Jun 6, 2011

Fela Kuti - He Miss Road (1975)/ Expensive Shit (1975)


Afro-beat pioneer Fela Kuti was never more pissed off at his homeland's military government than in 1974. In that year, the Nigerian police persistently raided his compound, the Kalkuta Republic, as a result of Kuti's growing public opposition to the ruling junta. Having beaten a narcotics charge, the Lagos police swarmed Kuti's home in an attempt to plant a big fat joint on the premises and arrest him for possession.

Quick in thought as well as funk, Fela swallowed the joint. The on-looking officers promptly pushed him into the back of their wagon. Their immaculate plan was to wait for Kuti to dump his morning load for proof. They would then test the turd for THC and, according to the cunning plan, throw Kuti in the choky for a very long time, effectively ridding the Nigerian police of their number one gadfly. Though raised in what might be termed a middle-class environment, Fela Kuti was very much a people's champion, and his famous testing of authority was what saved him in the end-- he was able to exchange his stool for a less-enhanced specimen.

Fela Kuti had been an attentive apprentice when he jammed with some of James Brown's band members in a Los Angeles recording studio in 1969. But sadly, Kuti failed to secure the proper work Visas, and after four days, the Immigration and Nationalization Service threw him out of the country. Of course, Kuti had already gotten what he needed-- James Brown's funk and some Black Panther literature. He would turn his old band into a JB's-style groove machine, re-name it the Africa 70, and bring it on to the worms in power.

1975's Expensive Shit is paired on this new MCA reissue with He Miss Road, another Kuti release from that same year. The album's centerpiece, lead-off and title track was undoubtedly one of the most influential tracks to the Afro-beat movement, and to artists like the Talking Heads, who experimented with similar tribal rhythms on Fear of Music and their landmark album, 1980's Remain in Light. Its complex, bongo- centric percussion is tempered with funk guitar, discordant piano, and brass eruptions. And when, six minutes into the semi-improvisational, instrumental jam, Kuti awakens with a yowl and begins his political rant, he changes music forever.

"Water No Get Enemy," Expensive Shit's second track, is more philosophical than political, postulating the motion of water as a metaphor for human interaction and the rhythms of society. The music is lighter-- almost poetic-- but no less moving. After these two extended, 10+-minute affairs come three more, in the form of Kuti's follow-up album, He Miss Road. The title track here is a less strident affair than either of the cuts off Expensive Shit. Lyrically, Kuti comments on people's stupidity; he mocks an incompetent lawyer for handing over his brief to the prosecution, and tells of a band that turns up at a colony for the blind and the deaf. After a squall of noise, a summery, psychedelic groove settles the mood until finally giving way to an ambient organ.

Fela's tenor saxophonist, Igo Chico, surpasses all his other performances on this disc during "Monday Morning in Lagos," which is up there with the Kinks' "Waterloo Sunset" for magical evocations of cities. Chico's glimmering lines perfectly represent the rays of the rising sun while Kuti's Yoruban vocals add the necessary otherworldliness to the track.

The disc closes as it begins-- with bombs. On "It's No Possible," drummer Tony Allen imposes a polyrhythmic torrent that locks in the rest of the Africa 70. They have no choice but to grab hold of the music and further jazz it up. Fela's lyrics denouncing those who break promises effectively counterpoint Africa 70's joyous riot of uplifting funk. But then, that was Fela. Always contradictory-- a champion of women's rights who kept a harem of dozens of girls (pictured on the front cover of Expensive Shit). But there's no denying the guy's blatant courage in the eye of government, or the legacy of his musical vision.

With DJs steadily picking up on Francois Kervorkian's championing of Fela Kuti's work, it's all too easy to get caught up in Kuti's discography. Start with Expensive Shit and don't miss the road onward.

pitchfork.com, written by Paul Copper


Long, long groove laden tracks (nothing here clocks in under 10 minutes). Effortless, serious funk with fantastic oomphy brass sections. Languid, confident, aggressive, jazzy solos. Powerful singing and proclaiming in both English and Nigerian and there's always a vocal chorus to participate in some thrilling call and response.

