May 27, 2014
May 26, 2014
Originally published @
sabotagetimes.com, written by Len Brown
Despite his death over a decade ago, Fela Kuti is undergoing something of a resurgence with the re-release of his back catalogue and the award-winning musical, Fela. Here's part one of an archive interview with the great man...
Hot-foot from Broadway, the award-winning musical Fela! arrives at the National Theatre in London, while his complete recordings have just been re-released. But who the hell was the real FELA KUTI? Back in the autumn of 1986, I spent several heady, hedonistic days with the cocksure, copulating King of Afrobeat. Was Fela ever a serious contender for the Presidency of Nigeria? A truly revolutionary force in world music? Or was he simply a polygamist with dodgy politics and even dodgier underpants?
IT’S AS HOT as hell in here. The heat is on, 12 floors up, mid-80s. A gaggle of colourfully clad-women stare at me, amused by my sweaty pinkness. It could be sun-stroked Lagos, anywhere typically tropical, but it’s Paris in October.
A big-eyed, very naughty, very small boy continually punches me in the leg; his sister giggles at my discomfort. As if this wasn’t enough, the man next to me is wearing only red and blue underpants. Apart from spiritual blasts on his saxophone and scratching his scrotal sac, he assures me he will soon be the President of Nigeria.
He is, how you say, a hero; a celebrated musician of some 50 albums; a world famous political dissident; a man who married 27 women in one day; the possessor of a legendary libido. In layman’s terms he’s a cross between Robin Hood and Bob Marley – a Nigerian James Last, a bandleader whose fame has risen above and beyond the category ‘superstar’. For nearly two years, until April 24 (1986), he languished in Kirkiri gaol; found guilty of a trumped-up charge of currency smuggling. No jury, no appeal. He was released when the judge, who sentenced him to over five years, admitted the trial was rigged.
His detention was politically motivated. He’s a rebel king, a pretender to the presidency, and for the past decade he has been a continuous thorn in the Nigerian authorities’ side. He refused to be silenced and used his music as a means of exposing the dishonesty and corruption of successive governments. At 48, and despite prison, his love of life and his life of love have preserved his physique. In Africa where the ample girth and wealth of leaders is often associated with power corruption and lies, this muscular torso could be interpreted as a sign of honesty.
I WANNA BE ELECTED
THE PRE-weed, pre-coital Feta Anikulapo Kuti is a rare find. He blinks, he stretches, he scratches. He stares out over Paris in the late-afternoon light. He’s worked his band, Egypt 80, through the night, procreating his familiar brass-and-keyboard dominated big sound, based on traditional African rhythms and featuring the call-and-response vocals of Fela and his queens. It will be his first album since prison, Just Like That, and it’s going to be more political, more direct in its attack on institutional injustice, declaring war on bureaucratic bullshit.
“No one wants the military, the country is telling them to quit,” he growls. “The military are saying they are laying the conditions for a civilian government, but how can you bring a tailor to lay the foundation for a building when he’s supposed to sew clothes. A tailor or a shoemaker cannot construct a building. Yet in Nigeria soldiers want to lay the foundation of government. It’s madness.”
Fela’s solution is to stand for the Presidency – in the 1990 elections if not before: “My popularity is so great now that I could even be made President by acclamation. I don’t think anyone will have the guts to stand against me”.
Undoubtedly he takes his political ambitions seriously. Why else would he have suffered so terribly for his belief? In ’77, during the reign of Obasanjo, Fela’s self-proclaimed independent state of Kalakuta was invaded by the military. Along with many of his followers he was brutally assaulted and gaoled; the Kuti women were raped (some with bottles and bayonets); his home was burnt down; and his 77-year-old mother died from her injuries. In ’81 he was detained again, charged with armed robbery and, he claims, the authorities tried to kill him.
And yet, while some take his Presidential candidature seriously and even fear his election, others regard his political dream as laughable. He’s been compared to Screaming Lord Sutch of the Monster Raving Loony Party or the late French comedian Coluche. John Howe of West Africa magazine wrote that Fela “wants to purify Nigerian society, not from the paternal posture of a real politician, but like a cheeky small boy jeering at the open fly of the passing banker”.
His elder brother Olikoye is a minister in the current government – “you can not make a wrong system work,” Fela argues, “he’s trying his best but they’re using him to give them credibility” – so he clearly has the contacts. And, in the face of the unpopular military, Fela’s vision of democracy combined with his rebel superstar status surely has all the romantic ingredients for mass appeal.
But what exactly would he do for Nigeria? “I want to go everywhere and play my music. I want to make people happy. Imagine the President playing music to announce budgets and policies. I want to preach spiritual and political changes, that Pan-Africanism is the stepping-stone to human internationalism. That all human beings are one race; black, white, any coloured shit, it’s just a superficial cover of the inside of human life. Africa will teach that racism is negative, an institutional problem.
“I think artists will remove this negative stereotyped trend in peoples’ thoughts. Artists must be the future leaders of men: they will aim for more freedom of thought, more wanting to meet people, more participation in what will bring happiness. People will tend to remove themselves from what causes violence; the Reagan/Thatcher type leaders cannot do this. Their mind is too institutionally stereotyped.”
Radical idealism, you can’t beat it; fighting talk for cultural freedom, spiritual enlightenment, peace. But what’s this? He says that when he becomes President he will “create a law to make all citizens members of the police and military forces so as to legally annihilate violence”.
Sounds ominous; shades of Robespierre. And what’s to stop the Babangida military government from gaoling Fela tomorrow?
“The people! My popularity has gone beyond that now. My last experience has really broken the camel’s back as far as the people are concerned. You can’t keep harassing one man in Africa like that for a long time, people will go against the government. It was getting too much for them even before I went to prison, too attritious. But I’m not putting my guards down, I expect anything at any time.”
