Jun 17, 2011

Fela Kuti - Yellow Fever (1976)/ Na Poi (1976)


Yellow Fever:
The entire mid-'70s found Fela Kuti and his Afrika 70 really honing in on their signature sound. Yellow Fever, released in 1976, sits right up there with No Agreement (1977) and Confusion (1975) both in terms of quality of the groove and Fela's tact in putting out his message. "Yellow Fever" opens with a couple of measures of guitar and bass interplay that sets up the standard funk-jazz vamp that will prod the entire length. The horn solos are reaching, explosive, and (though the word is overused) funky. Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker have some tough competition here, as these guys are unwielding in their voice. After eight minutes of instrumental eminence, Fela makes his own voice heard and gets to the meat of his product. The words speak of the strange practice of Africans lightening their skin -- this idea just doesn't jive with Fela's strong pan-African sentiments. As he gets progressively worked up, the choir responds to him exemplifying the idea and the vibe. Once Fela feels he's got his point across, he just lets the musicians have their fun until the end of this 15-minute rollick. An unbelievable and hard-hitting groove opens up "Na Poi" and slams in with absolute genius. This is actually another version of the same song from 1972. "Na Poi," banned by the Nigerian Broadcasting Company due to its sexual content, makes one wonder -- what was really going on in the Kalakuta Republic (his walled-in residence)? The instrumentation of "Na Poi" that began as genius settles into the familiar and works itself out until, once again, Fela decides to get down and literally dirty. This is an entertaining piece, but it doesn't really hold up to the rest of his material.


Na Poi:
This album is somewhat of an anomaly for Fela Kuti. Accompanied as always by the Africa '70 band, Kuti temporarily abandons his tradition of one song extending over an entire LP side -- although he hasn't strayed too far from form -- as the A-side track extends over basically one and a half sides with the shorter funky rave "You No Go Die.....Unless" completing the B-side. In addition to that slight variance, the structure of Kuti's delivery as well as the explicitly sexual intonation in the subject matter of "Na Poi" stray from tradition. The title song has somewhat of a history in that it was recorded and issued twice before. The first version from 1972 has not been reissued domestically; however, Yellow Fever (1976) updated the track, which carried the apt moniker "Na Poi '75." The following year the composition was revisited to comprise the lengthy version which is spread over three quarters of this disc. In essence, the track is a sexual guide set to music. As such, it features both spoken narration as well as sung lyrics. "Na Poi"'s rhythms churn and grind through several notable movements -- including a spirited percussion section and several tight horn arrangements. These hark back to the same type of perpetual funk that became the cornerstone of Parliament and Funkadelic. Initially, the repercussions of such blatant sexuality resulted in the track being banned by the Nigerian Broadcasting Company -- although when the song was reissued in 1975 it snuck back on the air as the new version had an ever so slightly different name. "You No Go Die.....Unless" is much in the same spirit as James Brown's hard-driven funk musings. From Kuti's impassioned vocals to the upbeat syncopation of the rhythm, this track contains many obvious parallels between the mid-'70s stateside funk movement and that of concurrently popular African music. The incorporation of the Africa '70 horn section -- which is heavily featured during the bridges -- also provides a much thicker punctuation to Kuti's vocals. Lyrically, the song deals with the urban sprawl that was beginning to occur in Lagos -- in many ways a social observation on par with Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues" or Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City."



One in the series of spectacular re-releases of Fela Kuti's 1970s recordings that pairs two albums on one disc, YELLOW FEVER/NA POI bears all the hallmarks of classic Fela. Spread out over an hour of music are incessantly funky rhythmic backdrops, percolating bass, syncopated guitar lines, a horn section that alternately blasts in unison or lays down long, jazz-inspired solos, and Fela's call-and-response dialogues with his backup singers.

The Nigerian performer's commitments to righteousness and political liberation are evident in the song's themes. "Yellow Fever" takes to task the trend of African skin-bleaching, while "Na Poi" extols sexual freedom and experimentation over a sultry, lilting groove. NA POI also includes "You No Go Die...Unless," a song dedicated to displaced refugees living in Lagos. Listeners unfamiliar with Fela's work may find the sprawling, improvised songs and Yoruba singing unusual at first, but repeated listens will reveal the mesmerizing charms of this world-music icon.



The song "Na Poi," from which the title of Knitting Factory's second batch of reissues is taken, is featured, in different versions, on both Yellow Fever and Na Poi.