Fela Kuti's life and times make the average rock star's antics look pretty tame. He was persecuted, hounded and beaten by the Nigerian authorities for over thirty years. A genuine hero of the people, he attacked the corrupt regimes that dogged the country despite increasingly brutal attempts to keep him quiet. He invented a form of music of his own. He married over 20 women in one go (he divorced them all in one go in 1986). He was always controversial, arrogant, outspoken and innovative. Beat that Liam Gallagher!

This is Afro-beat, the genre he invented. If you've never heard it before you are in for a treat.

Kuti's output is vast, over fifty albums. Wrasse records have just begun a series of reissues of a lot of it. This double CD brings together two of his very best. Recorded twenty seven years ago, it still sounds fresh, confident and sophisticated.

Every one of the five tracks here is compelling, each with a different rhythm and feel. "Expensive Shit" tells the tale of when the Nigeria police accused him of smuggling. They made him excrete to check if there was anything in it (there wasn't). It's sarcastic, hilarious and righteously angry. "Water No Get Enemy" is even better with a great latin tinged sax/chorus riff. "He Miss Road" adds some spooky echo and keyboards. "Monday Morning in Lagos" is jerky, rythmicallycomplex and laid back. It sounds like a town struggling to get into work.

Indispensable stuff from a giant of African music, and highly recommended.



For He Miss Road and Expensive Shit, Fela still carried his original last name--Ransome-Kuti (which changed to his more radical moniker Anikulapo-Kuti later), but he had grown since his early 1970s albums in two important ways. First, Fela had been radicalized beyond his introduction to U.S.-style Black Power and had been framed by Nigerian authorities, who placed marijuana in his possession. He promptly ate the dope, after which authorities arrested him and waited for him to defecate so they could test the dung for drugs. Not a sexy scheme, and not even a workable scheme, but it did give Fela fodder--specifically the tune (and album title) "Expensive Shit." His second advance came in the form of using the studio as a virtual instrument, one that makes He Miss Road a trippy, stuttery, reverb-laden intersection of lean Afro-beat and '70s astro-funk. Ginger Baker was at the controls for Road, and Fela shone through the weird studio ambience. Africa 70 was a band given to leaning back into the percussion weave the drummers--led by Tony Allen--laid down. Their inherently languid pacing was enhanced by Baker's studio play, and the results are outstanding. So too is Expensive Shit, which has the earmarks of radicalized urban musical poetry without all the pretensions of strict meter or the pop market.


The Nigerian musician Fela Kuti combined artistic and political engagement. He advanced a bold new genre called afrobeat, where funk instrumentation was laid over the traditional rhythms of his country, creating a supremely engaging sound. Everything takes its time to develop--few Kuti songs are under the ten-minute mark--but the listener falls into a state of engaged chillout from the start. Through this music, he gave scathing but always playful criticism of the corrupt powers that ruled Nigeria. This collection of recordings from around 1975 is a good example of Fela's soundworld and is sure to entertain.

The title track of this disc, which Amazon's automatic review filtering probably won't let me name outright, is somewhat autobiographical. Nigerian police, seeking to put down this independent-minded rascal, tried to plant marijuana on Kuti during a gathering at his home. Wise to there plan, he quickly swallowed the joint, but the police then threw him in jail to produce the evidence from his feces. He escaped charges with some wily plotting, and then produced this song mocking the police for wasting resources on hassling him instead of furthering justice in Nigeria. Opening brass rounds give way to interplay between Fela's narration about the episode and responses from his group of female singers.

