Various – Red Hot + Fela (Knitting Factory Records)
To celebrate what would have been the 75th birthday of Nigerian icon and Afrobeat originator, a new compilation of Fela Kuti compositions hits the public. Louder Than War’s Paul Scott-Bates reviews.
If you’re a fan Afrobeat, you’re a fan of Fela Kuti.
If you’re a fan of Funk or Soul, you’re a fan of Fela Kuti.
If you’re a fan of music, you’re a fan of Fela Kuti.
You may not know it, but you are, such is his influence over modern music culture. Fans and admirers ranging from John Lydon to Paul McCartney will acknowledge his contribution, not only in a musical sense, but also with his influence and understanding of the World we lived in. ‘Red Hot + Fela’ is not only a tribute to the great man but also a superb album in its own right.
The AIDS awareness organisation, Red Hot, have joined forces with Knitting Factory Records and brought together thirteen tracks originally recorded by Kuti. What is particularly interesting is that the tracks have not necessarily been made as straight copies of the originals. There are Afrobeat influences certainly, and none more so than on ‘Lady’ by the partnership of tUnE-yArDs, ?uestlove, Angelique Kidjo and Akua Naru. Funky guitars are accompanied by screeching brass and a vocal loop than gets itself deep under your skin.
Where the album truly excels is when other influences can be heard – ‘Yellow Fever’ for instance, performed by Spoek Mathambo and Zaki Ibrahim, is given a hip-hop twist and works perfectly well. There are other influences here in the shape of dance, rap and spoken word, the later of which gives a nod in the direction of Gil Scott-Heron. There’s also something about ‘Buy Africa’ by Baloji that almost gets this aging forty-five year old up on his feet and attempting to dance!
‘Red Hot + Fela’ is not just another trite tribute album. It’s a superb array of artists who not only feel the music and spirit of Kuti, but, also breathe new life into the re-interpretations. The tracks are well chosen, the production quality is amazing and everyone involved with the making of this album can be well pleased with themselves. The Black President would be a very happy man.
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.