Apr 29, 2011

Professor Wouassa - Dangerous Koko

Debut album by Swiss-based afro-beat band Professor Wouassa. Features Duke Amayo, Chico Mann, Black Cracker, Korbo, Thais Diarra, Didier Awadi, Alina Amuri, Luthor…

In the humid slums of the city of Lausanne, Switzerland, Professor Wouassa develops a singular musical genre with roots in the African continent. These six sorcerers don't shy away from mixing afrobeat, high-life and ethio-jazz to their background of 60's soul, old funk and hip-hop. Their first album Dangerous Koko ! is an afrobeat bomb that features the participation of numerous international artists such as Duke Amayo (Antibalas), Chico Mann (Antibalas), Black Cracker (Grand Pianoramax), Korbo (Fanga) or Didier Awadi (Positive Black Soul). With mixing and mastering performed in Canada by Jason Jaknunas (The Soul Jazz Orchestra), it takes the genre to new levels.

Professor Wouassa


1. Intro (3:30)
2. Cool Zen (feat. Duke Amayo) (9:09)
3. La Cadena (feat. Chico Mann) (5:23)
4. Sunshine (feat. Black Cracker) (6:09)
5. No More Talking (feat. Korbo) (9:34)
6. Find A Way (feat. Thais Diarra & Didier Awadi) (4:58)
7. Turn To Gold (feat. Alina Amuri & Luthor) (8:25)
8. Professor Wouassa - Outro (2:20)

Apr 28, 2011

Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou: Interview from 2010

The interview was originally published in the French magazine Vibrations. Unfortunately, my french is not good enough, therefore, the translation was technically supported. Due to this there may be some mistakes in the english version of the french orginal but it still seems to interesting to hide for me. Enjoy!!!


Rediscovered thanks in large part compilations, T. P. Orchestre Poly-Rythmo Cotonou himself a second adolescence with a world tour and new releases in preparation. Stone (saxophone) and Vincent (Vocals) return to the epic of the Almighty Orchestra earlier commemorations of independence and unprecedented revival of interest faced by funk production from West Africa.

How did the adventure of TP Orchestre Poly-Rythmo Cotonou where you produce yourself?

Vincent: The story began in a small way from a band called Sonny Black's Band. Its owner, who was married to a French woman and had to return to France, had yielded to a fellow who owned a company called Poly-Disco. When he renamed the band, he wanted to keep a name that is close to its name. That's how the group emerged under the name Poly-Rythmo. Originally, it consisted of eight persons and the group has gradually surrounded by other musicians. The nightclubs were born in large part due to Poly-Rythmo and we performed everywhere, but our favorite spot was undoubtedly the Zenith. Dancing in a bar where we played every Saturday and Sunday. It was a sacred place which, even today, is the pride of Benin. People are nostalgic for that place, they would love to see another zenith now that the Poly-Rythmo is doing around the world. We have to really put them to create our Zenith ... Otherwise, we played around for weddings, parties various official birthdays, etc.. It was more with the government of the day and there was no event for which we were not solicited. Moreover, we were called national orchestra, while we were not ...

So you play a particular role in society and politics after independence?

Vincent: It must be said that since independence, the country will not fly. We groped, there were coups in here and there. These are the same coming back and going out. At one point, a military took power and, for this time, everyone became aware that something would change. It was therefore necessary to paste this, to participate in this movement to give more chances to the government, so that the hope was born of this coup was to become a reality. Our conductor MELOME Clement had the ingenuity to compose many beautiful songs about the revolution. The people in power realized that through us they were possible to bring their best Marxist-Leninist they conveyed. That's how we got to play in all their official functions. You could contact us half an hour beforehand, we were traveling to attend. Unfortunately, the government has not supported us as we have supported. We do not stop repeating, now that the damage is done, we can not go back ... Now, with democratic renewal, we remain more distant.

In this year of commemoration of Independence, how do you see your political involvement?

Vincent: Is this the Independence we have brought something positive? That's the question we ask ourselves first. It's true we are liberated, which is crucial. But this liberation, is it complete? In my opinion, it depends. We can not produce ourselves, everything comes from outside. Only the direction of the country became free, everything else is attached to the colonizers. Formerly with the West, today it's more of China. We're here, we observe. Poly-Rythmo wonder what we will celebrate? We will celebrate 50 years but 50 years of what? What our children born after independence, retain as a hope for tomorrow? At our age, we must continue working to bring some home. In principle, 50 years after we should have reservations in which we can draw to live easily in the sun. But we must continue to work. Celebrating independence is well and if we seek to do a concert we will. We've already been approached by some countries, but in our case, we take care of our tour instead.

How are new generations they welcome your music?

Vincent: All kids love that the Poly-Rythmo could go before even the birth of their parents. All we did is still relevant and it returns to the holiday company. Everyone finds himself in, even the grandchildren love to sing Poly-Rythmo. We must understand that we have left a legacy that will span generations and ages. We have always made music to young people.

Peter: You can also complete at present, people need us as much in places that dances at concerts. People of our generation have problems today. They are stuck at home, they can not get out, they can not go have fun, be happy ... But they want to relive the old days!

What is so funk revival also felt in Africa?

Peter: Yes, this legacy is one that still remains music lover today. The new generation, "Generation Yo" and it is a mid-parade. Friendly people, those who are retired and want to stretch and do some sport, they need to listen to old music to dance the old dances. There are a lot of nostalgia.

Where was your musical inspiration and how do you access to productions of the time?

Vincent: Here in Benin, we had only one source, the National Radio. But when we manage to go out, for example in Niger, we had access for the first time in European music. It gave us the opportunity to stock up and then listen and interpret. That's how we discovered what had outside like jazz, soul, funk ... At the time, there was not enough nightclubs. The nightclubs were born in Benin to sell the works Poly-Rythmo, because it was leaking.

Peter: In Cotonou, we also listened to the Voice of America. We were all connected, we listened to soul music and it was inspired by these rhythms to our own compositions. Their origins were more or less African, which allowed us to have more facility to evolve with this kind of music. Thus it is gone and we call more than 500 titles.

How do you produce your songs?

Vincent: We had a senior producer who had the means to take us in the studio in Nigeria, such as EMI, for example, was a very large studio. For producers who could not afford to finance a trip to Nigeria, we recorded a single with Nagra for full orchestra. We have recorded dozens of titles a month coming out in the form of 33 laps. We were dependent on no label was the self-production, we were totally free.

What is your opinion on the craze for Western labels highlighting African groups of the 60s and 70s?