"It's Not Possible" and "He Miss Road" are, I think, some of the more unusual examples of Fela's output. The standard features of Afrobeat are here, but the production and long saxophone lines give these an almost Pink Floydian epic dimension before Fela starts with some hilarious lyrics about undependeable friends and about a few people who just don't get it respectively. "Water Get No Enemy" is one of Fela's most widely loved songs, possibly because its length of only 10 minutes brings it to wider audiences. "Monday Morning in Lagos" is almost as short, but seems a somewhat marginal effrort. Fela takes a break from his usual incisive commentary to offer a fun evocation of his home city.


If you know Fela's work then you most likely have your own favorites. Fair enough. you can't really go wrong. For me, this reissue brings together two of the finest Fela releases. Kudos to MCA for taking the time and resource to create top notch and true reissues. Expensive S**T is my favorite and, by any account, a standout album. His mocking title aside(a jab at Nigerian police who were tricked into testing the stool samples of various inmates in an attempt to find Fela's dope laden sample), Fela is no mood for jokes. You only need to hear the opening salvos from 'water no get enemy' to see why Fela is a master musician.

A shamen of musical styles, Fela took Jazz horns into new stratospheres making them at home in his distinctive multi-movement tracks. As though in an argument with himself his sax would blair angrily against a steady rythym section... then reconsider and join the trance like funk chords alongside cheers from the band...only to rebel moments later and uleash another defiant solo meandering above the beats until, earthbound, he drops down into the groove. No one else can pump out 17 or 23 minute tracks. No one else should try. If you're a first time Fela listener, I envy you and encourage you to buy this album and play it over and over again. You won't get bored, and you may just find yourself ready to drop everything and join the forces of the Kalkuta Republic.


This single CD is actually a twofer featuring "Expensive Shit" and "He Miss Road," two classic examples of the infectious, wide, deep Afro-beat groove. Up-tempo and rollicking, Fela Anikulapo Kuti and his stalwart band and choir generated a funk-laced, organic stew laced with psychedelic pacing and jazzy spacing. The musicians deliver a hypnotic river of sound, powered by drummer Tony Allen's superb energy, which propels the various guitars, keyboard, sax, and other solos.

Sometimes the beat is menacing as on the title track on "Expensive Shit." (Just read the liner notes for the lowdown on the title-it's quite a tale!) Other time, the band slips into a flowing froth as on Water Get No Enemy.

The tracks on "He Miss Road," while less political, chronicle more of the life and times of Fela, who must have had quite a sense of humor considering the abuse he endured. When you listen to the 17-minute final track, It's No Possible, all of a sudden you understand one of the main sources for derivative bands such as Traffic. Compare this track with Traffic's jams on the "Low Spark of High Heeled Boys" and "Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory."

All five tracks are all long jams: typically the instrumental solos build up to Fela's vocals. Though he was the heart and brains of the outfit, he doesn't hog the limelight but lets everyone have some time to shine. And what an instrument his voice was: wailing, strutting, and vexing. These sessions are a true group effort. Both the band and choir churn along in deep grooves, the equal-is not better--of any soul or funk back from what George Clinton and James Brown were dishing out in the `70. For the record, Ginger Baker produced (but does not play) "He Miss Road." All the tracks sound vibrant and fresh even 30 years later, and the sound quality on the combined CD is excellent.

If you want to try Fela Kuti and do not know where to plunge in (his discography is amazingly long and there are some uneven sessions), I would recommend this CD as a fine place to start.


These marvelous reissues of Fela's work present two of his albums on each CD, with the booklets featuring the original artwork, lyrics & translations, and an overview of his phenomenal life. The "He Miss Road" album, from 1975, contains three blistering tracks of interwoven rhythm patterns and deadly grooves. During this period, Fela and Africa 70 were an unstoppable force, releasing new music at a dizzying pace (six to eight albums a year!). The title track is a lethal dose of jazzy organ and punchy horn lines, laid over the hypnotizing interplay between the skeletal funk guitars and Tony Allen's drumming. There's also a new workout on "Monday Morning In Lagos," which Fela had once recorded back when the group was known as Nigeria 70. "Expensive Shit," also from 1975, is one of several Fela records chronicling his confrontations with the authorities. This particular incident involved a police raid on Fela's commune, which he had dubbed the 'Kalakuta Republic'(named for the prison cell, Kalakuta, that he had occupied after a previous arrest). The intent was to plant weed on him, but when the police presented Fela with the evidence, he snatched it, and much to their surprise, ate it. As he describes the event on the album's cover: "My sh*t was sent for lab test. Result -- negative." The record became a hit, boosting Fela's reputation and further embarrassing Nigeria's military government. With his music getting much-deserved attention again, a new generation can now discover how Fela became a household name in his country. If you are unfamiliar with Fela's work, this disc will surely convert you.


