuelson /TiVo
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Afrobeat - Released March 4, 2013 | Knitting Factory Records

With production help from Wally Badarou, Fela Anikulapo Kuti offers up an interesting mix of songs (well, two to be exact) in both vocal and instrumental versions. Most compelling is the track "Look and Laugh," which details the attack by Nigerian soldiers on his Kalakuta compound. With simple lyrics, Fela runs down the horror of that attack in a detached, almost journalistic manner: "Till dem come/burn my house/burn my house/all my property/burn burn dem/beat beat me/kill my mama." Badarou's production help gives Fela his most full-bodied sound; the horn section is much hotter and brassier than ever before. The problem with this record is that with following an instrumental track with a vocal version of the same song, there's a certain lack of drama that blunts the impact of songs as powerful as "Look and Laugh." That said, this is very good mid-'80s Fela. The 2001 reissue on MCA adds a 22-minute bonus track, "Just Like That," which was originally released on 1989's Beast of No Nation album. © John Dougan /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

Licensed from Capitol and reissued on CD by Universal's Wrasse imprint, Live In Amsterdam still ranks among Fela Kuti's worst records. Even with remastered sound it's dodgy, flat, and echo-y. The audience sounds have been dubbed in and one has to wonder what Dennis "Blackbeard" Bovell was thinking when he mixed this. Three long tracks are spread over one CD, though the same listing was spread over two LPs in the past, and even the performance is lackluster, though it has moments of brilliance--particularly in the saxophone solos and chanted choruses. The question here becomes, however, if Wrasse could cross-license this inferior set from Capitol, why on earth haven't they come up with a CD version of one of his best LPs for that label, Black President? There is an anthology with that name, but the album is sadly absent from the voluminous catalogue Fela enjoys on compact disc. It makes one scratch her head. Live In Amsterdam is to be avoided by all but the most hardcore collectors. © 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

CD€7.49

Afrobeat - Released March 4, 2013 | Knitting Factory Records

Army Arrangement, originally released in 1985, was comprised entirely of a half-hour track of the same name. Just because it's twice as long as Fela's usual songs doesn't mean it's twice as good. It's an average Fela recording, though the chanting chorus vocals come in earlier than they do on most of his pieces. The lyrics are among his most critical of the Nigerian military and government, focusing on the troubled period when the country returned to civilian rule at the end of the 1970s. Note that the MCA reissue of Army Arrangement is different from other releases with the same title, consisting of two tracks: a half-hour version of "Army Arrangement" and the previously unreleased, half-hour original version of "Government Chicken Boy." Musically, "Government Chicken Boy" is a little more interesting than "Army Arrangement," with ominous teams of horns and wordless chants leading into the usual trades of solos, and then a characteristic Fela lyric about obedient followers of authority. © Richie Unterberger /TiVo
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Afrobeat - Released March 4, 2013 | Knitting Factory Records

Pioneering musician, activist, and bandleader Fela Kuti is the first word in Afro-beat, making such strides in the genre over the course of his career that his contributions are foundational and nothing less than legendary. Released in 1977, Opposite People finds Fela and his band Afrika 70 riding a fever-pitched groove for the customary two side-long extended jams that made up most of Fela's classic output. The title track builds for 11 or more minutes before Kuti comes in with a sociopolitical lecture in sung-scatted form, and second cut "Equalisation of Trouser and Pant" is a slinkier affair, with hints of greasy rock guitar and wandering electronic keyboard tones. © Fred Thomas /TiVo
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Afrobeat - Released March 4, 2013 | Knitting Factory Records

Despite a massive attack by 1,000 armed Nigerian army men on his Kalakuta Republic compound on February 18, 1977, Fela Kuti, accompanied by his Africa '70, resumed his prolific musical output -- which yielded in excess of half-a-dozen long-players a year since 1975. While the exact recording date is not documented, it could easily be surmised that Stalemate -- like Opposite People -- was recorded prior to the incident. Another correlation between the two releases is that the subject matter is more social than political in content. In keeping with tradition, the album Stalemate consist of two extended pieces -- one per side. The title track has a mid-tempo trance groove that bends and yields to Kuti's call and response with Africa '70. After a lengthy instrumental introduction -- thoroughly establishing the buoyant rhythm -- Kuti begins his half-spoken/half-sung observations. His subject matter, as is often the case, deals with relationships between people and using logic to avoid conflict. One valuable lesson that can be derived from "Stalemate" is keeping one's opinions to one's self until all facts have been presented -- thus, avoiding a stalemate. The B-side track contains an equally funk-driven piece, whose subject matter is steeped in native African tradition. The moral struggle between convention and invention collide on "Don't Worry About My Mouth O..." Kuti's rap explains the heritage and preference in the African "chewing stick" versus the toothbrush/toothpaste combination so popular in most of the world. The rear cover even includes photos of Kuti using the said "chewing stick." He also makes a few clever analogies between the healthy mouth and the things that come out of it. [In 2000, Stalemate was reissued on CD coupled with another 1977 release, Fear Not for Man -- which contains the rare instrumental "Palm Wine Sound."] © Lindsay Planer /TiVo
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Afrobeat - Released March 4, 2013 | Knitting Factory Records

Upside Down, released in 1976, is one of the more unusual items in Fela Kuti's discography from the period. Not structurally -- it's the usual two-song, half-hour deal, the songs beginning with several minutes of instrumental solo trades before the socially conscious lyrics enter. The song "Upside Down" itself, however, is sung not by Kuti but by Sandra Akanke Isidore. She was a woman that he met during his stay in the United States at the end of the 1960s, and who is credited with helping to elevate his own social awareness and ethnic identity. It's basically like hearing a track by this artist with a different vocalist, then. Although Isidore's pipes aren't as strong as Kuti's, it makes for something refreshingly different in the midst of all those similar two-song releases from the mid-'70s. The other track, "Go Slow," is a little jazzier, and puts less emphasis on lyrics than most Kuti tracks, with the singing largely limited to chants that punctuate the instrumental arrangement. © Richie Unterberger /TiVo
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Afrobeat - Released March 4, 2013 | Knitting Factory Records

Pioneering musician, activist, and bandleader Fela Kuti is the first word in Afro-beat, making such strides in the genre over the course of his career that his contributions are foundational and nothing less than legendary. Unnecessary Begging (also known as No Bread) comes at a formative time in Fela's massive discography, between two of his most championed releases, 1975's Expensive Shit and 1977's Zombie. While Unnecessary Begging was one of no less than five albums Kuti released in 1976, its use of wiry synthesizers intermingled with bright horns and energetic Afro-beat rhythms makes for a bedding of increasingly interesting sounds on top of which Fela lays down his sung-spoken political poetry lyrics. © Fred Thomas /TiVo
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Afrobeat - Released March 4, 2013 | Knitting Factory Records