Vincent: Do you ever find yourself there sometimes have no desire to eat something you have not eaten for a long time. Moments where you say, I'm tired of all you serve me at home, give me something new! Groups that emerged in Europe today, no interest once too because their music was modeled, was a music export. It was often Mandingo music, from the Sahel. Europeans have heard these songs so they want something new, different. They discovered that the former had done something special, with a certain beauty. Today, we're not so surprised by this enthusiasm. What was really surprised to see is Europeans sing our songs in our dialect. That's the best!

You recently collaborated on a track with Franz Ferdinand, how do you react to the fact that Western groups cite as your musical inspiration?

Peter: Yes, we made new records with Franz Ferdinand and they really surprised us by admitting that they wanted to go to the music by listening to our songs. They did everything to be able to record a song with us. People appreciate what they do not know what they have ever heard. Désomrais demand is very strong, groups that are born now are forced to draw from there to Africa to stay on top ..

Vincent: It's really a surprise. We are in a small country in Africa, how is it that our work ultimately inspire English musicians as talented? These are really good boys, they are very respectful and they have an inspiration on edge. They know how to work, recording in the studio was really great. We share the funk, so we can still work together. We are currently preparing an album consisting mostly of new songs.

What effect it brings to your first world tour at the dawn of the 70 years?

Vincent: Our manager (Ed.: Elodie Maillot Journalist) works very well and now we have more rest, we are constantly working. We are currently in Portugal, we will leave for Denmark, France, England, Ireland, Quebec and the United States next year, we have a fairly glowing list of concerts ahead. It's a new world that lies before us and we will enjoy as much as we can. We just want to give happiness that people expect from us when we perform in concert. They do not tire and we can live a wonderful world music, funk and voodoo.

Peter: This world tour is a discovery for us. We see a different audience from the one used to see from us, other ways of living, other ways. That's why we're going to touch thousands of people to discuss and try to cause a bit to see how they react. We are all composers and this is a way to give us films through which we learn a lot. We are really happy.

Vincent: For the moment, these are the old songs the audience wants to hear and so much the better. This tour proves that the work we've done it for thirty or forty years was not bad. It was naive of music since we were aged between 16 and 20 years. We loved the music, we wanted to make music and our goal was primarily to amuse people. If the world today recognizes the quality of what we did, we can only give thanks to God.

Can you add something to your music over voodoo?

Vincent: We use the whole arsenal of voodoo music. The tom-toms, bells, castanets, ... it all comes from us, the country's voodoo. We integrate as much as we can in the music we make and we have created pieces of music voodoo at a given time. Sapata or the sato were built on a background of music voodoo. Our ancestors knew that before colonial penetration, these are the gods they worshiped and we are born into it. Today, Christianity is everywhere, but voodoo is still very powerful.

This really does he not have a problem mixing the tradition with western music?

Vincent: It's our heritage and we use it as we want, we do not have a curse. I tell you, we are children of voodoo, the only difference being that we are not followers. I loved being a follower of voodoo, have the scars, dancing, wearing the trappings of voodoo, I love it! (Posted in ambush, MELOME Clement laughs) ... Our parents see us do and we know that can not go beyond what is allowed ... We remain within the limits of exploitable.

Thanx for the interview goes to Joël Vacheron at Vibrations.


Additionally, another article of them ...

Leading up to seeing Orchestre Poly-Rythmo in Chicago earlier this month, I felt like a kid waiting for Christmas. The same frantic anticipation that I had previously felt for video games and action figures was now inspired by a Beninese funk band. But not just any Beninese funk band — Le Tout Puissant Orchestre Poly Rythmo de Cotonou, the kings of groove.

The Orchestre was the first real African music I had ever heard. They are the reason I’ve been obsessed with Africa's musical output for the better part of two years. They’re my Pink Floyd, my Nirvana, my Social Distortion; they’re one of those bands that turns fans into fanatics.

Initially, I was a little disappointed to hear that they were playing a free show at Millennium Park. Every Chicagoan knows that free shows there often are an open invitation for elderly suburbanites and grumpy park security guards to stifle any fun or livelihood that the music may bring. But it was clear from the moment that opener La 33 came on that this was not a typical Millennium Park show.

Colombia’s La 33 are a fairly straightforward yet talented salsa band. They kicked the night off with a rousing set of Latin American sounds. Couples stood up and danced in the aisles. The brass section stole the show with bombastic solos and a trombonist that acted like the Gene Simmons of salsa, complete with tongue flapping and pelvic thrusting.

The Orchestre came on after a brief stage adjustment. They paraded in while reciting a traditional Vodoun chant, wearing vintage silk shirts that looked as though they had been picked off the set of Superfly.

I rushed to the front of the stage and screamed as I heard the opening notes of “Se Ba Ho.” It was thrilling to see everybody around me begin to dance while the band played. And though it had been many years since the Orchestre laid down the track in the studio, they managed to play with the same energy captured indelibly on record.

They played with just the right mix of improvisation and precision and never once got carried away in self-indulgent solos or dull numbers. “Gbeti Madjro” displayed the impeccable guitar work of Fifi LePrince as well as the vocal capabilities of Cosme Anago, Vincent Ahéhéhinnou, and Mélomé Clément.

The two drummers fed off of each other, creating entrancing poly-rhythms to which the crowd danced ecstatically. They played an encore before exiting the stage to thunderous applause and the same Vodoun chant that they came in with.

“We love playing shows; we do it as often as we can,” said Clément, a jolly middle-aged man who speaks with a hushed rasp. “Our tour manager booked us for a tour of Europe after our music was reissued, and we had always wanted to play in the US. Some of our biggest musical idols are American — Otis Redding and James Brown — so it seemed natural to play here. But playing in Chicago was a real thrill; we’ve never played for so many people before.”

I asked him how the band has stayed together for so long, and he laughed heartily before saying, “We love what we do. Money is secondary to music for me, and I’ve always found a way to balance my two worlds. My band mates are my closest friends, so we just kept doing what we always did, getting together and playing music.”

This sense of kinship and a collective love of music have kept the Orchestre together since the 1970s, a feat of longevity not often equaled.
“Our new album is coming out in a few months; we’re very excited to see that released," Clément said as we parted ways. "We really want to tour more, so look out for us.”

For the sake of live music, I certainly hope they do.