EIGHTEEN MONTHS off the job may not have affected Fela Kuti physically, but he’s been altered spiritually by the experience and his music is now more “truthful” as a result. Before prison he was influenced by the teachings of Professor Hindi; often described, in derogatory fashion, as a “witchdoctor”, Hindi was last seen on these shores slitting throats, burying the victims and bringing them back to life days later. Now Fela’s developed his own brand of spiritualism, utilising his experiences in ’60s America with the Black Panther movement, and uniting traditional Yoruba mysticism with the ideals of leaders like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.
But, I remind him, these spiritual heroes were assassinated, doesn’t he fear a similar fate?
“Nothing happens in this world that is not supposed to be. I know who Martin Luther King is, I know who Malcolm X is. I don’t want to say was because they still exist. They were special entities, not just politicians, who came to do their bit and die. They were supposed to die and they did. I have found that in my life it’s almost impossible for man to kill me. They’ve tried, I have physically experienced death and went through it and came back.
“When about 15-policemen turn their gun butts and hit you on the head and you don’t have a single scratch on your head and you don’t die, that is power. There is a spiritual life, a life that people don’t see, that people cannot explain. This life is there and you cannot kill anybody whose destiny is not to die. They try to form scientific philosophies on what this life is about but really the truth lies in the spiritual knowledge of the human race.”
The implication of Fela’s argument is that Europe is spiritually bankrupt. The colonial governments raped Africa and tried to impose institutionalised morality and religion on her peoples. But now, according to Fela, the boot’s on the other foot.
“I see Africa as the teacher of this new philosophy. I call it truth. The knowledge is not in Europe, it is in Africa, the formula of the spirit world is known in Africa. The secret is there. This information was placed in Africa at the beginning of civilization, in Egypt. Africa was supposed to pass this information to the Europeans and the Europeans were supposed to learn from this. But the powerful entities in European society did not want to wait for this systematic change and instead they came to Africa and took the powers, not wanting to learn how this power was developed. Because of this science was born. They disrupted the systematic plan for the universe, that was made for human beings to progress, so now the knowledge has gone back to Africa, to start to teach again.”
Well, I can swallow this. I’ve been spoon-fed centuries of institutionalised, proudly-revised English history. I usually welcome alternative interpretations. But what’s this…
“There was a witchpot,” Fela continues, “a witch-craft pot. Civilisation was placed in Egypt, all races were there to learn civilisation. But because of evil the maker dispersed all human beings away from Egypt. He gave the power pot to the Yorubas but instead of it remaining there, in 1470 Queen Elizabeth came to steal the pot. Mungo Park came with the story of exploration and brought the witchpot directly to Buckingham Palace. The pot gave the power of technology to Europe but technology was the wrong step to take at that time. And that’s why the whole thing has to go back again to Africa. Queen Elizabeth at that time was an entity, she knew about the pot, she had powers and that’s how she changed the whole plan.”
Mm, it’s an interesting theory.
“Okay people may call it theory, people always call things theories but I’m giving you fact whether people like to know it or not. When you give spiritual information it sounds like theory. Science uses words like theory to debase spiritual happenings. Science to me is doing a lot of harm to people by not allowing them to see the spiritual importance of their lives.”
HAIR OF THE GOD
IN STUDIO Davout near Montreuil, in the middle of the night, Fela pushes the 22-piece Egypt 80 through ‘O.A.U.’ in one take; threatening to sack the next “motherfucker” who falters; laying down his own sax solo sublimely, almost lazily. Then it’s his vocals: an attack on the red-taped incompetence of the Organisation for African Unity, answered by his queens with chants of “O.A.Eunuchs”, “O.A.Useless”.
In his blue-embroidered pink suit, he’s a benevolent dictator, hard but fair, a Brian Clough of a bandleader. Although Wally Badrou’s co-producing Just Like That, Fela’s in charge. He’s still bitter about ‘Army Arrangement’– an album released while he was in prison – being given the dance floor treatment by Bill Laswell, with Bernie Worrell on keyboards and Sly Dunbar on drums. “There was no permission, no asking. He didn’t see the beauty of what I’d done.”
Nevertheless he admits that, as the military’s aim in imprisoning him was to stop his music, the album’s release – with Egypt 80 led by Fela’s son Femi and held together by Fela’s younger brother Beko – was a triumph and drew attention to the injustice of his imprisonment.
And despite the polishing Laswell gave ‘Army Arrangement’ it marked a return to form, featuring the excellent title track and also ‘Cross Examination’, his strongest song since ‘Colonial Mentality’. It may lack the raw, energetic, freshly recorded quality of his past, but ‘Army’ still ranks alongside his best, his most politically outspoken work: ‘Why Black Men They Suffer’ (’71), ‘No Bread’ (’76), ‘Sorrow Tears And Blood’ (’78), ‘Vagabonds In Power’ and ‘International Thief Third’ (both ’79) and ‘Original Sufferhead’ (’81). Before he called his music Afrobeat; now it’s classical African.
"I want to play music that is meaningful, that stands the test of time,” he says with uncharacteristic modesty. “It’s no longer commercial; it’s deep African music, serious music, so I no longer want to give it that cheap name.”
The truths he sings about, the political and spiritual statements he’s making, are often hidden in analogies.
“The tune I’m thinking of now is about African women who palm oil their hair. It’s becoming so disgraceful that every African woman’s hair is shining like white man’s hair. It’s a chemical from America, big business. I will ask these women one question. Why the hair on the head is shining, but not the hair down there? What happens to the hair at the cunt? I want to discourage women from doing this thing because it destroys their hair. African women have not learnt that having hard hair is a gift, that every time you comb your hair, it creates much electricity, so you can communicate much more with the spirit world. That is the only reason your hair is hard. This chemical makes their hair soft and it destroys it. It’s unnatural. In the same way that woman is treating her hair to make it look artificially nice, how many of our bureaucratic leaders are looking artificially nice?”
