May 12, 2011
Fela Kuti - Open & Close (1971)/ Afrodisiac (1972/1973)
Open & Close / Afrodisiac is as stated; a combination of two of Fela Kuti's most memorable and funky Afrobeat albums to date. The album opens up with three tracks from Open & Close, followed by four tracks off of Afrodisiac. Both albums were supposedly recorded in the early 1970s and could not fit more perfectly into that time period.
First track "Open and Close" is an almost 15-minute-long song that sets the tone of the album with its vivacious horns, intoxicating beats and tantric, feel-good lyrics.
There is no track on this album less than 7 minutes in length, and you'll be wishing for more once the album's through.
Favorite tracks include "Je'nwi Temi (Don't Gag Me,) which features an intense array of sound that simmers down at the perfect moment only to build up to a frenzied, horn-induced climax. This song was also featured in the film The Visitor. "Swegbe and Pako," although a slower groove, will have you jamming all the same.
If you've never been introduced to Kuti's music before, immediately upon first listen you'll recognize his sound as something you can groove to, whether he speeds it up or slows it down. (Think Santana meets the soundtrack to Boogie Nights; cheesy 80s rock not included.)
Kuti, after all, is the one who coined the term "Afrobeat," and who helped to build the foundation for the Nigerian-based, jazz, psychedelic and percussion-infused genre.
While certainly he deserved as much fame as say, James Brown or Jimi Hendrix, Fela remains underexposed for many reasons, but mainly because he was anything but mainstream. Kuti often refused to perform a song live that he had already recorded in the studio, and many of his tracks extended into 20-minute-long grooves, and those were not including his live jams (some which averaged around 45 minutes long.)
Nonetheless, the musician had mystique and talent that has influenced countless artists, including David Byrne, Brian Eno and TV On the Radio.
Another long-thought-lost gem from the Fela Anikulapo Kuti archives, Open & Close was originally released in 1971 and, in the manner of He Miss Road and Fela's London Scene, is a total groove-fest loaded to the gills with raucous horn blowing, ferocious percussion (once again, Tony Allen take a bow), and song lengths over ten minutes. By this point, Fela could do no wrong when it came to recording; Afro-beat dissenters will claim that there is a trance-inducing similarity to much of Fela's '70s recorded output, that the grooves aren't enough to make the songs distinctive enough on their own. That's true of some of his later recordings (like in the mid- to late '80s), but at this point he was still breathing fire and the band was in top form. Perhaps the distinguishing factors of records like Open & Close and some of Fela's other '70s releases are that as much as he liked to ride a groove, he also liked to disrupt it, twist it and turn it, reshape it, only to bring it back to its original shape. There was less of that later in his career.
In late 2009, Knitting Factory Records began re-issuing the entire Fela Kuti catalog, to the joy of afrobeat fans everywhere. Previously, records stores would stock a “Best of Fela” compilation, if you were lucky. Now, with the rising popularity of afrobeat, most respectable record stores will carry at least a handful of these gems.
Browsing through his catalog, it quickly becomes clear that Fela produced a healthy number of albums over the course of his career and it can be tough to know where to start. But we at Apes That Play Tapes are huge Fela fans, so we will gladly dig through and report our findings.
We start with Knitting Factory’s double release, Open & Close (1971) / Afrodisiac (1973), largely because I didn’t recognize either of the title tracks from any of the Fela compilations I already owned and the albums are from relatively early in his career. The disc, featuring seven tracks, totals 1 hour and 16 minutes of afrobeat joy. Four of the tracks are over 12 minutes and no track is less than 6 minutes! Hope you’re not in a rush…
Lots of fiery horns, percussive guitar riffs, and relentless drum grooves means fans of afrobeat and instrumental/improvisational music will probably spend the next 80 minutes caught in a spontaneous, one-(wo)man dance party. But I’ll readily admit that listeners who are used to nice, compact, sub-4-minute pop songs with neat and tidy song structures will probably begin to grow a bit weary of the arguably repetitive vamping by track 3 or 4.