Originally published at alarmpress.com, written by Arthur Pascale

Apr 21, 2011

Amazing highlife from Ghana: F. Kenya

“F. Kenya was born in the Ghanaian town of Asima in the Eastern Nzema District. Trained as a goldsmith, he started singing in the mid 60′s with the Ahamanos band and later joined Kaikaiku’s No. 1 band before going out his own in the late 70′s. He was one of the first popular singers to sing in his native Nzema language and the energy in his vocals and performances made him very popular in Ghana and neighboring Ivory Coast. F. Kenya moved to the Ivory Coast in the early 80′s and did a number of LP’s including the great LP’s Powerhouse Vol 1 and Vol 2. A few F. Kenya tracks have appeared in the Gun and Guitar compilations Vol 1 and 2 put out by John Booker, but nothing else has been available in the West. The song Ngaluka Ngaluka is from a 1977 Essiebon release of the same name. His nephew is the famous Cote de Voire musician Meiway.



The music of F. Kenya is (in my humble opinion) some of the most stunning Ghanaian highlife ever recorded, music with a unique sound characterized by deep Akan harmonies, sweet organs, and heartbreakingly beautiful vocals. The Power House, released on Essiebons in 1975, is Francis Kenya's first full length record. Like Kenya's other work, these songs are beautifully arranged, with rich musical textures that feature an interplay between interlocking guitar parts and organ lines. In addition, these songs are unique in that they are sung in Nzema (Kenya's own language) rather than the dominant Asante Twi (generally the language of highlife). The Nzema are an Akan ethnic group found on both sides of the Southern Ghana/Côte d'Ivoire border. As in the context of other African countries, boundaries imposed by European colonizers frequently divided ethnically similar groups across arbitrary national borders.


I really have to say THANX Mr. Osibisaba for this amazing album!!!



01. Medze La Beva Me Zo 3:42
02. Mmanya Bie Mmamma 3:04
03. Omo Hole Yeamma 3:49
04. Me Mia 3:50
05. Nyamenle Aze A 3:27
06. Dadi Kyi 3:58
07. Ewielee 3:40
08. Ahunyani Amma Mmando Be 3:51
09. Abusua Mo 3:08
10. Enwea Ye Enloboe 2:50
11. Me Nee Wo Luale La Enye 4:00
12. Ewule Kui 3:50

Apr 20, 2011

Fela’s children: The rise of Afro-beat from Nigerian roots to Detroit

In a current TV ad campaign promoting downloadable music for your cell phone, regular folks cut impromptu rugs to the latest pop hits. In one spot, a doughy middle manager frantically emulates the fluid hips of Colombian pop sensation Shakira, broken out of his workaday spell by the hitching rhythms of her hit duet with Wyclef. A different clip features a college student who transforms a drab department store changing room into her personal dance floor with the help of Nelly Furtado and Timbaland's incalculably catchy jam "Promiscuous." The track's booming percussion is laced repeatedly with silvery ribbons of synthesizer as Furtado and Tim exchange lines. She hits moves right along with them, turning her 4-foot-by-5-foot square into the ultimate VIP room party. Her shoulders go vertical, and her hips don't lie.

Nobody's cell phone has a speaker that powerful. But besides the latest download fun, what the ads are really selling is joy. Pure, unadulterated, beat-supported joy, available in an instant, whenever you want it. No time-release here, no waiting for the right moment to get it on. It's better than any decongestant or drug. It's rhythm, and it's going to get you.

That's a notion Fela Kuti knew well. In the early 1970s, working from contemporary African musical forms like high life and juju as well as the influence of American jazz, funk and soul, particularly James Brown, Kuti developed the striking, all-encompassing sound known as Afro-beat. As much a musical movement as a political one, Fela's music buttressed its busy, lengthy arrangements of interlocking polyrhythms and blazing horns with fervently nationalistic lyrics that railed against the rampant corruption in Nigeria's halls of power. Fela's rallying political views endeared him to the Nigerian underclass, but he was also a real live pop star — mercurial, charismatic and fueled by a seemingly insatiable machismo, he was a hero on stage. Conceived of and led by Fela, and transmitted through the inescapable rhythms of his band, Afro-beat became a true cultural movement, and transformed Kuti into a rebel visionary.

Afro-beat's roiling grooves were impossible to ignore. When Fela and his band Africa 70 released Zombie in 1977, its indictment of the blind followers of the Nigerian government's policies made it an anthem in Lagos, Nigeria. But its syncopated brass retorts and Tony Allen's percolating, brilliantly funky drumming ricocheted through the music world, influencing Western acts too. How could it not? Classics like "Zombie," "Water Get No Enemy," "Gentleman," and "Expensive Shit" — all from a hot streak that lasted throughout most of the 1970s — envelop you in a sweltering blanket of rhythm. Put them on the turntable, and it's as if the bandleader himself poured cold milk down your back and handed you a tambourine.

Like that doughy guy in the cell phone ad, you can't help but slip a backbone. And neither could the musicians listening in his era. Fela's legacy burns all over, from the music of German avant-gardists Can (the blurting horns and muddled underpinnings in 1976's Unlimited Editon) to the gristly funk of Kool & the Gang's 1973 album Wild and Peaceful ("Hollywooooood swinging!") and the 1980 Talking Heads classic Remain in Light, with "Crosseyed and Painless" and "Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)."

But it's also true today. Contemporary pop music regularly embraces the same type of hybridism that informed Afro-beat, whether it's Wyclef and Shakira weaving Caribbean and Colombian rhythms together for "Hips Don't Lie" or Timbaland's consistent use of left-field production elements to craft his hit-making string of hip-hop bomb tracks. A portion of Afro-beat's global appeal rests on Fela's legacy as a showman and visionary. But in its syncopated heart the music includes you — wherever you're from.

Fela Kuti died in 1997. But almost immediately there were musicians ready to shoulder his legacy. Fela's son Femi Kuti has upheld his father's sound and vision, performing a streamlined version of Afro-beat and fighting for social justice. He believes Afro-beat's very nature as an uplifting force is threatened by governmental apathy toward change. "People ask me, do I like the American government?" he told an NPR interviewer in 2005. "I'll be straightforward with you — no. Because they have the power to solve the problems of the world today, and they aren't doing it. It's a problem for every individual, even the artist. Because then we can't even play good music. Life is killed. The joy of life is killed."

The struggle for equality continues. But in addition to the activism of artists like Femi and New York City's Antibalas Afro-beat Orchestra, who infuse their purist sound with similar social aims, many contemporary Afro-beat groups — including Detroit-area acts Nomo and Odu Afro-beat Orchestra — are sprawling musical collectives that draw members from a multiple of ethnic backgrounds and musical genres. Jazz, funk and soul musicians, certainly. But also punk-rock rhythm sections and indie music devotees.

