May 17, 2011
Fela Kuti - Roforofo Fight (1972)/ The Fela Singles
It's true that Fela's early-'70s records tend to blur together with their similar groupings of four lengthy Afro-funk-jazz cuts. In their defense, it must be said that while few artists can pull off similar approaches time after time and continue to make it sound fresh, Fela is one of them. Each of the four songs on the 1972 album Roforofo Fight clocks in at 12 to 17 minutes, and there's a slight slide toward more 1970s-sounding rhythms in the happy-feet beats of the title track and the varied yet rock-solid drums in "Go Slow." There's just a hint of reggae in "Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am," in the pace, vocal delivery, ethereal keyboards, and lilting yet dramatic minor melodic lines. The James Brown influence is strongly heard in the lean, nervous guitar strums of "Question Jam Answer," and the horns cook in a way that they might have had Brown been more inclined to let his bands go into improvisational jams. The 2001 MCA CD reissue of the album, retitled Roforofo Fight/The Fela Singles, adds two previously unreleased bonus tracks from the same era, "Shenshema" and "Ariya."
"This is essentially a CD reissue of Fela Kuti's 1972 album Roforofo Fight, with the addition of two previously unreleased tracks from the same era. It's true that Kuti's early-'70s records tend to blur together with their similar groupings of four lengthy Afro-funk jazz cuts. In their defense, it must be said that while few artists can pull off similar approaches time after time and continue to make it sound fresh, Kuti is one of them. Each of the four songs on Roforofo Fight clocks in at 12 to 17 minutes, and there's a slight slide toward more '70s-sounding rhythms in the happy-feet beats of the title track, and the varied, yet rock-solid drums in "Go Slow." There's just a hint of reggae in "Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am," in the pace, vocal delivery, ethereal keyboards, and lilting yet dramatic minor melodic lines. The James Brown influence is strongly heard in the lean, nervous guitar strums of "Question Jam Answer," and the horns cook in a way that they might have had Brown been more inclined to let his bands go into improvisational jams. The two bonus tracks -- "Shenshema" (from 1972) and "Ariya" (from 1973) -- comprised the segment of the CD titled "Fela Singles" a curious phrase given that they were previously unreleased. "Shenshema" is a nine-minute cut that is heavy on go-go-like percussion and cool, responsive chants from the band. The ten-minute "Ariya" is a real discovery, its urgent spy theme-like melody and Kuti's haunting, driven vocals making it a highlight even relative to the generally high quality of his recordings during this period. The same set was remastered and licensed to the venerable Wrasse Records label. The package is deluxe, in a slipcase. There is a biographical essay included and notes on individual songs by Mabinuori Idowu, the author of the excellent biography Fela, Why Blackman Carry Shit.
This is essentially a CD reissue of Fela Kuti's 1972 album Roforofo Fight, with the addition of two previously unreleased tracks from the same era. It's true that Kuti's early-'70s records tend to blur together with their similar groupings of four lengthy Afro-funk jazz cuts. In their defense, it must be said that while few artists can pull off similar approaches time after time and continue to make it sound fresh, Kuti is one of them. Each of the four songs on Roforofo Fight clocks in at 12 to 17 minutes, and there's a slight slide toward more '70s-s".
Not much to say here other than this is an essential album for a world music collection. Drummers,percussionist, and any member of the rhythm section for that owner should own this, as they will no doubt find this inspirational. It is not coincidence that Fela Kuti was mentioned in the movie, "The Visitor" as an inspiration for the characters. The American audience might find this challenging with songs lasting well over 10 minutes, but the music can not be comprehended in a popular music framework and easily transcends that. I am quite surprised to see so few reviews for an album that should be a part of all modern musicians' collections.
I've been a fan of Fela for many years. I was unaware of this album, however, until I read a review on this site. Roforfo Fight is now my favorite Fela CD. PERIOD. Every song is excellent. No weak spots whatsoever. If you've never heard Fela, or if you are looking for that first Fela purchase, make this one the one.
PRAT - acronym for "Pace, Rythm and Timing". Surprised I'm the 2nd reviewer of this phenomenal recording. It is not an audiophile quality recording. Probably a conservative B on sonic excellence. The value is in the brilliant horn arrangements (accompanied by skillfully played rythm guitar, electric base and percussions) and the genius of the artist who is the innovator of Afro-beat. There are hints of jazz influences but Fela stays close to his African heritage. The music has hypnotic qualities but also can give the listener a great sense of self-abandonment and freedom. I agree with all the sentiments and comments of the previous reviewer - if you are new to Fela's music - this is a must. It is a safe buy to be treasured.
