Aug 3, 2011

Fela Kuti - VIP (1979)/ Authority Stealing (1980)


One in the long line of Fela reissues to appear in recent years, this two-song excerpt from the 1978 Berlin Jazz Festival marks a pivotal point in the history of one of Africa's most influential and controversial musicians. Having risen to an unprecedented height of international renown for an African artist, Fela in 1978 teetered on the pinnacle of his political and musical journey. He had recently been banned from performing in Ghana after a riot broke out at a concert in Accra; and the year before, Nigerian soldiers had destroyed his self-declared independent state, the Kalakuta Republic, a violent raid that was also responsible for the death of his mother. Apart from being a giant leap back onto the international scene after more than a year of such tragedy, the show in Berlin provided Fela with much needed funds. The money from the Festival would later provide him with the financial backing for his campaign to become the President of Nigeria, a campaign that was quickly blocked by the Nigerian authorities. Thus, this recording stands as an aural snapshot of a moment of deep transition in Fela's career. The physical foundations of his musical empire had been jolted, and he was about to enter a new phase in which his music and his politics were more closely tied than ever before.

Lyrically, both songs on the disc are directed at the corruption of Nigerian authorities. In "V.I.P.," Fela criticizes Nigerian politicians for ignoring the poverty, hunger and unemployment of the people in favor of catering to whims of theft and talking nonsense. "Authority Stealing" compares petty street crime to the crimes of government officials, asserting that the criminal politicians receive no punishment for their acts, while the street criminals receive lengthy jail sentences. These songs touch on pieces of the major theme in Fela's work as a political musician. Like his counterparts in other African countries, his music is propelled by his criticisms of social institutions, most specifically his critiques of the Nigerian government itself. With this reissue of Fela's headlining performance at the Jazz Festival in Berlin, and indeed with each of the recent Fela reissues, the historical portrait of the father of afrobeat becomes clearer and his impact on the course of modern music and politics becomes ever more evident.

Hal Hickson


From 1979 and 1980 respectively, V.I.P. Vagabonds In Power and Authority Stealing are lyrically sophisticated attacks on the abuse of power. Both are among the best of Kuti's final series of albums with Afrika 70.

The lyric for "Vagabonds In Power," another track which was banned by the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, was in part inspired by an encounter Kuti had with Sam Nujoma, leader of the Namibian liberation movement, the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO), on a flight out of Berlin in 1978.

During the flight, Kuti was troubled by Nujoma's maxim "lutta continua" (Portugese for "the struggle will continue"). Kuti flashed that Nujoma, who was traveling first class, was happy for the Namibian civil war to continue indefinitely; for while it did, he enjoyed a life of comfort overseas, while his people bore the brunt of the suffering. Kuti's doubts increased when on arrival at Lagos airport, Nujoma and his party were whisked away by officials in a fleet of Mercedes-Benzs. Would one of Nujoma's guerrillas, Kuti asked himself rhetorically—one of his actual frontline soldiers, arriving ragged and barefoot—be greeted so hospitably?

In "Authority Stealing," Kuti declares that the corruption and theft endemic among Nigeria's ruling elite are worse crimes than the armed robberies committed by hungry people in their efforts to survive from day to day. "Different way be them way," he concludes, "na similar style be them style: authority stealing pass armed robbery." After Nigerian record companies refused to release the LP, featuring repercussions from the state, Kuti had it pressed in Ghana and smuggled back into the country.

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Another duo of albums on MCA's recollection of Fela Kuti's various landmarks. This double album really consists of two songs -- lengthy ones, as they tend to be anyway. The first half of the CD consists of a live performance from Berlin in 1979, V.I.P.. The rest of the concert that it was taken from was never released. This concert was important in its own right, as Fela was finally able to perform after being banned (officially or unofficially) from performing in a number of African nations due to his inflammatory lyrics. This concert gave the band some money again. Unfortunately, the great Afrika 70 band broke up after this very concert, due to rumors (or facts?) that Fela planned on using the money from the concert to fund his unsuccessful bid for president of Nigeria. As such, this stands as the last recording of the Afrika 70 ensemble (Egypt 80 would follow, but lacked some of the power and coherence of the Afrika 70). Following V.I.P. is Authority Stealing, an album recorded a couple of years prior. This album was actually inflammatory enough to initiate another round of beatings to Fela from the hands of government thugs, this time nearly killing him. The music itself was relatively standard fare by this time, but the lyrics attempt to rise to a new level of criticism of government corruption. In both of these albums, the music is relatively standard in and of itself, but the lyrics are noteworthy for their level of criticism and blame. The albums this time through are perhaps more important historically than musically. Still, anything by Fela has the ability to pump out something worth dancing to. Pick these ones up as a fan of Fela, but as a newbie, look into perhaps Confusion/Gentleman or Shakara/London Scene first.