They've found something inviting in Afro-beat's enveloping rhythms, something more real than any of the increasingly slivered subgenres of contemporary music, because Afro-beat's singular aims — to make you move, think and sweat — aren't products of demographic research. And that makes the music even more rewarding to perform.

The same can be said for the listeners. Antibalas, for example, performed at the 2003 Bonnaroo festival, the rural Tennessee event that has expanded from its core of jam band fans to book everything from the post-rock of Tortoise to Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. The notion seems to be, "If it's worth hearing, let's have it, and forget about the genre subdivisions."

Afro-beat will always have sway for the true believers, the listeners who remember that Fela's music was about struggle as much as it was sweat. But there's been a recent swell of interest in old Afro-beat sides from music nerds normally obsessed with the latest Scandinavian songbird or underground metal band. There's a collector's angle they're responding to — often pressed in limited quantities or barely released at all, Fela's recorded output is valuable even when it's mildewed or dog-eared. But it's undeniable that these new listeners are uncovering intangibles similar to the musicians performing Afro-beat today. From both sides of the microphone, participation in Afro-beat's groove has become another form of activism.

The Detroit connection

Nomo's Elliot Bergman agrees. The Ann Arbor group's founder is reached on the phone from New Orleans, where the ensemble is touring with His Name is Alive in support of New Tones, Nomo's second album. Bergman has a few stories to tell about his music reaching a cross-section of everyday people. "We've had an amazingly diverse turnout at the shows," he says, and mentions a recent gig in North Carolina where a group of retirees danced the night away. "They just loved it. It was one of our more adventurous sets, too. But it still ended up being something they connected with."

Bergman loves how Nomo's blend of Afro-beat, jazz, funk and pop erases the would-be arbitrary lines of genre and listener. He knows that, at the base of it all, there's a great beat. At Nomo's Chapel Hill show, the oldsters were getting down next to college-age indie rockers like it was the most natural thing in the world. Which, of course, it was.

On July 10, Nomo will perform at Detroit's Magic Stick with Konono No. 1, a Congolese group that woke up and shook the music world in late 2004, when recordings of the group's captivating sound started surfacing all over the Internet. At the center of the collective's hypnotic, almost otherworldly groove is the likembé, also known as the mbira or thumb piano. Essentially a wooden board to which hammered metal rods of varying lengths are attached, it's often fitted into a resonating chamber to amplify its distinctive buzzing tones. The instrument, in its various forms, is thousands of years old. But Konono No. 1 launched it into the modern world of experimentalism and groove through an amazing accident of pure necessity. It was impossible to perform in the bustling, chaotic streets of Kinshasa without proper amplification. So they built resonators, microphones and entire sound systems out of materials scavenged from the streets. Car parts, rebar and fossilized electronics were reborn as amplification, with the fantastic side effect being a union of Konono's traditional ethnic trance with the euphoria and electrified improvisation associated with contemporary electronic and experimental music. In honor of their gig together, Bergman says he and Nomo have constructed and are selling miniature electric thumb pianos at their merch table.

Odu Afro-beat Orchestra is another local ensemble exploring the legacy of Afro-beat while bringing listeners to the dance floor. Its lineup sees jazz players alongside vets of such rock-oriented local groups as His Name is Alive and Human Eye. Led by saxophonist-vocalist Adeboye Adegbenro, the 15-piece group includes drummer Kevin Callaway, bassist Joel Peterson, guitarists Chris "Crispy" Fachini and Chad Gilchrist, conga players Akunda Brian Hollis and Bill Hafer, saxophonists Michael Carey and Marco Novachcoff, and trumpeter John Douglas. The lineup mixes freely across age, race and musical background.

Adegbenro actually learned the ropes from Fela Kuti himself while still living in Lagos in the late 1980s, regularly performing with Fela's band at a club in the same neighborhood as the bandleader's legendary, long-shuttered Shrine nightclub. Though Fela had a reputation as a notoriously harsh leader, Adegbenro found the experience of performing with him liberating.

"It certainly cured my stage fright," he says, sitting at the Cass Cafe with Callaway.

After Adegbenro immigrated to the United States in 1990, he made stops in New York City, Florida and California before finally settling in Detroit. And while he'd hoped to start an Afro-beat group since moving to the United States, he didn't find the right mix of players until he arrived here.

It started with the rhythm, of course. Adegbenro, Callaway and Peterson began sketching out the tunes, and the early going was like any new band — stops, starts and periods of inactivity. But they kept at it, and suddenly it clicked. "One day we were working on a tune," Callaway says, "And Chad [Gilchrist] looked over at me and just said, 'This is ridiculously funky.'"

The group is currently recording its debut album. Though the musicians are committed to Afro-beat's original sound, incorporating dance songs as well as the Odus — a series of divine spiritual laws rooted in an ancient West African belief system — they also see their ensemble as a bridge to something new.

Callaway describes the interest Odu has received from Detroit's electronic music community, particularly electro duo Ectomorph. There's talk of potential split 12-inches, since the typical Afro-beat song is most rewarding at album-side length, much like the techno tradition.

"Masses of people support electronic music for a reason," Callaway says. "But over time, as they become content with that sound, they begin to search for something else that's going to move them in a different way." Different, but similar. It's all movement, after all.

He and Adegbenro relate a particularly memorable recent gig, when they performed at one of People's Records owner Brad Hale's funk parties at the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit (CAID). It took some finessing from Callaway to convince Odu's 15 members that a post-2 a.m. set in the back of an art gallery was a good idea, especially when the place was nearly empty at midnight. But sure enough, "There were so many cycles of people who came, a really diverse crowd, and we ended up playing till almost 4 in the morning." At a recent Majestic gig in support of roots reggae legend Burning Spear, they were nearly as popular as the headline act.

The ability of undiluted rhythm to effect change in people's lives was central to Fela's Afro-beat concept. There's a reason his bands featured such a scary amount of percussion. But those grooves live on in the collaborative spirit of today's Afro-beat musicians, as well as the pulsing beats driving the latest pop hits. "I think rhythm is the first thing people hear when they come into a room," Elliot Bergman says. "It's more visceral, more immediate, and frees [the band] up to do different things melodically, harmonically and texturally." Besides, "It's cool to get people in a space they're not used to, dancing next to one another." When the genres are removed, what's left is joy.

metrotimes.com, by Johnny Loftus, published May 2006

Digging For African Funk Records – Meet Frank Gossner

There is a special kind of excitement that comes with the unearthing of a rare record. This excitement is probably the reason why we can spend hours digging through crates at our local record shop or search the internet for hours looking for that special record.

