Jul 1, 2011
Fela Kuti - Upside Down (1976)/ Music of Many Colours (1980)
Recorded four years apart, Upside Down (1976) and Music Of Many Colors (1980) are thematically unconnected with the events surrounding the sack of Kalakuta. They are unusual in that each includes lead vocals by guest American singers. The first features Sandra Isidore, the second singer and vibraphonist Roy Ayers.
Kuti went through some major cultural and political changes during the 1969 US tour which concluded with the formative Afrobeat recordings collected on The '69 Los Angeles Sessions . Perhaps the most far-reaching of these was his befriending of Sandra Isidore, a political activist who introduced him to the ideas of Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver and other black radicals. (Isidore also affirmed Kuti's use of reefer, though she didn't, as is sometimes claimed, introduce him to it; he had first enjoyed weed in London almost a decade earlier).
In 1976, Isidore visited Kuti in Nigeria, and sang on Upside Down. She's a competent singer, but the main points of interest are the lyric, in which Kuti observes how everything in Nigeria is "upside down" (or ass about face as English would have it), and her ongoing importance in Kuti's life.
In 1979, Roy Ayers' band toured Nigeria as the opening act for Kuti, and the two decided to make an album together, one side each. Ayers' side was "2000 Blacks Got To Be Free," a straight-ahead piece of jazz funk with a simple horn arrangement, in which Ayers testified that by the new millennium Africa would (or at least should) be liberated from any vestiges of colonial influence. Kuti's "Africa Centre Of The World" was a more collaborative piece, back in the Afrobeat groove and prominently spotlighting Ayers' vibraphone, which meshes wonderfully with the rich, motivic horn charts.
Read the full article at allaboutjazz.com
So the Fela reissue juggernaught rolls on and we’ve got the 1976 Upside Down album. It came at a time during a brief lull in harassment from the Nigerian government and the music benefits dramatically. It’s incredibly tight, punchy, with squalling sax and relentless energy. Perhaps most interesting is the presence of Sandra Akanke Iszadore on vocals, the women who introduced Fela to black consciousness and the Black Panthers during his formative year in the US. It’s quite incredible hearing another voice at the helm of Fela’s weapon Africa 70, very unusual, yet she sounds quite amazing, totally primed and commanding with lyrics penned by Fela, comparing the chaotic nature of Africa with the more organized systems in the West. “Everything Upside Down/ Disorganize,” she repeats over and over. It’s upbeat urgent and taut, a really unique tune in his oeuvre.
Go Slow picks up on the disorganization at the heart of 1970′s Lagos where the oil boom sent people flocking to a city without the infrastructure to cope. Go Slow is about the infamous traffic jams where you could apparently spend as long as a day ensnared in traffic. Musically it’s really interesting, perhaps modeled on a traffic jam, beginning plodding before picking up tempo and then frustratingly slowing right down when it should be building before finding a comfortable canter, it’s another 14 minute piece, the equivalent of a three minute pop song for Fela and it has him equating being stuck in a jam like being in jail. It’s a tune with a really nice almost sultry groove, the kind of tune that just weaves in and out and allows the listener to just float along with it.
In 1979 US funk soul vibraphonist Roy Ayers toured Nigeria. He opened for Fela and clearly they enjoyed each others company enough to record an album together. It’s pretty wacky stuff, Ayers sleazy sexy soul vibe with Fela’s militant ethos. 2000 Black is an almost spoken word afro funk workout with Ayers delivering a serious message that by the year 2000 “all blacks got to be free,” and to ‘”hink about your future and don’t forget your past.” However it’s with his sultry bedroom voice which comes across as a little weird, particularly with it’s cheeky wah wah guitar accompaniment. In fact it could almost pass for a regular Roy Ayers track, aside for the occasional horn stabs and call and response backing vocals.
Africa Centre of the World, Fela’s contribution is a more traditionally Afrobeat orientated tune, yet the inclusion of Ayers vibraphone is nothing short of glorious, trickling across the rigid beats like liquid. It’s what Ayers does best and here melding with Fela it’s one of those joyous musical combinations/ accidents/ inspirations that you can only dream about, particularly about five minutes into this 18 minute opus where Ayers starts soloing. Though he continued to play with Fela occasionally in the US, you almost wish Ayers had stayed on to join Africa 70 as the tune no longer feels so Felacentric, it’s clear there’s another power in the room.