THEY’RE EVERYWHERE. Hanging around the studio, sleeping in the hallway, cluttering the room. It’s like a medieval court; Fela’s subjects, his women, some of his 27 queens, mistresses, lovers. Of course, in the West he’s taken some stick over the years for his “traditional” views of women.
Let’s recall that he wrote ‘Lady’ (’72) and ‘Mattress‘ (’75) attacking women’s liberation, ridiculing demands for equality and, in the case of the latter, depicting women as mere procreation machines, vessels for man’s desire. But, since his release from Kirikiri prison, Fela’s technically divorced his 27 wives. Hasn’t he?
“I’ve not divorced them. I don’t believe in marriage so divorce does not arise. Marriage does not belong to my own environment, it’s evil, and it doesn’t go along with freedom. If I’m singing to marry then I’m telling a woman that she belongs to me, that her cunt belongs to me. But how can her cunt belong to me, it’s not possible to institutionalize her cunt? She moves about with it, she can travel to America with it. If they put you in prison you cannot take her cunt with you to prison.”
But what of his attitude towards women? Has that changed? Cynics will say that Fela Kuti, while giving his wives freedom, has really just reduced his possessions and is back playing the field. Does he regret the sentiments of ‘Lady’ and ‘Mattress’?
“You see, what I said in ‘Mattress’ then, I did not know I was going to arrive at this conclusion of marriage today. It was a different period of my life and I did not know how to say it. Man must not take woman matters seriously, he must not put woman matters in his head. If you do you will get sick. I’ve seen myself having pain in my stomach, shitting, going through this syndrome people call jealousy. I’ve seen myself sick to the bones. That cannot be a good thing. So you must see woman as something you sleep with, not something that you let go to your head. Woman are mattress, but you must be nice to them, and make them happy. That is what they are and that is what life is about. Use your money to make women happy, make them dress well, make them fine.”
It’s pathetic coming from the son of Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, a pioneer of women’s rights, who met Mao and Nkrumah (Fela’s Pan-African hero), and set up the powerful Nigerian Women’s Union in the 1940s. He says she makes him see what life is all about, that he communicates with her spirit, and he sees no contradiction. But Fela no longer gets angry when judged by ‘Western standards’: “Before it annoyed me, before I went to prison, but now I find that to be annoyed is something negative. Happiness is the most important thing.”
Just as well. Maybe I envy Fela’s ease with women, but I don’t see woman as merely “something you sleep with”. Okay, so it’s a different world, a different culture, but if we resent the hot-crotched metal muthas and macho rappers for their negative views of women then surely we must resent Fela too. Cultural, social and economic excuses could no doubt be made for every category.
But what of Fela’s wives? Back in ’82, his wives expressed their contentment with life in the Kuti camp. They remain hooked on charisma, they want to be close to him. Let’s not forget that they’re mainly Nigerian women raised in the Yoruban climate of polygamy, and naturally there was a reluctance on their part to express any discontent with their lot.
The one exception is Kevwe – a Kuti queen for 20 years, who suffered terribly in the attack on Kalakuta and remains emotionally scarred by the experience. She feels rejected and is thinking of leaving Fela’s court. “Do you think he’s normal?” she later asked me. “Because I have no babies he doesn’t want me anymore.”
But back to Fela and the value of woman.
“Sex is life,” says Fela, profoundly. “That’s why I don’t understand those spiritualists, those monks who say they don’t fuck women. Women are the source of power in the kind of spiritualism I understand. You cannot have power without women’s participation. Sex is the main source of power. When people say that sex makes you weak, sex makes you older, that’s bullshit. Much more sex, much more energy, much more everything.”
Nice work if you can get it, and keep it up. Trouble is, particularly in the West, promiscuity is regarded as evil, and sexual power is seen as dangerous to the establishment.
“People who start all these moralistic trends and shit they could be impotent!” Fela laughs. “For me, I see with my eyes, I walk with my legs, I work with my hands, my stomach takes my food, and I need my prick. It’s just as important as any other part of my body. For me, sex is everything clean.”
Yeah, but what about sexually transmitted diseases? How does AIDS fit into your spiritual scheme of things?
“It gets to the point now where they say that there’s AIDS all over the world, so because there’s AIDS I must not fuck? Okay, very soon people will not fuck. But I will fuck because I do not believe that I use my sex wrongfully, so I do not think I will be the victim of sexual disease.
“Sex disease is a spiritually influenced happening. When you die, everything that you do in this world, you are going to get your judgement for every evil. So when you are reincarnated and you have been using sex for evil purposes you’ll be reincarnated as a homosexual.”
Eh up, we’re back at the witchpot.
“That pot breeds societies, it breeds behaviour in societies, secret societies, cults. The pot breeds the misuse of sex in the spirit world, so the punishment for stealing the pot, is centuries of homosexuality in Europe.”
But not in Africa?
“Oh no, we don’t have homosexuals, at least in Nigeria it’s possibly only one per cent” (if true, one per cent of the current Nigerian population is approximately 767,000).
We’ve reached stalemate here. On women and homosexuality we’re worlds apart. But the light is failing, the night’s approaching, and it’s time for Fela to get some ‘rest’. He dismisses his entourage: only the chosen one remains. And me. “Make yourself comfortable,” he says kindly, taking her into the bedroom off the lounge in his suite.
So I’m sitting there, listening to the telly, French telly, to drown the cries of passion. Fela’s back on the job, and I feel a right gooseberry.