This is a dedication to vinyl records that most of us understand and share. However, there are few that can match the dedication Frank Gossner has to vinyl and music, and especially African music.

Since the 90’s Frank Gossner had been a successful DJ, running popular parties both in New York, know as the Vampyros Lesbos’ party, and later the Soul Explosion party in Berlin, but his interest, fascination and curiosity for African Funk records were growing and growing. In 2005 he decided to give up his DJ gig and apartment in Berlin and move to Conakry, the capitol of Guinea, and spend the next three years on a quest to find the rarest records in Guinea and other West African countries like Benin, Nigeria, Ghana and Mali and get as close as possible to the heart and roots of it all.


The Interview

First of all how did you get into African funk?

As a DJ I have started in Berlin in 1994 with funky European Soundtracks, French 60s Pop, Library Funk and Hammond Organ Grooves. While I lived in NYC in the late 90s, I got deeply into rare and obscure Funk 45s. From there I began exploring African Funk music and Afrobeat. Mainly it was my natural curiosity that lead me. But I guess this also makes sense as I began with music that I could find easily on flea markets and in second hand record stores and from there I just started digging deeper and deeper in ever more remote places while getting closer to the heart of the matter.

There was of course a big influence of American Funk and Soul music on the African music scene of the 70s, you can find James Brown records everywhere in Africa. Jimmy Smith also was hugely popular. Santana and Jimmy Hendrix also were widely known and respected. French Jerk like Jaques Dutronc or Nino Ferrer were also an influence in Francophone countries like Ivory Coast or Benin.

But the important truth is that there would have never been any Gospel, Blues, Soul, R&B or Funk music without African music. All these rhythms, including Salsa and other Latin music originate in Africa. This means that there was no “Western music” influencing African musicians, this was the homecoming of African music that had evolved to something new on a foreign continent but has still remained African at heart. People who say that Afrobeat or Afro Funk are less “African” than traditional African music played on native instruments in my eyes are completely missing the point.

Being heavily into African Funk is one thing, but to decide to move to Guinea and spend three years in pursuit of African Funk Records, that’s… some thing else. What made you do this?
You can’t really build up a significant collection of Afro Funk without going there yourself. Traveling forth and back from Europe to Africa would have been extremely costly and also much less efficient than just staying down there for an extended amount of time. Alone the money I saved on rent by giving up my apartment in Berlin was much more than what I needed for my daily life in Africa.

Did you have a clear plan for what you were going to do there, or was it more the case of jumping on a plane and see what would happen?
My plan was to travel around as much as possible and to establish networks of record buyers in every bigger city so people would look up records for me during my absence. The finer methods how to do this I figured out while doing so.

And how did you go about finding records?

I put ads in local newspapers. I paid radio stations to air pre-recorded clips or visited radio djs who allowed me to play some old records on the air and give out my phone number. I also made hundreds and thousands of xeroxed posters and flyers which I had pasted up all over town.

Your travels took you through many countries in the West African region, is it possible to compare the satisfaction you got from finding records with the experiences you made while being on the road?
I love hanging out with people, drinking beer while listening to a live band just as much as I like to buy records. Traveling itself can be a whole lot of fun. I loved every aspect of the time I spent in Africa and I’m sure I’ll go back soon…

The filmmaker Leigh Iacobucci followed you on some of your travels and is now making a documentary about it. Could you tell us a bit about this?
This was a fun experience. Leigh had contacted me vie email and I had never met her in person before. We met in Accra at the airport and immediately got along great. I think we had a really great time together and we also got lucky to meet a lot of very interesting people on our trip through Ghana, Togo and Benin. We are still close friends and I can’t wait for her movie to be finished which will probably be sometime in the summer of 2009.

The documentary also wants to raise “complex issues regarding exploitation versus fair exchange and challenge an audience to consider what is lost or gained when a Westerner purchases an undervalued resource in Africa.” Was this something you thought a lot about on your travels? And how did you deal with it?
Of course this always was an issue. Although I wouldn’t call records an undervalued resource but rather objects that carry a different monetary value depending on where you are. In Africa, old records are an old medium. Most of them got destroyed a long time ago, some got kept, most of them were handled in a way that left them baldy damaged and unusable.

In Europe and in the US on the other hand, there are collectors and Djs who pay large amounts of money for these records. You could buy records in Africa for less than a dollar and then resell them in the US for $100 or $200 or in some cases for even more.

I always paid good money for records. I didn’t pay $100 or $200 (except in a few exceptional cases) but you also have to realize that I often spent days looking for records and not finding anything and every day you have to rent a car or a moped, buy fuel, pay your guides etc. Whenever I bought a record, I didn’t only pay the owner, I also paid the middle-man who took me to him. Sometimes there were two or three middlemen. Sometimes the records were badly scratched and I bought them just as a reference or to not look bad. I probably paid an average of $20 for each record and I can honestly shttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifay that I consider this to be fair. If I’d sell everything I found on today’s collector market, on eBay or at record fairs, I would probably make all my invested money back but not much more. Definitely not if I’d also want to get paid for three years worth of work but it wasn’t work really, it was the most fun I ever had in my life.

Top five records of all time?

1. Pax Nicholas & the Nettey Family “Na Teef Know De Road Of Teef”
2. Marijata first two LPs
3. Orchestre Poly Rythmo debut LP with “Gbeti Madjiro” and “Kou Tche Kposo”
4. Gyedu-Blay Ambolley ”Simigwa”
5. Cutlass band ”Obiara Wondo”


Apr 19, 2011

Debo Band - Flamingoh (Pink Bird Dawn) EP


Since 2006, Debo Band has thrilled Boston-area audiences with their unique interpretations of classic Ethiopian popular music. Their performances bring together the best of the last forty years of Ethiopian music, with a reverence for the vintage sounds of the 1970s and a commitment to discovering contemporary gems, as well as developing new compositions – they scored the Ethiopian-produced short film, “Lezare,” in 2009. The band paid their dues playing neighborhood bars, church basements, and loft parties, and has emerged as an internationally recognized touring band, with performances at two international festivals in the last year alone.

Up until now, Debo Band has primarily existed as a live band, playing at venues across the Boston/New England region. Last year, however, Debo began taking steps towards actively documenting and releasing recordings and is also working with a documentary filmmaker on a project about the band’s mission to bring Ethiopian music and musicians to the forefront of world music. Additionally, Debo Band is currently producing a CD/DVD set and LP version of live performances recorded in Boston, New York, and East Africa.