"Na Poi" literally means "things will collide," and in the lyric Kuti describes what men and women get up to in bed in graphic detail, including references to angle of penetration and lubrication. The original, 1975 version, included as the "B" side of 1976's Yellow Fever, was banned by the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation. Never one to miss the opportunity of raising the stakes, Kuti recorded a longer (25:37) version for Na Poi, released a few months later.

In truth, contemporary shock value aside, "Na Poi" isn't an arresting lyric. Few things, surely, are as boring as watching other people have sex, but listening to someone else talk about having sex is even worse. Afrika 70, fortunately, is on burning form and on the longer version, in particular, there are several edge of the seat instrumental sections.

"Yellow Fever" is a more enduring song. In it, Kuti lays about the fashion for skin bleaching amongst Nigerian women, citing the practice as an example of the post-colonial, cultural inferiority complex he believed was holding back the country's development. The song addresses women much as 1973's "Gentleman," which lampooned the adoption of European suits and ties, addressed men.

"You No Go Die...Unless," with its unusually short playing time (7:35), was the filler track for Na Poi, whose title track took up all of the first and half of the second side of the original LP. More James Brown-derived funk than Afrobeat, it's reminiscent of Kuti's recordings with Koola Lobitos in Los Angeles in 1969. Over an urgent, edgy funk beat, Kuti tells the Nigerian state authorities that he doesn't fear them or their goons, and that he won't die until he himself is ready.

Read the full article at allaboutjazz.com


Mid-70's Afrobeat gem by the legendary master and tortured politico who was (rightly) elevated to status of sainthood upon his passing in 1997. The two LP's one this cd are not among his best, but fans and lovers of funk, global beat and world music are encouraged to explore all of his work, as no one had more of an impact than he. 'Yellow Fever' is comprised of laid-back, simple yet sublime grooves peppered with punctuating horns, sparse and hypnotic percussion, the meter-defying drumwork of Tony Allen and, of course, the manditory horn solos and organ noodling of leader Fela Kuti. 'Na Poi' is comprised of two 13 minute tracks, and features the up-tempo James Brown-like funk of 'You No Go Die... Unless You Want Go Die' that smokes throughout. While not as killer as 'Inside Out', 'Afrodisiac/Open and Close' or 'London Scene/Shakara', IMHO, it's essential nonetheless. So get the fever and worry about a remedy later...
"Yellow Fever" is definitely a more accessible album, more directly linked to the mellow, hypnotic Nigerian highlife/juju pop style, while "Na Poi" is more of an experimental, difficult-listening album. It's interesting to hear the two different versions of the song "Na Poi," both extended Fela-style jams, but with radically different approaches... give you a pretty good sense of the kind of stylistic range these guys had. I agree that "Yellow Fever" is more fun, but hey... as long as they're gonna throw an extra album's worth of material on the same CD, I ain;t gonna complain.



Yellow Fever (1976)

The title track, “Yellow Fever”, is a scathing criticism of post-colonial Nigerians who cannot shake their “colonial mentality”. Fela rails on women who bleach their skin as an act of beauty, contemptuously adding that, despite what they think, it only makes them less attractive. The second track of the album is the notorious “Na Poi” (loosely translating to “things collide”) which was banned by the Nigerian Broadcasting Company for its explicit, socially shocking sexual references. As Fela jams out, the song becomes a veritable “how-to” guide to sex, including allusions to motion and lubrication, among other taboo details.

Written by Mabinuori Kayode Idowu


01- Yellow Fever
02. Na Poi 1975 Version

Na Poi (1976)

The “Na Poi” album contains a later version of Fela’s scandalous hit “Na Poi”, in which Fela details what happens between a man and a woman behind closed doors. Originally banned by the Nigerian Broadcasting Company for its taboo sexual lyrics, the version on this eponymous album interchanges spoken word and sung lyrics over the Africa 70 horn play, spanning not only the complete a-side of the record, but the first part of the b-side as well – clocking in over 25 minutes. The record finishes with “You No Go Die….Unless”, a hard-hitting funk tune that displays Fela’s bravado as he instructs people not to fear death, because, he explains, they won’t die until they’re ready to die. Again Fela is playing provocateur to the ruling regime, essentially announcing his fearlessness in the face of their brutality.

Written by Mabinuori Kayode Idowu


01. Na Poi, Pt. 1
02. Na Poi, Pt. 2
03. You No Go Die.....Unless

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