Adam Greenberg


Authority Stealing garnered Fela Anikulopo Kuti one of his most severe beatings by the hands of the Nigerian government. Fela is blunt in his attack on the figures of government that were responsible for stealing large sums of money in the form of market control. Ironically, the government arrested him (and other outspoken citizens) for an armed robbery, meanwhile beating Fela close to death. Strangely, the rhythm section on this song rolls on in a very mid-tempo, non-reactionary pattern. The solos are low-key and lackluster. All the while, Fela accuses the authority figures of being worse than armed robbers and deserving of hanging. Authority Stealing was originally distributed by Fela's own Kalakuta Records as no other company would touch it due to its inflammatory remarks. Authority Stealing is a critical record as historical and cultural comment but not for its musical innovation.

Sam Samuelson


V.I.P. (Vagabonds in Power) was recorded live in Berlin, Germany. After an introduction as the greatest thing to come out of Africa, among other things, Fela addresses the crowd and instructs them to see him as “something new from Africa.” Five minutes into the track, the music starts. Fela then instructs the crowd to “Clap with the rhythm so [they] can feel it.” The song builds layer by layer–first the shekere and congas, then the guitars and bass, and eventually the horns. Fela leads the call and response horn arrangement with his soprano sax being echoed by the thunderous Afrika 70 horn section. He sings about leaders who misuse their power and steal from the people and the Berlin crowd gives him a warm reception.


"VIP/Authority Stealing" is a very good CD, but with the plethora of Fela reissues now available it is better to start somewhere else. Take your pick of "Opposite People," "Shuffering and Shmiling" or "Zombie," then if you love what your hear, pick this (and others) up.

This reissue does not get a fifth star in my opinion for two reasons. First, even though this reissue series prides itself in coupling two albums for one low price on one disc, it clocks in at only 44 minutes! The liner notes make it clear that there are more recordings from the live performance in Berlin that yielded VIP which have not been released. Why not include them here to beef up the length, or will they be reissued later -- 40 minutes this time for another $14! Second, to further eat into our lack of length, the first six minutes of VIP is spent on various political monologues by Fela and others, which is cool but wears on repeated listenings. Additionally, the live sound is good but not as rich as the sound on "Fela and Ginger Baker Live." "Authority Stealing" is from a studio session and is better soundwise, but the composition is not as strong as "VIP."

Despite these criticisms, Fela is an amazing musical force and pretty much everything he did with Afrika 70 is worth getting. Just get a few other recordings under your belt before this one.

Michael B. Richman


VIP (1979)

Performed by Fela and his Africa 70 at the renowned Berlin Jazz Festival in 1978, this live recording of V.I.P. is possibly Fela’s most profound vilification of the Nigerian government. In his very public address to the European crowd, Fela explains that V.I.P. – normally “Very Important Personality” – really stands for “Vagabonds in Power”, a direct jab both at the Nigerian authorities and power structure, as well as the ruling class. Musically lush, this was to be the last performance of the Africa 70 due to inner strife, mostly having to do with, ironically, complaints about pay (rumors were that Fela had announced his intention to fund a presidential run with the spoils from Berlin). After this performance, the group disbanded.

Written by Mabinuori Kayode Idowu


1. V.I.P. (Part 1&2)

Authority Stealing (1980)

Authority Stealing consists of one solid, groovy 24-minute track again criticizing the ruling class and the Nigerian authorities for abusing power and acquiring wealth at the expense of the Nigerian populace, comparing them to armed robbers. “If gun steal eighty thousand Naira,” Fela sings, the pens of the authorities in charge of the country’s coffers “go steal two billion Naira.” And, he adds, no one says a word about it.

Written by Mabinuori Kayode Idowu


1. Authority Stealing (Part 1&2)


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