In May 2009, Debo traveled to Addis Ababa to perform at the 8th Ethiopian Music Festival and several other locations throughout the Horn and East Africa. These performances affected Debo Band’s creative and professional development in significant ways, particularly in the collaboration they began with several traditional musicians – vocalist Selamnesh Zemene, drummer Asrat Ayalew, and dancers Zinash Tsegaye and Melaku Belay. All accomplished musicians in their own right, these musicians work together at Fendika, a leading azmari bet, or traditional music house, operated by Melaku in Addis Ababa. When working with these four musicians Debo Band grows into a forceful, energetic, and authoritative fourteen-piece ensemble capable of delightful, one-of-a-kind performances. The full ensemble (Debo Band plus Fendika, or “FenDeboKa”) recently performed several concerts in Addis Ababa and at the 7th Sauti za Busara Festival in Zanzibar (February 2010).



riends, the wait is over – we’re pleased to announce our first CD release: a four track EP of live performances from our 2010 travels to Africa, lovingly and expertly prepared for you.

This live recording documents the brief period around our second trip to East Africa in Winter 2010, a journey that took our Ethio-groove collective across the world to share our interpretations of 1970s-era brass band-style Ethiopian funk. During this time we played a five-part hometown residency, a cosmopolitan Addis Ababa nightclub, and one of the largest music festivals in Africa. Along the way, we once again collaborated with dear friends and outstanding traditional artists: Melaku Belay and his group Fendika.

The flamingo is a majestic bird that thrives in the volcanic lake regions of East Africa’s Great Rift Valley. Like many African animals, mystery and myths surround the origins of this long-necked pink bird. Our “flamingoh” is no exception: Flaming feathers (re)birthed from a breaking dawn. A dawn that rips open the sky.

The four tracks offered here are just the beginning: we have a documentary, featuring our escapades with Fendika, and a full-length live album on the way. This is our dawn: Goh qeddede.



Show Review

Ethiopian Energy Everywhere

Remember how I said that if you weren’t at Balliceaux for the Kings Go Forth show, here, that it was your loss? Okay, same deal, different band, but another limited big-city tour that just miraculously included us: Boston, Philly, NYC and DC. Oh yes, and RVA.

The Debo Band out of Boston had everything they needed to lay down 60s and 70s-era Ethiopian grooves: congas, electric guitar, bass, accordion, sousaphone, saxophone and whatever else they decided to play. Tonight’s show featured them along with the visiting Fendika, a group of traditional Azmari artists from Ethiopia, lending their vocal and dancing talents. This was truly a dream bill.

The place was packed. Bartender Sean told me they’d sold 100 tickets just today and the room only holds 200 people. Add in planning types like me who’d bought their tickets before today and the brave souls who just walked up to the door and you’ve got a full house. It was a tight fit to start and once the crowd started dancing, well let’s just say body parts met body parts.

When I got there, I established my spot with a good view at the corner of the bar, where an Ethiopian guy immediately introduced himself to me; he’d driven from Harrisonburg for this show. Later, I met a girl who’d come from DC.

It was a huge bonus to hear from two Ethiopians who had seen the band before and they only whetted my appetite further for the show we were all so excited about. They tried to verse me on the dancing I was about to see so that I could join in, but you can imagine where that went.

I felt much better when the guy told me he wasn’t any good at Ethiopian dancing either. “Well, if you aren’t any good with your heritage, what chance does this American have?” I asked, making him laugh and give up.

Peter Solomon from WCVE stopped by to chat with me, telling me that he sees me at every music event he attends. He mistakenly assumed that that meant I had musical talent, so I relieved him of that misconception, clarifying that I’m just a music fan.

He was thrilled that the Debo Band had a sousaphone because it was the instrument that made him want to learn to play music. Unfortunately, his dad found a trombone for a dollar, so he ended up learning that instead, but his love for the sousaphone lives on apparently.

But then the entire room was full of music lovers tonight. I was one of many who loved how the Debo Band slipped into a groove and just stayed there. With the addition of Fendika, the music became even more North African sounding and when the dancers shared the stage with them, it was like watching a complete circle of music and dance.

So we had this 14-piece jazz collective who already focus on Ethiopian grooves sharing the stage with traditional Ethiopian musicians, making for the funkiest world music possible in what gradually became an overheated room due to all the moving bodies.

Tonight Balliceaux was a little slice of slinky groove heaven. Like I said, you should have been there. My regrets if you weren’t.


An article: Ethiopiqued

Last spring, Danny Mekonnen and Jonah Rapino led Boston’s fledgling Ethiopian pop group Debo Band straight to Addis Ababa. They played a local festival, made friends with nightclub owners, and found an Ethiopian Airlines deal for a free trip down the coast to Tanzania. There, they hung out with expatriated Black Panthers, took giraffe safaris, and met organizers from one of the biggest music festivals in Africa, Zanzibar’s Sauti za Busara.

“It was totally far-fetched,” says Rapino. “When we got to Tanzania, we still had enough equipment to have shows, so we went for it. We played with hip-hoppers and some ’70s free-form thought poets in front of orphans — out in the jungle on the worst PA ever, with a horse wandering around.”

Next month, they’re heading back to Africa to team with singers and dancers they met in Ethiopia to fill a prime spot on the festival in Zanzibar, which puts them in front of thousands of festivalgoers plus the international press, music magazines, and BBC cameras. “Our first trip to Ethiopia seemed like a dream come true,” says Mekonnen, himself an Ethiopian-American who grew up in Texas. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance.”

Debo Band — who wrap up their two-month residency at the Western Front this Saturday — are an 11-piece strings, horns, and accordion collective from all over Boston’s musical map. They were birthed from Mekonnen’s studies of Ethiopian pop. There were no Craigslist ads and no auditions, just the willingness to pick a place and go.

If there’s a music ideally suited to Debo’s try-everything attitude, Ethiopian pop since the late ’60s could certainly be it. The legendary Ethiopiques anthologies served as most Westerners’ introduction, chronicling everything from the small jazz-funk bands of Mulatu Astatke to military horn sections of state-programmed bands like the Imperial Bodyguard Band. Some melodies sounded Arabic or Balkan; others swang like Glenn Miller. (In Boston, the Either/Orchestra recorded its own arrangements of “Ethiojazz” and played live with Mustatke and others.) There were bands with accordions and saxophones and bands with strings strung over trippy organs. Mekonnen wanted to mash them all together.

