Nov 15, 2010

Fela Kuti - The ’69 Los Angeles Sessions


Legendary Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti’s 1969 trip to the US changed everything. It was here he first encountered the two things that would change his musical and personal direction forever. The Black Panthers and James Brown. The tour to the US however was a mess, shows dried up, they didn’t have work permits, and they finally landed in Los Angeles broke and dispirited. But that’s the second half of this disc. The first is Fela’s original band Koola Lobitos and recordings they made between 1964 and 68. This is pre US and features Fela writing music in what he termed a ‘highlife jazz’ style. Surprisingly it’s really good, making it clear that Fela and his crew who at the time also included drummer Tony Allen were very proficient musicians, still creating highly composed, technically complex and at times quite playful music (during one tune Fela touches on the strains of ‘The Saints Go Marching In‘ during a trumpet solo), albeit in a less innovative manner than he would go on to.

The difference with the Los Angeles sessions however hits you like a slap in the face. You can’t fail to hear it, not just in the improved quality of the recordings, but in also the supremely funky bass guitars and those funk horns. Whilst there are still traces of highlife, you can hear the growing influence of American funk music not in the least in Fela’s proclamations. It’s the sound of a band in the state of flux, midway between where they began and their destination. Whilst the most well known piece here is My Lady Frustration, which feels like the first tentative steps towards Afrobeat, with Fela well off the mic kind’ve just humming along to it and doing a few little nonsensical James Brown type utterings, the next nine pieces feel quite exploratory the mixture of highlife, funk and what we’d come to know as Afrobeat really reaping some great results. His newfound political interests come to the fore on Viva Nigeria, a gentle groove over which Fela, spoken word style, pleads with Africa to unite together. “Long live Nigeria, Viva Africa, we are all Nigeria, we are all Africans.” Whilst there is still a long way to go it’s fascinating to hear the seeds being sown, not to mention that this music stands up in its own right, possessing a charm and passion significantly different, perhaps a little more naive than the rest of the great mans work.

Source: Bob Baker Fish


It's a shock to hear Fela Kuti, the furious, rabble-rousing godfather of Afro-beat, singing perky little high-life tunes about good times, but that's exactly what he did with his first band, Koola Lobitos, back in the mid-'60s. The first half of this set presents the band's hybrid of swinging London grooviness and African jazz, with Fela playing trumpet at least as much as he sings. In 1969, he took the band (renamed Nigeria 70) to Los Angeles. Within a few months, he'd become radically politicized and started writing songs like "Viva Nigeria." The singles he recorded in America, collected on the disc's second half, are the bridge to the full-blown Afro-beat that blossomed a year or two later--spindly, propulsive funk riffs explored thoroughly. There's a newfound, roaring confidence coming through in Fela's voice, even as he gets a few last stabs at R&B structure (like "Lover") out of his system.

Source: Douglas Wolk


In 1969 Fela and his band (then called the Koola Lobitas) visited Los Angeles for eight months. There Fela was first exposed to the black-liberationist teachings of Malcolm X and Eldridge Cleaver. He also recorded these tracks cheaply and on the hoof, subsequently releasing them as singles back home. And while Fela was already familiar with James Brown's volcanic soul music, these relatively short tunes (some of whose vamps eventually made their way into longer tracks down the line) contain an American funk urgency absent from Fela's Nigerian recordings--and note his emulation of saxophonist Maceo Parker. Ghanaian trumpeter Duke Lumumba ups the solo quality considerably, especially on "Funky Horn."

Source: Richard Gehr


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.

Source: John Dougan


1. Highlife Time
2. Omuti Tide
3. Ololufe Mi
4. Wadele Wa Rohin
5. Laise Lairo
6. Wayo (1st Version)
7. My Lady Frustration
8. Viva Nigeria
9. Obe
10. Ako
11. Witchcraft
12. Wayo (2nd Version)
13. Lover
14. Funky Horn
15. Eko
16. This Is Sad

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