Dec 15, 2010

The Afrobeat Diaries ... by (Pt.XII)

Fela Anikulapo Kuti: Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense


Thanx again to Michael Ricci and Chris May!!!

During the latter half of the 1980s, Fela Anikulapo Kuti's international star waned a little, as Congolese rumba and Malian desert blues became the new world music flavors of the moment. And in 2010, even a portion of the Afrobeat audience tends to underestimate Kuti's later work. But 1986's Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense, along with albums such as Beasts Of No Nation (Kalakuta, 1989) and Underground System (Kalakuta, 1992), demonstrates that Kuti's genius never left him, and that Egypt 80 was as limber and hard-hitting a band as its predecessor, Afrika 70.

Kuti only infrequently employed outside producers on his albums. Sometimes the results were good: British dub master Dennis Bovell's Live In Amsterdam (Polygram, 1983) and the ex-Cream drummer, Ginger Baker's psychedelia tinged He Miss Road (EMI, 1975). On another occasion it was spectacularly bad: Bill Laswell's extensive remix and overdubbing of Army Arrangement (Celluloid, 1985), done while Kuti was in jail in 1984 on trumped up currency smuggling charges. Listening to it was "worse than being in prison," Kuti said.

Best of them all was Wally Badarou's Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense. It adopted a markedly different aesthetic to the one Kuti typically used, and it was a triumph. The album was recorded shortly after Kuti had been released from jail, where he'd served 20 months on the smuggling charges (son Femi had kept Egypt 80 rehearsed during the incarceration).

Badarou's production is richer and more burnished than was the norm for Kuti. Indeed, it's almost orchestral. The sound is smoother, the beat more chilled, and the arrangement denser, with layers of keyboards, a serpentine horn chart, and the backup choir placed well forward in the mix. In the lyric for the title track, Kuti tells the oyinbos (white men) to stop foisting sham versions of democracy on Africa, allowing "democratic" rulers to line their own pockets at the expense of the people, just so long as foreign-owned multi-nationals are permitted to strip the continent of its natural resources for a pittance. This isn't democracy, says Kuti, it's "demo-crazy." Give us back our traditional rulers, he says, they are infinitely preferable.

Ironically—and probably unknown to Kuti at the time this album was recorded—Badarou was during the mid 1980s sometimes engaged as a keyboard player on Laswell's productions (saxophonist Manu Dibango's 1985 Celluloid album, Electric Africa, was outstanding). But Badarou's modus operandi was eons away from Laswell's heavy handed approach. Years later, explaining how to produce Kuti, he said, "You don't. You keep the tape running, you have a second machine standing by, you make him feel comfortable, and you are wholly transparent throughout the process. Fela knew very little of me—I can't recall ever being formally introduced—and I clearly felt his reluctance to the having a 'producer' on board....But Fela loved the sound." Indeed, Kuti told Badarou, "You know how to mix my music, man"—a real compliment from an artist who always knew exactly how he wanted his music to be presented on disc.

Kuti and Badarou recorded three tracks during the sessions: "Look And Laugh" was included on later editions of Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense; "Just Like That" was included on Beasts Of No Nation. Both tracks are included on this Wrasse release.


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