He started Debo Band when he persuaded Stick and Rag Village Orchestra — the sprawling Balkan/klezmer pick-up street outfit of friends Rapino and Aric Grier — to learn a few Ethiopian arrangements he’d been working on. Rapino has been a member of the experimental Devil Music group for years; Grier played bass and synth in the gonzo noisecore band Fat Day. It was a project that seemed designed for a picky bandleader, but Debo went the other way. “I wasn’t looking for experts,” Mekkonen explains. “I hardly knew anything about it myself — it was just a way for everyone to learn.”

They recruited vocalists whom he’d met through contacts in the local Ethiopian community. “These were amazing people who had completely internalized the rhythms and melodies that we were struggling to learn, but they didn’t know when to begin singing. You couldn’t say, ‘Come in after four bars.’ They didn’t know what a bar was. It was an adventure for everyone.”

Grier had just picked up the sousaphone for Stick and Rag, and Stacey Cordeiro learned the accordion on the job, spending the first year and a half as the Debo melodica player. Keith Waters had never played a drum kit in a band before in his life. But soon, everyone was pitching in on arrangements. Rapino even recently scored an original soundtrack for the band, bits of which they play live now.

Their Western Front show this past Saturday was mobbed. Elastic-voiced crooner Bruck Tesfaye waltzed through the crowd, and Seattle/NYC transplant Gabriel Teodros and founding member Heni-Rap (both Ethiopian-American rappers) made guest appearances, skipping over tricky beats and getting hands in the air. The saxes of Mekonnen and Abye Osman growled cop-show harmonies; the strings of Rapino and Kaethe Hostetter darted through jagged scales. There were folk songs, ’70s Ethio-pop classics, even reworkings of modern hits.

Which is not to say Debo Band turn into organ-thumping evangelists when they head to Africa. “We’re all just there to learn,” says Rapino. “I didn’t even know the names of the scales before we got there last time.”

Mekonnen backs this up: “Our crew goes over there with the idea of exchanging. When we get there, we’re excited just to say, ‘Hello.’ ”


Another article: A world away and branching out

Just before midnight on a brisk night at the Western Front, an unassuming club outside Central Square, a refreshing scene is unfolding. Soon after a handsome man croons a love song in Amharic (Ethiopia’s official language) over the band’s chunky ’70s funk riffs, a rapper gets up on stage and drops fluid rhymes also in his native tongue. Other times the musicians lock into long instrumental grooves solely in service to the party vibe.

The sounds are as vibrant and diverse as the ragtag players making them and the enthusiastic crowd dancing with abandon, a rare sight around here.

This is how Danny Mekonnen hears and processes the Ethiopian music he makes with Debo Band, an 11-piece group he assembled in 2006. Mekonnen views Debo (pronounced DEH-bo) not as cultural tourism but rather as an outlet to explore and preserve his heritage as an Ethiopian-American raised in Texas and now living in Jamaica Plain.

If he seems hellbent on reviving his homeland’s rich musical history – from traditional folk to soul to pop to hip-hop – you’re getting the idea.

“Yes, it’s totally messy and it’s hard to negotiate, but one of the great things about my band is that not everyone is a working professional musician,’’ Mekonnen says at a coffee shop in JP. “It would be really hard to have kept a band this large together for three years where no one has made it. I just ask people to stick with me, and they have.’’

He’s heartened, then, to see the labor of love is finally paying off. Having recently won a Boston Music Award for best international act, Debo Band is in the middle of a residency at the Western Front (next shows are Friday and Jan. 30). Bigger news yet: Next month the group heads to Ethiopia to play a big music festival in Zanzibar called Sauti Za Busara. It’ll be the group’s second trip to Ethiopia in a year, but this time it’ll hoist Debo onto a world stage with exposure to European audiences, a slot on the festival’s closing night, and a performance on Ethiopian television.

It caps a long and resolute journey for the man who started the band. Mekonnen, who’s 29 but articulates with a sophistication behind his years, is part of a generation of musicians raised on the influential “Ethiopiques’’ series launched in 1997 and now several volumes deep into excavating classic Ethiopian music from the 1960s and ’70s.

Mekonnen grew up listening to his parents’ music collection – a hodgepodge of Maxell cassette compilations sometimes labeled with nothing more than artists’ first names. As a budding jazz musician with a voracious interest in the music’s context, he was hungry to know more about the pivotal players and production notes.

After spending time in Ghana, he came to Boston in 2003 to study jazz saxophone and ended up auditing classes at Berklee before enrolling in a graduate program in ethnomusicology at Harvard.

Shortly after arriving here, Mekonnen reached out to Russ Gershon, founder and leader of the 10-piece Either/Orchestra, which has been exploring Ethiopian music since the mid-’90s and has collaborated with some of its legendary figures, including Mulatu Astatke. Mekonnen was Gershon’s assistant for a while, but now it’s the mentor’s chance to appreciate Mekonnen’s work with Debo.

“I admire that the band has really morphed a lot over the past three years,’’ Gershon says. “The instrumentation has changed, but Danny has a very open idea about how the band should sound and evolve. He has a pretty clear concept of what he wants to do musically, combining elements of classic Ethiopian with a more modern sensibility. He has a tradition-oriented but very forward-looking vision.’’

Gershon, who first became interested in Ethiopian music after his friend Mark Sandman, the late Morphine frontman, gave him a cassette back in 1994, says Debo is already making an important mark in the local music community.

“I think Danny made a conscious decision to plant it more in the rock scene, and because of that, the band is getting noticed by people who aren’t typically world music aficionados. He’s bringing Ethiopian singing into Boston’s rock clubs, which is a nice change of pace.’’

Mekonnen has also been adamant about making Debo Band very much a New England product, enlisting people from the local Ethiopian community (singers, musicians, fans) to flesh out Debo’s sound, but also to envision the future of the music and its potential for cross-cultural understanding.

Debo’s lineup has changed often, ranging from eight to 15 musicians of various ethnic backgrounds and ages, but Mekonnen relishes the challenge of adapting to new parameters. Given that Debo’s repertoire is about 95 percent covers, Mekonnen says he sometimes frets that the band hasn’t written more original material. (He also notes that the group has inched closer to that goal after recently scoring a short film with 10 new instrumentals.)

Besides, Mekonnen’s taste in Ethiopian music leans more toward the esoteric. He’s hip to performing shopworn standards but also wants to resurrect some of the long-lost classics he first heard as a child on those Maxell tapes. If not yet revolutionizing Ethiopian music, Mekonnen at least sees Debo blazing other trails.