The combination of these two albums is no an accident. Though four years apart they both represent Fela opening up his music to outside forces, both of whom he appears to have felt an enormous feeling of trust and affinity with. Though he seems to have maintained his vision and musical approach, aside from Ayers 2000 Black, the outside influences have pushed the music into different realms, dramatically changing its context and meaning, but perhaps more importantly creating some really unique diversity within Fela’s expansive oeuvre that also happen to be great tunes .
This two-on-one-disc CD reissue brings together a couple of the more unusual offerings in Fela's discography. Upside Down, released in 1976, is the usual two-song, half-hour deal, the songs beginning with several minutes of instrumental solo trades before the socially conscious lyrics enter. The song "Upside Down" itself, however, is sung not by Fela but by Sandra Akanke Isidore. She was a woman who Fela met during his stay in the United States at the end of the 1960s, and who is credited with helping to elevate Fela's own social awareness and ethnic identity. It's basically like hearing a Fela track with a different vocalist, then. Although Isidore's pipes aren't as strong as Fela's, it makes for something refreshingly different in the midst of all those similar two-song Fela releases from the mid-'70s. The other track, "Go Slow," is a little jazzier, and puts less emphasis on lyrics than most Fela tracks, with the singing largely limited to chants that punctuate the instrumental arrangement. On Music of Many Colours, Fela collaborated with American jazz/soul crossover vibraphonist Roy Ayers. Ayers wrote and sang one of the two lengthy tracks that comprised the album, "2000 Blacks Got to Be Free." Musically, the match didn't work out that great here, putting Fela's Afro-funk ensemble to a disco beat, though the lyrical advocacy of African unity fit in with Fela's usual lyrical preoccupations. Fela takes the vocal and compositional chores for the album's other song, "Africa Centre of the World," which is like a customary Fela track decorated by Ayers' vibes flourishes, and chained to a rather more conventional Western beat.
Upside Down, released in 1976, is one of the more unusual items in Fela Kuti's discography from the period. Not structurally -- it's the usual two-song, half-hour deal, the songs beginning with several minutes of instrumental solo trades before the socially conscious lyrics enter. The song "Upside Down" itself, however, is sung not by Kuti but by Sandra Akanke Isidore. She was a woman that he met during his stay in the United States at the end of the 1960s, and who is credited with helping to elevate his own social awareness and ethnic identity. It's basically like hearing a track by this artist with a different vocalist, then. Although Isidore's pipes aren't as strong as Kuti's, it makes for something refreshingly different in the midst of all those similar two-song releases from the mid-'70s. The other track, "Go Slow," is a little jazzier, and puts less emphasis on lyrics than most Kuti tracks, with the singing largely limited to chants that punctuate the instrumental arrangement.
"Music In Many Colours"
This meeting of the minds and bands of Afro-funk creator Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and American vibist and R&B/jazz innovator Roy Ayers is a collaboration that shouldn't work on the surface. Fela's music was raw, in your face politically and socially, and musically driven by the same spirit as James Brown's JBs. At the time of this recording in 1979, Ayers had moved out of jazz entirely and become an R&B superstar firmly entrenched in the disco world. Ayers' social concerns -- on record -- were primarily cosmological in nature. So how did these guys pull off one of the most badass jam gigs of all time, with one track led by each man and each taking a full side of a vinyl album? On hand were Fela's 14-piece orchestra and an outrageous chorus made up of seven of his wives and five male voices. For his part, Ayers played vibes, and saxophonist Harold Land blew like the soul master he is. The rest of the Ayers septet performed on his tune only, the funk fest "2,000 Blacks Got to Be Free," an open-ended soul groove overdriven into Afro-funk by Fela's orchestra. Ayers is down on the quick changes, and his band leads the orchestra in pulling down the funk into a hypnotic sway and groove. On Fela's "Africa -- Centre of the World," everything starts out dark and slow with a chant from the master and then the chorus and Fela's trademark tenor honk. The horn section kicks in and Ayers starts playing all around the mix like a restless spirit. He darts in and out of the changes and sometimes hovers above them. The effect is as mesmerizing as it is driving. This is a sure bet for any bash where you want 'em to dance until they drop. For the purpose of musical history, this was a meeting that panned out in all the right ways and left listeners with a stellar gift of a recorded souvenir.