MORRISSEY FOR POPE
YOU MADE me judge him; I didn’t want to do it. No, I didn’t want to do it. He was kind to me; offered me his food, his grass, his hospitality in Nigeria. I could have chucked all this in, woken up in Lagos with a shaker and several wives. I was forced into making these value judgements about him, and I’ve no grounds to believe I’m right. Perhaps I haven’t seen further than my colonial nose and, as a result, trivialized his religion, trivialized his personal beliefs. He let me get close to him, one of my musical heroes, and I can’t be sure that I haven’t betrayed his confidence. I totally disagree with his views on women and homosexuals, but I guess that doesn’t mean I’m right and he’s wrong.
Where will his political philosophy take him next? I totally respect his courage, his commitment in the face of adversity…so who knows what the future will bring for Fela Anikulapo Kuti? With a geriatric cracked actor leading the “Free World”, surely you’re not going to tell me that the man with the two-tone underpants and the red-and-gold horn can’t be President of Nigeria?
Originally published @
sabotagetimes.com, written by Len Brown
May 23, 2014
It’s not fair that other rappers have to survive in a world with Blitz The Ambassador. I don’t think I’ve heard a hip/hop artist more respectable than Blitz. His vocals are magic, whether it’s his smooth operator flow, his pleasant timbre, or more than everything, his lyrics. A mindful, courageous artist that uses a live band instead of overly-computerized beats or samples- Blitz embarks on his next quest with Afropolitan Dreams. The album is somewhat conceptual, as all his records have been. Here he captures life on the road, especially an international one, a musician traveling from his home country to his second home in New York City, and then everywhere in between. The album is funky, heady, and astute- a must have.
“The Arrival” is a great choice to start off the record. The intro has sounds of the NYC subway system, strings, booming bass, and plunking keys, setting a dark tone. Then Blitz comes in over the splintering horns with “It’s never as easy as it seems/ living Afropolitan dreams.” When the whole band comes in it’s pure fire, with Blitz offering his first thoughts on current music: “Kids in Africa/ forgetting Little Wayne/ can never feel their pain.” Later he has one of the album’s best lines: “They say you can force a horse to water/ but you can’t force it to drink/ Well, you can force knowledge on people/ but you can’t force them to think.”
Blitz rushes the stage again with “Dollar and a Dream”, a funkier track with the guitars soaring in and out. The song’s about becoming a rapper in the big city, “Just a kid from Africa/ here to tell my story.” Later he raps about going everywhere with his CDs in his backpack, trying to sling a few before Rolling Stone gave him “four stars outta five.”
“Call Waiting” is a sad track where Blitz first calls his son from the road. “You been practicin’ on your drumset?/ You broke your sticks?/ Don’t be upset.” In the second verse he speaks with his mom, where he’s a little more vulnerable than when he stays positive for his son. “Of course I’m taking time out to eat/ I get a little sleep.”
Throughout all of this, the band matches West African rhythms and vibes with New York funk and zinging hip-hop, like The Roots with more worldliness. Hand percussion, horns, and tight drum n’ bass support Blitz incredibly well, and because it’s all live, the album has a cohesive sound. Blitz is either rapping in his mid-tempo swagger or triple-timing it to live up to his namesake.
“Some things change/ and some might not,” Blitz swears on “Make You No Forget”, and he may be speaking to his own sound, with the same energy that made Native Son unforgettable, but each of his albums has taken on particular qualities that make them stand alone.
This album bridges West African rock, funk, soul, and hip/hop, and therefore is deliciously digestible. If Blitz is the bow and his raps the arrow, and your eardrums are the targets, then Afropolitan Dreams is the bullseye.
Samuel Bazawule was born and raised in Accra, Ghana. In his youth he was introduced to the Highlife and Afrobeat sounds popularized in West Africa, but it wasn’t until his older brother played It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back by Public Enemy that his musical passion was ignited. Bazawule became enamored with Western hip-hop lyricists of the late-’80s and ’90s (Rakim, KRS-One, Q-Tip, Posdnuos etc.) and their ability to use music as an outlet for socio-political commentary. He hadn’t heard young black people express themselves in this way before, and he was hooked.
Currently, Bazawule is a resident of New York City and is better known by his stage name Blitz the Ambassador. His third studio album, Afropolitan Dreams, is his most focused release to date. Featuring a balance of West African instrumentation and rhythms with a firm rooting in Westernized hip-hop, Blitz is making a name for himself in an era of hip-hop music that chides “consciousness” in lyricism (or at least seldom attributes praise to artists who do incorporate it).
Hip-hop has a habit of creating archetypes and finding new artists to continually fill these designated spaces. Kendrick Lamar follows in the footsteps of Ice Cube, Danny Brown follows in the footsteps of Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Tyler The Creator follows in the footsteps of the RZA, etc. (and this isn’t unique to hip-hop; who is Springsteen without Dylan, who is Dylan without Guthrie?). But where is the archetype of the international rapper? In fact, there really is no prominent archetype for the international rapper in Western hip-hop. Multi-platinum phenomenon Drake calls Canada his home, but you won’t soon hear him dropping bars over an Yves Lambert piece.
The way that Blitz the Ambassador tackles this lack of precedence is what truly makes him an astonishing artist, a true ground breaker. He forms his own lane by embracing his Western hip-hop and Ghanian duality. By enlisting talents like Nneka, Angelique Kidjo and Seun Kuti, Afrocentrism reigns supreme on Afropolitan Dreams. He laments on the track “Dollar and a Dream” that world music critics would chastise his earlier music for not being African enough – this album should quiet those detractors. He is joined on every track by his seven-piece band, Embassy Ensemble, who not only demonstrate a mastery of Afrobeat that would make Tony Allen proud, but they are also capable of bursting into hip-hop staples. The interlude “Traffic Jam,” for example, sports the infectious bassline from Bob James’ “Nautilus,” which has been sampled innumerate times, most notably in the song “Daytona 500” from Ghostface Killah’s Ironman album. “Internationally Known,” a fast-paced head-nodder of a track, features fun vocal sampling from Rob Base’s hit “It Take’s Two,” and features some of the braggadocio hip-hop is known for. All the while he uses this unique soundscape to spout his views on a variety of subjects, including the growth of Africa as a collective world power, the nature of communicating with family overseas, and the state of his home country of Ghana.