The only aspect of Fela's music that may be difficult for western listeners is the length of each track which may easily exceed 10 minutes. If you are not familiar with Fela, YouTube has some very interesting live concert footage that may be helpful.
Roforofo Fight (1972)
Roforofo Fight is about human intolerance towards each other. Issues that could be resolved amicably usually end up in fist fights. Sometimes such fights end up bloody or muddy. Dramatizing the scenario that ensues before a fight, particularly in a muddy place. Fela says it usually starts with words like: ‘You dey craze! I no craze! Get away Who are you?’. These are two people who could quietly resolve their differences, screaming and yelling at each other. Unfortunately for both of them, the area where the argument is taking place is full of mud. Within seconds, they draw the attention of passers-by, turning into a crowd. ‘If you dey among the crowd wey dey look! And your friend dey among the two wey dey yap!…Tell am make him no fight oh!…’. Meaning if you are in the crowd watching, please advise your friend not to fight if he is one of the two arguing. Because human egos, instead of heeding the advise, walk away quietly. Both will feel disrespected and shamed. To settle score, the tow of them chose physical combat in the mud—a muddy fight follows. At the end of the fight, onlookers couldn’t differentiate the one from the other, both of them look like twins. They won’t get any sympathy from the people looking too: ‘…you don tell am before make him no fight! Roforofo dey for there!…’
Go slow is about the crawling Lagos traffic jam that symbolizes the confusion that reigns in Nigeria. Fela compares the traffic situation with a person in jail. He says: ‘you have to be a man in life!’. That is a natural instinct in man but when caught in Lagos traffic, all your aspirations and confidence as a man will wither away. You feel suddenly incapacitated, like a man in jail. Or how would you feel driving on a Lagos road and suddenly, in your front there is a lorry to your left a taxi cab, all vehicles in a standstill. Also to your right, a tipper truck and behind you a ‘molues’ passenger bus and above you a helicopter flying. To complete the picture of you imprisoned on the Lagos highway.
Question Jam Answer
‘When question drop for mouth! Answer go run after am! When question jam answer for road? Another thing will happen.’ Singing about human nature, Fela says when people pose questions at each other, they definitely get answered back — the result of the answer could result into something we never expect, such as: ‘Why did you step on my leg?’ ‘Didn’t you see my leg on the ground?’, these are questions that need answers. Quickly answer replies: ‘Why did you put your leg in my way? Don’t you see me coming?’. It is a song to those who like to pose questions to always bear in mind that they may not get the answers they expect to their questions.
Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am
Broken English translation of ‘Trouble Sleep Yanga Am’ literally means: ‘toying with a loaded gun’ or ‘playing with fire’. It is a song talking about the limit to human endurance. Mr. Trouble is lying quietly and Mr. Provocation (yanga) goes to play around him. What else could he be looking for except palaver. A good example of such trouble-shooting is that of a man who has just got out of prison and goes about desperately looking for work in order to avoid what led him to jail. While at it, a police man stops and charges the man for wandering. Fela asks what could the police man be looking for, but trouble. It is like when a cat is asleep and a rat goes to bite its tail. Or a tenant who has just lost his job, sitting quietly thinking of where his next meal will come from. His landlord comes knocking, demanding his rent. Of cause he will get trouble bigger than the rent he came to collect. Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am simply means there is a limit to any human endurance.
Written by Mabinuori Kayode Idowu
01. Roforofo Fight
02. Go Slow
03. Question Jam Answer
04. Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am
The Fela Singles
Sung in broken English, this song signifies different things. It could mean a shameful thing if addressed that way, and it could mean out of use or out-of-service if used to describe a problematic machine. A care you have to push to start is Shenshema. For a woman who has thirty-nine men because she feels thirty-six is not enough is regarded as Shenshema. A man who has thirty-three woman and complains he cannot get ninety-nine is regarded as Shenshema. A man or woman who uses chemical products to bleach her skin in order to lighten his or her skin is Shenshema. Same for the man or woman who wears a wig to cover his or her natural hair.
Ariya, in Yoruba language means ‘good times’. Fela, in Ariya, tries to convey the celebration of good times-saying: ‘…we are having a good time! It is no one’s business!’ What we get high on doesn’t concern them. It is a party song for everyone to get together and have good times.
Written by Mabinuori Kayode Idowu