CD / DL – 1 September 2014
Movie – 5 September 2014
The creator of Afro-beat, Fela Anikulapo Kuti is celebrated in a new movie with accompanying soundtrack. Louder Than War’s Paul Scott-Bates reviews.
As the opening titles to the movie read – ‘To the Government he was a dangerous revolutionary, to the World he was a musical visionary’. To a complete stranger this would almost sum up Fela Anikulapo Kuti in a nutshell.
Not only was Kuti the man that fused traditional Nigerian and Ghanaian music with jazz, funk and heavy percussion to create a new musical genre in Afro-beat, but he was also an enemy to the Government. Born to Christian parents he was a well-educated, middle-class young man, (his Reverend father was instrumental in the spread of the English language) who stood for what he believed to be right and on behalf of his fellow countrymen he led their struggle for freedom.
He stood against political and civil crimes committed by the Government, he foresaw political, cultural and economic disasters, he believed in the power of the people. In 2006, Time magazine quoted him as one of the World’s greatest musical icons and celebrities.
The musical, Fela! opened on Broadway in 2009. A strange choice for a musical? Perhaps. The producers took on the task and looked at not only his music but also his intense bravery and commitment to his cause.
Stephen Hendel, the show’s producer took on Alex Gibney the Oscar winning film producer, to direct the show and its move from Broadway to Lagos in Nigeria together with a cast and crew of 80 personnel. Over 1,200 hours of film were scoured and pieced together with scenes from Broadway and interviews with friends, family and colleagues from an incredible career.
An appearance from one Paul McCartney quotes that when The Beatles saw him play live he cried at the sheer brilliance of the music. There were also visits from the likes of Stevie Wonder and James Brown‘s backing band, the latter of which was undoubtedly heavily influenced by Kuti.
Fela was a man who loved life, loved its effervescence and loved its people, but he was also aware of life’s struggles. His defence of Nigerian women and their rights to their culture was apparently endorsed by marrying 27 in a mass wedding. Each time he released an album he was imprisoned and beaten. He was the epitome of a revolutionary and hero.
The film is packed with superb performances both of the man himself and of Fela! on stage. Colours are as wild and vibrant as he was himself.
The soundtrack contains sixteen tracks, many of which are edited (some of his tracks went on for twenty or thirty minutes!), and include Zombie from the Broadway interpretation and a live version of Colonial Mentality which was recorded in Lagos by the cast with Femi Kuti, Fela’s son playing saxophone.
Finding Fela is a fascinating film not only for fans but also for people wanting to know more about the hero to millions. Likewise, the soundtrack is a perfect introduction to his unique style which continues to influence musicians to this day.
You can also find many more Fela Kuti releases on Bandcamp.
All words by Paul Scott-Bates. More of Paul’s writing on Louder Than War can be found here. Paul’s website is hiapop Blog. Paul is working hard to save Radio Lancashire’s On The Wire, the BBCs longest running alternative music programme. Follow him on twitter as @saveonthewire for all On The Wire news or follow hiapop Blog on Twitter, @hiapop.