So-called “fusion” artists, especially those that are hip-hop related, often bounce between two styles and seldom find themselves much at ease. Blitz is fully at home in his style, and his music is a perfect bridge between cultures. He straddles the line between world music and hip-hop without letting it fog his mission as an emcee with something to say. He’s an original character in both realms and Afropolitan Dreams shows Blitz the Ambassador reaching a satisfying maturity.
With the release of his third studio album, Afropolitan Dreams, Blitz the Ambassador formally launches brand ‘Afropolitan’ in a symbolic way. Like any great trademark, brand Afropolitan is built to embody identity, untold immigrant narratives, catalogues of global artistic, social and political experiences, ranges of emotions, new paradigms in the way of Africanism. Brand Afropolitan is multinational. Sophisticated. Pluralistic. Urban. Village. Nomadic. Voyage. Challenge. Risk. Sacrifice. Disappointment. Realization. Triumph. The future.
The twelve tracks of Afropolitan Dreams set the stage for a physical journey that is taken through each narrated story on the album. By now, it’s clear that Blitz is following the tradition of the griot, making honorable his responsibility of being a historian, storyteller, singer, poet and musician. He successfully delivers a record that listeners can play from beginning to end, if not on repeat, fully engrossed in the overarching story being told. More than an auditory experience, Blitz makes you grab your passport and come along on a world tour with him from New York City to the other side of the globe. From the first track you’re riding on subway trains and hopping on and off of jets, getting glimpses of heartfelt phone calls to family members inside of departure and arrival airport terminals. You relate to voicemails about bounced rent checks and calls from collection agencies. You get to be a fly on the wall of a whirlwind, multi-city, multi-country romance. He lets you understand the struggle and sacrifice that comes along with following a dream being fulfilled on the grand stage of life, and the satisfaction that comes with having the audacity to go for the success.
You might be jetlagged by the last track, but the hour long journey of listening will have been worth it. Featured co-navigators rounding out this tour of Afropolitan Dreams include award winning artists representing Benin, Nigeria, Germany, Kenya, Mali, Morocco, Brazil, the US and of course, Ghana. But, make no mistake about it, this is really a gold standard hip hop album. In between poignant narratives and cultural soundscapes are party anthems laced with proof of Blitz’s sharpened lyrical capacity. You’re going to lean back and bob your head to classic funk samples and familiar West African drum rhythms because you won’t be able to help it. And by the last track you will embrace the universalness of Afropolitan Dreams and the conviction with which it encourages the telling of Blitz the Ambassador’s story in relation to and along with your own.
What makes the human condition so awesome is the individuality of expression of emotions. In this case, frustration is one that comes to mind. Different things frustrate us but there’s often a common thread that links back to common problems a lot of us face. If we’re lucky, this boils into something productive like personal success or something enjoyable like art. Take Yeezus, an album that brought Kanye West’s frustration to life. What made that album such an emotional marvel is that a lot of what he said was and wasn’t relatable, but he’s masterful in conveying those emotions sonically. It’s the type of emotional urgency you see come out when he talks more than his demanor rapping. Accra-born, New York-based rapper and visual artist Blitz the Ambassador comes off frustrated for the trials an tribulations of being a Ghanian-American artist. What makes Afropolitan Dreams succeed, however, is that it’s less about telling its unique selling proposition and more about showing it.
Whether he’s rubbing elbows with international stars, singing, spitting out machine like flows talking about bringing younger relatives to Africa or his rent check is bouncing Blitz lives with conviction through this music. This is an album that’s just as informed by Expensive Shit as it was by It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and those influences meet at such a masterful intersection that Blitz postulates something to the effect that this is enough to incense or disinterest hip-hop heads and world music fans alike. But the Afrobeat production, African drumming patterns, scratching and hip-hop drums are all killer here, complementing what the mouthful that Blitz has to say.
Furthermore, he finds a great supporting cast here. International all-stars like Seun Kuti and Angelique Kidjo glisten on this album, making the songs more hard hitting, but also more fun to listen to at times. And with more features piled toward the back of this album, this album feels like Blitz taking steps back from his journey, retracing the sounds of New York all the way back to the music of Africa. However, the entire album feels natural and lived in. Even the bits of funk and soul that are peppered in Afropolitan‘s hip-hop-to-Afrobeat transition. This is a very in touch album and the best album dealing in black political rage since R.A.P. Music and the best album about life as an immigrant since Gogol Bordello stumbled into accidental fame in the mid-aughts. Afropolitan Dreams is of hip-hop classic quality.
Labels: Blitz the Ambassador
May 20, 2014
Stone by Stone is the second release from Ikebe Shakedown, a funk collective based out of Brooklyn NY. Ten tracks of pure dynamite grade Brooklyn-Style-Funk, recorded at The Daptone Studios the influence of the environment can be heard all around; from the grooves to the tempos, its amazing to see how the collaboration with Daptone contributed to this album.
The whole recording carries a rich mix flavors and influences; while tracks like “The Offering” and “Stone by Stone” have a more 70′s funk charged sound and tracks like “Chosen Path” is full of african rhythms, western soundtrack style like Ennio Morricone can be heard thru the album (“The Illusion” and “Last Stand”).