Digitally remastered two-fer containing a pair of albums from Fela Kuti's influential back catalog. Upside Down was written by Fela to portray a worldly travelled African, who searches the dictionary and finds the definition of upside down - a perfect description of the African situation. The album features Sandra who stood by Fela and introduced him to the Black Panthers during his time in the United States. Music Of Many Colours is a collaboration between Fela and African American vibraphone player Roy Ayers. They decided to do an album together after Fela's 1979 tour of Nigeria in which Roy was the opening act.
These albums provide answers to the question, "What would Fela Kuti's band sound like with someone else singing?" The title track of 1976's Up Side Down was written for the voice of Sandra Isodore, the woman who had introduced Fela to the Black Panthers seven years before. It's one of his greatest songs, a slinky 15-minute funk jam with an irresistible riff and a sly lyric about Pan-African disorganization. Fela coupled it with a remake of his earlier "Go Slow," a low-grooving complaint about traffic jams in Lagos. Music of Many Colours is a 1980 collaboration between Fela and American vibraphonist Roy Ayers, who wrote and sings the jazzy "2000 Blacks Got to Be Free," a vision of a black-unity future that's the closest Africa 70 ever came to making a disco record. Its companion piece, Fela's "Africa Centre of the World," is more straightforward midtempo Afro-beat, with multiple percussionists pattering against Ayers's chiming, improvisational vibes.
Upside Down (1976)
Sandra, the woman who stood by Fela and also brought him in contact with the Black Panther during his transformation years in the United States, came back to visit a highly popular and successful Fela in Nigeria in 1976. Upside Down was written by Fela to portray a worldly travelled African, who searches the dictionary, and finds the definition of upside down—a perfect description of the African situation. ‘I have travelled widely all over the world like any professor…’ Fela makes Sandra sing: “The thing I have seen I will like to talk about upside-up and downside-down, in overseas! Everything is organise. Their system organise! They have their own names!” But back home in Africa, everything is: ‘head for down yanish for up! Everything is disorganise!’. Meaning back home, everything is totally disorganized—Upside Down
"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.
Written by Mabinuori Kayode Idowu
1. Upside Down
2. Go Slow
Music of Many Colours (1980)
2000 Blacks Got To Be Free:
Is a musical collaboration between the African American vibraphone player Roy Ayers and Fela. After a three week tour of Nigeria’s major cities in 1979, where he performed as the opening act for Fela’s band, the two artists decided to do a joint album as a round-up to the tour. The result, an album titled: ‘MUSIC OF MANY COLOURS’. On the A side Fela’s Africa Centre of the World, and on the B Side Roy Ayers: 2000 Blacks Got To Be Free. In this song Roy says he has, like many other black men, a vision coupled with a dream that says: ‘…by the year 2000 comes around, Africa would be united and free’. He hopes, or better he knows that everybody in Africa and the Diaspora will be knowledgeable about Africa. That by the time year 2000 rolls around, we will all have our minds together—2000 Black Got To Be Free is the message from Roy Ayers, that black people should unite by the time year 2000 comes.
Africa Centre Of The World
Africa Centre Of The World is Fela’s contribution to the joint album from him and Roy Ayers called: Music Of Many Colours. It is a song about Africa, the cradle of today’s civilization. Recorded twenty-one years after he left Nigerian shores to study music at London Trinity College Of Music. According to Fela in this song, the ignorance of the Western world at this time was still very much evident. Englishmen, who were not aware of the ape-like origin of man, used to come-over to him to find-out if he got a tail like apes and monkeys. For him, it is only ignorance that could be the reason for such dumb questions. He points to Africa’s place at the centre of the world map, as not by accident, rather because we were the first people on earth, adding that territory has been man’s major reason for going to war. If Africans occupy the best area in the world, this is not by accident. Africans must have been the strongest people to occupy the centre of the world.
Written by Mabinuori Kayode Idowu
1. 2,000 Blacks Got to Be Free
2. Africa, Center of the World