Like "Coffin for Head of State" and "Unknown Soldier", the "Expensive Shit" album gives Fela plenty of room to detail and decry official devilry. In this case, he was detained by police in order to produce a "sample" they could then test for hemp. According to Fela, a renowned hemp smoker, the sample came back clean. In the fashion of all his mid-70s recordings, the title tune is uptempo and utilizes a choppy James Brown-ish rhythm guitar riff as an introduction and driving force (Fela's use of funk guitar patterns, by the way, generally fills the role taken traditionally by percussion in African music, setting up a basic pattern around which the rest of the composition is arranged.) His lyrics reflect not only detestation of the regime but also a kind of incensed pragmatism - detaining a musician in such a way is ludicrous, Fela basically says, even if does have THC in his blood. Where Side A of the original album is tense with its polyrhythms, Side B represents the cleansing, and is titled "Water Get No Enemy." Its sound is lilting and cool. Also on this reissue is the entire "He Miss Road" album, produced by Ginger Baker. This is also a mid-70s release, and the only difference in sound due to Baker's presence is a better separation of instruments than on most of the other Fela albums. The lyrics of the title track reflect an unwillingness to become involved with those whose actions betray their better judgement. Throughout this entire disc, the classic elements of Fela's music can be heard: developing call-and-response; a blend of funk, jazz, and Yoruban music; and an unwavering politicized drive.

All reviews above from amazon.com


He Miss Road (1975)

He Miss Road combines the sound of James Brown-style 70s funk with a stripped down Afrobeat performance. Ginger Baker produced this ethereal, nearly psychedelic album with Tony Allen on drums, backed by Fela’s Africa 70 band. The title track refers to the ways in which people have lost their way – and the ensuing chaos it causes. Through call-and-response lyrics, Fela illustrates a few ways in which someone has “missed the road”, including a gorilla who runs out of the jungles and into Lagos, and a musician who sings only for the deaf. This last example is a caustic personal attack on a fellow Lagosian musician who had stolen one of Fela’s girlfriends – the attack extends even onto the original album cover, where this point is literally illustrated.

Written by Mabinuori Kayode Idowu


01. He Miss Road
02. Monday Morning in Lagos
03. It's No Possible

Expensive Shit (1975)

During the early 70’s the Nigerian government and their cronies in the plice department consistently raided Fela’s communal family compound “The Kalakuta Republic”, viewing it as both a social and political threat. In 1974, the police once again invaded Fela’s compound, this time planting a joint on the artist, who promptly swallowed it, destroying any evidence of illegal activity. Fela was arrested, and was held in jail until he could produce a “sample” in order for the evidence to be recovered. Due to some miraculous help from other prisoners, Fela’s “sample” came back completely clean, and he was released without charges. The experience is recounted in the title track, “Expensive Shit”, in which Fela discusses the lengths the police went to in order to literally examine his shit. The second poetic, organ driven track, “Water Get No Enemy”, derives its name from a Yoruban proverb that instructs on the power of nature. This song is Fela’s encouragement to his fellow Nigerians, saying, essentially, that if you’re working in tune with the universe, nothing can be done to stop you. Extending the point further: the world needs the black man, and therefore it needs Africa.

Written by Mabinuori Kayode Idowu


01. Expensive Shit
02. Water No Get Enemy

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