Stone By Stone its not only an great album, its a reflexion of how strong and relevant the New York funk and soul scene is; Sharon Jones, Lee Fields, Menahan Street Band, Budos Band, Charles Bradley, Ikebe Shakedown, a handful of other emerging artist along with the labels, have managed all these years to create an original sound that can be instantly recognized as you hear it and think “damn this is fire”.
The first thing worthy of note about Ikebe Shakedown’s second full length album for Ubiquity Records, is the cover art – simple, striking, 70s influenced, and very effective. It’s a suitably adequate metaphor for the music within the packaging, as Ikebe (pronouced ee-kay-bay) take a very focused approach to playing that is firmly in the groove.
The seven-piece instrumental afro funk band from Brooklyn had previously recorded at Dunham studios and now have the honour of having recorded this latest album at the renowned “House Of Soul” synonymous with Brooklyn’s Daptone Records – lending its analog warmth and clarity of sound to the record’s production. It is also a heavier affair than their first album with plenty of hard driving, dance floor cuts that display both the band’s musical prowess and the tasteful restraint they employ in delivering their sound. Heavy numbers from the powerful strut of “The Offering”, the catchy hook laden “By Hook Or By Crook” and the deft changes of “Last Stand”, pack a thrilling groove for the movers and shakers out there.
Take this with some rather thoughtful tracks, like “Rio Grande” which nicely adds some light vibes and flute amongst the percolating percussion and neat bass; or darker tones, such as the horn-lead “The Illusion” – The emotional high-points often supplied by the killer horn section on this whole set. There’s a great balance to the mix of African sounds and American funk in equal measures. Only on “Chosen Path” do we hear a straight-up afrobeat sound, complete with playful organ, Fela style. Brooklyn’s ‘afro funk juggernaught’ is back, more vital than ever. Get on board or get the hell out of the way.
Labels: Ikebe Shakedown
May 16, 2014
First of all, drummers are going to love this book. With so few autobiographies of drummers in print, the publication of Tony Allen: An Autobiography of the Master Drummer of Afrobeat is a cause for celebration. Co-author Michael Veal, author of Fela: The Life and Times of a Musical Icon and an accomplished musician himself, brings to life the rhythm and emotional timbre of Tony Allen's speaking voice and the complex story of this singular, Lagos-born-now-expatriate musician in a first-person narrative that takes the reader through a particularly transformative time in West Africa's post-colonial history. Most importantly, the book is a hell of a lot of fun to read, although Allen's first-hand accounts of his struggles with shamanistic bandleader and Nigeria's adopted "black president" Fela Anikulapo-Kuti will piss off any musician who has had to fight to get paid for playing a gig. And Allen's chillingly matter-of-fact recollection of the aftermath of the 1977 military raid on Fela's "Kalakuta Republic" compound, a raid that involved beatings, rape, mutilation, and nearly burning the compound to the ground, is truly terrifying.
Swinging Like Hell!
Afrobeat, a musical genre that Veal describes as Nigeria's "sonic signature," was born out of Allen's mastery of what he describes as "a fusion of beats and patterns," including highlife, rumba, mambo, waltz-time, traditional music from Nigeria and Ghana, American R&B and funk and, not surprisingly, jazz. On Allen's first U.S. tour with Fela's band Koola Lobitos, a band that would be renamed Africa 70 upon its return to Nigeria, Allen heard and met drummer Frank Butler, who played drums with such musicians as Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane. Allen cites the drumming techniques he learned directly from Butler as "the final piece of the puzzle that just made everything catch on fire."
And catch on fire it did. In his vivid description of Allen's drumming on the track "Fefe Naa Efe" from Fela and Africa 70's 1973 album Gentlemen, Veal writes: "Like the great jazz drummers, (Allen) keeps a steady conversation with the other instruments, particularly the soloists...Like a great boxer, he knows when to jab with his bass drum in order to punctuate a soloist's line, when to momentarily scatter and reconsolidate the flow with a hi-hat flourish, when to stoke the tension by laying deeply into the groove, and when to break and restart that tension by interjecting a crackling snare accent on the downbeat."
The book not only reveals Allen's methodical, years-long development of a new way to play the drum kit and propel Fela's compositional and political vision, it also shows Allen never stopped developing his technique post-Fela and continues to bring "the vitality of Yoruba artistic creativity" into new and innovative creative contexts. Allen negotiated the "world beat" market of the 1980s and 90s and experimented, like many African musicians recorded during those years, with heavily electronic and dub production techniques. In recent years, Allen has recorded and performed with American, French, and British musicians from genres that may seem light years away from his highlife roots. He saves some of his highest praise in the book for Damon Albarn, formerly the lead singer and bandleader of the wildly popular British band Blur and who has collaborated with Allen on several projects. "The way Damon came into my life," says Allen, "it was kind of like it had been written...not only did this guy make a big difference in my career, but we are also very good friends."
After many years of being underpaid and under appreciated for his innovations, Allen is currently enjoying a creative renaissance. One of the most moving passages in the book comes toward the end when Allen, now in his 70s, describes how busy he is "touring all over" Europe and what drives his creative work ethic. "I still want to play something impossible," Allen writes, "something that I never played before."
The Elder Statesman of Afrobeat Opens UpLately it seems that many of the world’s great percussionists are finally getting the attention and recognition they deserve. From the excellent new documentaries on Ginger Baker and Levon Helm, to Tony Allen’s recently released autobiography, Tony Allen: An Autobiography of the Master Drummer of Afrobeat, it seems that music fans are finally beginning to wake up and realize how crucial a great drummer is to a great band. Cream wouldn’t have been Cream without Baker. The Band would not have been the Band without Helm.
