Fela Kuti: The Best Of The Black President 2 – album review
The Best Of The Black President 2
Knitting Factory Records / Kalakuta Sunrise (KFR1029)
4 March 2013
An amazing year for Fela Kuti re-releases starts with a superb compilation. Paul Scott-Bates pays tribute to the great man.
If you’re unfamiliar with Fela Kuti then you really need to familiarise yourself and 2013 is the perfect time to start with over 50 albums being re-released between now and September.
Fela was more than a singer-songwriter, and more than a multi-instrumentalist, he was a freedom fighter and spearheaded political change. He was incredibly outspoken on the subjects of African corruption in Government and of injustice for his people who whilst fighting, was beaten and scarred over two hundred times but never stopped his battle for what he believed. He is a legend.
On 2 August 1997, Fela died at the age of 58, and an estimated one million people turned up for his funeral. The musical Fela! was nominated for 11 Tony’s and a documentary about his life, directed by Oscar winner Alex Gibney, is planned for release this year.
So what of his music? A unique mix of traditional African rhythms mixed with jazz, funk and psychedelia underpinned by a frantic drumbeat is what you get. Tracks that continue endlessly (some of Fela’s tracks were known to last for a full side of an album!) with drums, horns and guitar riffs prevalent throughout. Unfortunately, the length of the tracks limited Kuti’s popularity outside of Africa.
Tracks steam ahead from the word go with two saxophones, two bassists and often two guitars presenting a musical style which was heavy influenced by modern day funk and hip-hop – with the man himself often playing keyboards, trumpet, drums, sax and guitar (presumably not at the same time!) as well as taking the vocal in his native Nigerian.
Best Of The Black President 2 is a double CD containing just twelve tracks (six on each disc) but the choices for the compilation are superb. Opening with the near forty year old Everything Scatter which has become one of the classic Afrobeat tunes and straight into Expensive Shit, the album is relentless. Yellow Fever describes the practice of Nigerian women and skin bleaching and there’s a near seventeen minute version of the true classic Sorrow Tears and Blood. There’s also representation of his later career with Undergound System (Part 2) recorded just five years before his death.
Unless you’re a true die-hard, 50 albums may be a bit much to invest in, but, this collection is a superb insight into the music of a man which is both worshipped by some & unknown by others.
Do yourself a favour, buy this album and listen to one of music’s true geniuses.
All words by Paul Scott-Bates. More of Paul’s writing on Louder Than War can be found here. Paul’s website is Heaven Is A Place On Pendle. Paul has been working hard to save Radio Lancashire’s On The Wire, easily one of the best radio shows on the BBC. Follow him on twitter as @saveonthewire for all On The Wire news or follow his personal twitter, @hiapop.