Open & Close (tracks 1-3) is my favorite “side” of the album. Fela’s vocal work is a bit more engaging and the melodies are more distinct and memorable. My favorite track is “Swegbe And Pako.” The intro riff develops slowly and melodically, and if you are still sitting motionless by the time the horns kick in at 1:02, you should consult your primary care physician immediately. Listen below, you’ll see what I mean…
Bottom line: This album is highly recommended for people who are new to afrobeat as well as those who are looking to round out their Fela collection. Keep in mind, Open & Close / Afrodisiac is more musical than it is political.
Open & Close (1971)
Open and Close
This song is teaching its listeners how to move Fela’s Afrobeat song called Open & Close – a dance choreography with a lot of African vitality.
Swegbe and Pako
Sung in ‘broken-English’ is about good and bad—competence and its opposite—incompetence. According to Fela, a carpenter who does not know his trade is :’Swegbe’. A tailor who sews like someone in the carpentry trade is another ‘Swegbe’. A doctor acting like a lawyer is ‘Swegbe’, same with a lawyer trying to act like a doctor. On the other hand, a carpenter competent at his work is ‘Pako’. Same with the tailor, lawyer and doctor. If you are in a position of responsibility and you do your work with competence then you are ‘Pako’. On the other hand if you do it bad you are ‘Swegbe’—If you are good you are ‘Pako’ and if you are bad you are ‘Swegbe’.
Gbagada Gbagada Gbogodo Gbogodo
Is another Folk song recounting the war gallantry of the Egbas against the colonial forces and their agents on the coasts of West Africa. The Egba war with the British colonial force was led by Abudi, a renowned Egba war general. Fela starts the song by calling on his listeners to please help him sing this folk song, Gbagada Gbagada Gbogodo Gbogodo, a tale of pandemonium caused by attacking colonial British forces. Proudly, the people went to war against the colonial British force and their coastal African allies. The resisting Egba forces believed they were not only resisting for themselves, but also for the love of their children—‘Oh! Oh! Oya oh! Eni omo wun oya kalo oh!(Meaning if you love your children! Let us go to war!)’.
Written by Mabinuori Kayode Idowu
01. Open and Close
02. Swegbe and Pako
03. Gbagada Gbagada Gbogodo Gbogodo
The collection of songs making up the album title AFRODISIAC were songs Fela and the Nigeria 70(Later Africa 70) re-recorded at the EMI record studio, Abbey Road London in 1971. Originally recorded and released in Nigeria on 45rpm, they were Fela’s first successive hits in the Nigerian music charts.
Alu Jon Jonki Jon
The first song in the collection is a traditional moonlight tale, made into a song. Yoruba mythology makes constant references to inter-reaction between the human and the animal world—a CO-habitation between the two worlds. Once there was a great famine that ravaged the entire world, so goes the tale. To survive this famine, all animals agreed to sacrifice their mothers in the collective cooking-pot. When it came to the turn of the dog, the other animals discovered that he had secretly hidden away his mother in heaven. Alu Jon Jon Ki Jon, the other animals chorused after the dog, treating him as a selfish and dishonest comrade.
Jeun Ko Ku (Chop’n Quench)
This piece was Fela’s first musical success in Nigeria. It paved the way for his eventual popularity throughout Africa. Within six months of its release, this track sold more than two hundred thousand copies—a reason why it remains one of the most exploited(instrumental/vocal versions) of Fela’s repertoires. Jen Ko Ku is about a glutton—who eats himself to death.
Is about the popular adage: ‘no place like home’. Eko is the traditional name for Lagos City, before the Portuguese renamed it Lagos
Je’nwi Temi(Don’t Gag Me)
Is the first of Fela’s attacks at the Nigeria ‘powers that be’. A strong message that he is not one to be gagged. Sung in Yoruba language, it says: …’even if you jail me? You cannot shut my mouth! I will open my mouth like basket! You cannot shut my mouth!’. He goes on to stress that the truth is bitter, but it remains what it is – the TRUTH. Hence, he will not stop talking and singing about the truth.
Written by Mabinuori Kayode Idowu
01. Alu Jon Jonki Jon
02. Jeun Ko Ku (Chop’n Quench)
03. Eko Ile
04. Je’nwi Temi(Don’t Gag Me)