And, as was plain to see upon his departure from Fela Kuti & the Africa 70 in 1978, Allen was essential to Fela’s iconic sound. Kuti made several great records following Allen’s absence, but these records noticeably lacked the virtuosic, yet understated touch of the master drummer of Afrobeat. In Allen’s new autobiography, co-written with Michael E. Veal (author of Fela: The Life and Times of a Musical Icon) we get a glimpse into the life and times of the man behind the kit, as well as fascinating insights into the tumultuous rise of Fela Kuti & the Afrika 70 to superstardom.
Aside from Veal’s adulatory introduction, Tony Allen is informal, highly conversational, and for the most part engaging, though Allen’s frequent digressions are occasionally confusing for the reader trying to piece together the larger picture. One thing is clear, however; from humble beginnings in Lagos with uncommonly supportive parents, to his triumphs with Kuti in the studio and on the international stage, to later life in France as the elder statesman of Afrobeat, Allen has always carried himself with a quiet confidence far more valuable than any lavish praise from music fans. It may have taken the world several decades to properly acknowledge his contributions to music, but Allen doesn’t seem to need anyone’s recognition, in stark contrast to Kuti, for whom the quest for respect and recognition seemed to be almost compulsive.
There are several entertaining passages that reveal the tension between Allen and Kuti during Afrika 70’s ascendancy to superstardom. One particularly memorable passage details the bandmates’ quarrels over groupies:
... The truth is all this bullshit happened because of the girls around. It was just a question of me screwing one girl that was his favorite. But nothing stopped him from screwing that girl also, as she lived in his house. So who was the master—was [Fela] not? If the girl followed me, it was because she wanted to… Why was [Fela] making a problem with me?... He gave it to me properly in front of that girl so that she would know that he was the boss. Which everybody already knew, anyway.There is an air of slight bitterness surrounding Allen’s description of Kuti throughout the autobiography, and who can blame him: Kuti’s megalomaniacal genius and shady business ethics would have made any associated musician frustrated. Still, the immense strength of Kuti’s personality could not suppress Allen’s, and it becomes evident in Tony Allen that Allen has always been his own “boss”.
Any fan of Afrobeat knows the incredible debt the genre owes to Allen, but some fail to recognize the drummer’s influence in rock, pop, and beyond: Paul McCartney, 2uestlove, and Brian Eno are just a few contemporary titans who sing Allen’s praises, and recognize his innovation behind the kit. In the ‘50s Nigeria drum kits were rare; even rarer were Nigerians who knew what to do with them. Aside from a few brief mentorships with his new instrument in his adolescence, Allen has been teaching himself percussion for the better part of 70 years, never ceasing to develop and refine his style even as his ability has become known and celebrated throughout the world. Truly, this is the mark of a genius; that rare artist who never ceases exploring, refining, and challenging himself to take daring and uncomfortable risks with his craft.
It’s challenging to select only one performance to exemplify Allen’s talent; even limiting myself to five or ten choices seems to be doing the drummer an injustice. The truth is that Allen has been remarkably, consistently great for nearly half a century. I can still recall the first time I heard him play: as a lover of rhythm and percussionist myself, I was forever changed when I first experienced the force of Allen’s artistry in the 1977 classic, “Opposite People”. This is music that is nearly impossible to listen to and remain sitting still; Allen basically forces you to move.
After decades of being underpaid and underappreciated for his contributions with Kuti and beyond, it’s satisfying to see Tony Allen: An Autobiography of the Master Drummer of Afrobeat in print. Drummers, fans of African music, and lovers of music more generally will find a lot to love in this book.
“This is not a slice of dry academia, what we get in this incredibly fruitful collaboration is 160 pages of rich revealing narrative that is so engrossing that I missed my stop on the tube. . . . Basically, I couldn’t put the book down and it had me sifting through the records to provide a soundtrack to the narrative.” - Paul Brad, Ancient to Future
“This master drummer’s account is enriched by unstinting critical appraisal, whether evaluating Fela’s most loved recordings or his own subsequent solo efforts. Tony Allen, ever restless, retains the enthusiasm of an absolute beginner, tempered with a survivor’s wisdom. His life obviously a work in progress, one anticipates music yet to come and the stories that surface in its wake.” - Richard Henderson, The Wire
“This is a much needed, truly fascinating book… Allen spins the tale of his life, and of the evolution of one of the great popular musical styles of the 20th century, like the great storyteller he is. It’s a narrative filled with tasty anecdotes and twinkling details, which just add to its momentum. You can almost see the wry smile on his face as he challenges you to make up his own mind… Allen’s totally absorbing narrative was edited and shaped by Michael E. Veal… In his introduction he treats us to an unbeatably succinct, lucidly accurate contextual analysis of Allen as a ‘Yoruba modernist’. He also gets to grips with how the Allen technique works… This is highly readable and highly recommended.” - Max Reinhardt, Songlines
“There’s a sentence in the introduction where Veal, a Yale professor, uses the phrase ‘indigenization of jazz drumming’, but don’t let that put you off. The academic is present primarily to transcribe and edit, while Allen reflects on 50 years at the coalface… One of the great sidemen, Allen here cuts mercilessly through the bullshit.” - David Hutcheon, Mojo
"Tony Allen brings the music scene in Lagos, Nigeria, to life, the dynamic and spiritual music that the world came to know as Afrobeat. He shows what it means to be a musician and a master drummer, and he shares the stories not only of Fela Kuti but also of many other important musicians."—Randy Weston, author of African Rhythms: The Autobiography of Randy Weston
"Tony Allen is an engaging person, an important musical figure during a dynamic era in African music, and a major contributor in the creation of an influential musical genre. He and Fela Kuti emerge in his portrayal as dedicated musical seekers who continually struggled to develop and protect their art. Allen's memoir is an exceptional achievement that will make readers wish to have been there with them to live it all again."—John M. Chernoff, percussionist, ethnographer, author
Popmatters - Zachary Stockill“After decades of being underpaid and underappreciated for his contributions with Kuti and beyond, it’s satisfying to see Tony Allen: An Autobiography of the Master Drummer of Afrobeat in print. Drummers, fans of African music, and lovers of music more generally will find a lot to love in this book.”
Jazzwise - Jane Cornwel“Anyone who knows their Afrobeat will tell you how pivotal the kit drummer Tony Allen was to the genre’s development. Indeed, as . . . Michael Veal points out in this important, deftly crafted book, the pairing of Allen and the late great Fela Anikulapo Kuti could be likened to partnerships between such jazz supernovas as Coltrane and Elvin Jones; Miles and Philly Joe Jones; Ornette and Billy Higgins.”
May 14, 2014
March 2011 saw the arrival of one of the most talented musical acts to hit the Harare (Zimbabwe) indie music circuit. Four multitalented artists, brought together by their love for music, began their quest to share their unique blend of sounds with the rest of the world. They formed a band and christened it The Monkey Nuts. Theirs is an intelligent and profound mix of culture and music. Combining elements of hip-hop, rock and Afro-electro music. The Monkey Nuts are quickly becoming one of Zimbabwe’s best-known indie/alternative hip-hop acts.
Over the past year The Monkey Nuts have performed alongside international music acts from the U.K, South Africa, Germany, Botswana, Zimbabwe and the U.S. The Monkey Nuts headlined the Shoko International Spoken Word and Hip Hop festival (SEPT/2011) alongside Akala (UK: 2006 MOBO Award winner), Tumi and The Volume (South Africa’s Premiere Hip Hop band) Comrade Fatso and Chabvondoka (Zimbabwe’s leading Spoken word Artist) and Hired Gun (USA: Underground Emcee). 2012 has seen The Monkey Nuts performing with more local and international artists: The Arrows (S.A Pop Duo), Nomsa Mazwai (SAMA Award Winning Artist), Mic Crenshaw (U.S Emcee), Natty (Atlantic Records Singer/Songwriter), DJ Andi Teichman (German Electro DJ). From the 29- 31 of December 2012, The Monkey Nuts shared the stage at the Victoria Falls Carnival, with artists like Oliver Mutukudzi (Zim/International Music Legend), Zahara (Multi SAMA Award Winning Artist), Zebra and Giraffe (SAMA Award Winning Rock Band), Graeme Watkins (S.A Idols Finalist), Shingai Shoniwa (Lead Singer/Bassist for The Noisettes) and many more.
2013 Kicked off with a SOLD OUT show at the HIFA 2013 showcase,a live performance where The Monkey Nuts Collaborated with French producer/Disc Jockey, DJ OIL and Mbira songstress Hope Masike.
Labels: The Monkey Nuts
May 12, 2014
Matsuli Music follow up their acclaimed Sathima Bea Benjamin release with the second and final installment in the Sowetan afro-jazz group Batsumi's untold story. The deep spiritual indigenous afro-jazz sounds of Moving Along follow in the footsteps of Matsuli's timely reissue in 2011 of Batsumi's debut. Out of print since 1976, Moving Along is now lovingly restored from the original master-tapes and contains additional photography and liner notes.
2. Moving Along
3. Evil Spirits
Original sleeve notes
From their inception in 1972 Batsumi were in search for new indigenous sounds and in 1974 they cut their first disc BATSUMI, popularly called BATSUMI SOUND by their fans. MOVING ALONG consists mainly of familiar SOUNDS to prepare the many fans for BATSUMI's third Album which will revel in rapturous indigenous sounds BATSUMI caught in their quest. Al the songs on this Album are composed and arranged jointly by the Group. Buta-Buta is the main vocalist, blind Minesh Sibiya plays bongos and sings Toi-Toi. Adel Maleka who is the leader of the group, is the percussionist and plays drums. John Maswaswe Mothopeng the blind pianist also plays acoustic guitar. All these are founder members who for the first four years have been engaged in hunting for new sounds. Also feature din this Aldum as session men are the three former Batsumi members, Zulu Bidi, Temba Koyana and Sello Mothopeng, and two other musicians Peter Segona, a trumpeter and Sipho Mabuse, a flutist.
May 6, 2014
They first met while simmering in the same cauldron of a forgotten tribe in the Black Continent. When, thanks to their good fortune and some culinary doubts, they were released, they decided not to let this “accidental” acquaintance go to waste. The cauldron had brought them very close…
Hence bearing images and sounds from Africa they created Αfrodyssey Orchestra to present original compositions and imaginative adaptations of traditional music. And the journey through Afro Groove continues...
Labels: Afrodyssey Orchestra
May 3, 2014
Following the previous release, Toubab Soul (Amphora Records, 2010), Alma Afrobeat Ensemble continue in their multicultural and cross-genre creative work of music that combines heady rhythms with contemporary vocals and mixed percussion, urban, and guitar styles. Nothing is simplified here, as the music is complex and deeply-rooted in the musics of Africa, Europe, and Latin America. The six-track release contains pulsating sounds of jazz, funk, Latin, and world fusion. The rippling guitars and fuzzy percussion awaken the spirit amidst the smooth bass lines and punchy brass. Based in Barcelona, Spain, the group members hail from other parts of the world, including Norway, Senegal, USA, Uruguay, Argentina, and Ghana. For a true world music listening experience, put Life No Get Dublicate on and hit repeat over and over again.
01. Blind Mind
05. Majority Whip
06. Nena Mentein
Labels: Alma Afrobeat Ensemble