“I think the number one innovation we’ve brought to this music is instrumentation and orchestration,’’ he says, referring to Debo’s unusual inclusion of accordion, violins, and sousaphone, a combination unheard of for an Ethiopian band.

Bringing it all full circle, Mekonnen’s parents finally saw the band perform for the first time in September.

“My dad was really shocked because we play all these songs he loves and he knows all the lyrics,’’ Mekonnen says. “He ran up on stage and gave me a kiss. He was so proud. I realized then that Debo Band has given me a chance to embrace my Ethiopianness and to connect to my family in ways that I never would have imagined when I was 22 and trying to figure out who I was.’’



1. Musicawi Silt 06:02
2. Belomi Benna 04:40
3. Mignoten Man Yawkal 04:06
4. Lantchi Biye 05:27

Apr 16, 2011

Making Music Mightier Than The Sword: Review Of Fela - The Broadway Show

Making Music Mightier Than the Sword

There should be dancing in the streets. When you leave the Eugene O’Neill Theater after a performance of “Fela!,” it comes as a shock that the people on the sidewalks are merely walking. Why aren’t they gyrating, swaying, vibrating, in thrall to the force field that you have been living in so ecstatically for the past couple of hours?

The hot (and seriously cool) energy that comes from the musical gospel preached by the title character of “Fela!,” which opened on Monday night, feels as if it could stretch easily to the borders of Manhattan and then across a river or two. Anyone who worried that Bill T. Jones’s singular, sensational show might lose its mojo in transferring to Broadway can relax.

True, this kinetic portrait of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, a Nigerian revolutionary of song, has taken on some starry producers — including Shawn Carter (Jay-Z) and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith — and shed 15 or 20 minutes since it was staged Off Broadway last year. But it has also acquired greater focus, clarity and intensity. In a season dominated by musical retreads and revivals, “Fela!,” which stars the excellent Sahr Ngaujah and Kevin Mambo (alternating in the title role), throbs with a stirring newness that is not to be confused with novelty.

For there has never been anything on Broadway like this production, which traces the life of Fela Kuti (1938-97) through the prism of the Shrine, the Lagos nightclub where Fela (pronounced FAY-lah) reigned not only as a performer of his incendiary songs (which make up most of the score) but also as the self-proclaimed president of his own autonomous republic.

As brought to the stage by Mr. Jones — the show’s venturesome choreographer, director and, with Jim Lewis, its book writer — “Fela!” doesn’t so much tell a story as soak an audience to and through the skin with the musical style and sensibility practiced by its leading man. That style is Afrobeat, an amalgam of diverse cultural elements that will be parsed and reassembled during the show by its performers and the wonderful Antibalas, an Afrobeat band out of Brooklyn.

Irresistible music is always more than its individual parts, though. The sum of them here captures the spirit of rebellion — against repression, inhibition and conformity — that dwells within all of us, but which most of us have repressed by early middle age. It has been surfacing in wave after wave of jazz, funk and rock ’n’ roll since the 1920s. And it has been translated into smooth Broadway-ese over the years, in shows about restless youth like “Hair,” “West Side Story” and even “Bye Bye Birdie,” all currently in revival.

The form that spirit took in popular music in Nigeria in the 1970s, though, was more visceral and more far-reaching than anything Broadway gave birth to. That was when Fela was at the height of his popularity as a recording star and political agitator who understandably frightened the Nigerian military dictatorship. It wasn’t just what Fela said about a country broken by corruption and oppression. It was how his music said it.

The astonishment of “Fela!” is that it transmits the force of this musical language in ways that let us feel what it came out of and how it traveled through a population. When you arrive at the theater, just look at the stage — transformed into an eye-awakening, graffiti-decorated shrine by Marina Draghici (who also did the celebratory costumes) — and you’ll see the source of that pulse: it’s in the bodacious, miniskirted hips that can be tantalizingly glimpsed swaying in and out from the stage’s wings.

As choreographed by Mr. Jones, an eminence of contemporary dance who won a Tony for his work on “Spring Awakening,” “Fela!” leads with its hips. Its star, who makes his entrance through the aisles amid a human locomotive of shoulder-rolling men, identifies that pelvic motion as “nyansh,” what you hear — and feel — in the bass.

Nyansh is Afrobeat’s foundation, over which are layered elements explained in a number called “B.I.D. (Breaking It Down),” which traces the musical education of Fela from his youth in Lagos (where highlife jazz dominated) to his student days in London (where he listened to John Coltrane and Frank Sinatra). Somewhere along the way, the sounds of Chano Pozo and James Brown entered his aural landscape, and Fela heard a synthesis that he believed would change not only his life but all of Africa.

The show covers a lot of biographical territory, ranging through the United States as well as Africa, though with far less strain than in its Off Broadway incarnation. Set in the Shrine on the eve of Fela’s planned departure from Nigeria, months after a violent government raid on his compound that left many of his followers wounded and his beloved mother dead, the production shifts between past and present via an assortment of sophisticated theatrical tools (including magical lighting by Robert Wierzel and video design by Peter Nigrini, with top-grade wrap-around sound by Robert Kaplowitz).

But it’s the music and the movement that tell us most about the man and his world. “Fela!” never stops dancing, and Mr. Jones uses his ravishing ensemble to evoke everything from joyous sensuality to the kind of governmental oppression that turns people into zombies. Both actors portraying the pot-smoking, sax-tooting Fela lead their ensemble, which winds up including us, with charismatic authority.

Mr. Ngaujah, who originated the role and now appears in it five times a week, has an insolent, instinctive majesty that feels utterly organic, as if it’s been conjured by the music itself. Mr. Mambo wears his pain, his rage and his humor closer to the surface; he’s a slightly less compelling musical presence, but a more lucid storyteller.

As commanding as both these men are — and as spirited as the male dancers (including the brilliant, sui-generis tap artist Gelan Lambert) are — it’s the women who ultimately rule this universe. Saycon Sengbloh shimmers as the seductress who introduces Fela to Marx and the American black-power movement.

And Lillias White plays Funmilayo, the government-baiting feminist who was Fela’s mother and whose ancestral spirit haunts her son. As anyone who saw her in “The Life” knows, Ms. White’s voice can penetrate the heavens, so it seems perfectly plausible that Funmilayo could become the goddess that Fela visits in the afterlife, in the show’s most elaborately conceived and fantastical sequence.

But the heart, soul and pelvis of “Fela!” are located most completely in the phalanx of female dancers (I counted nine, but they feel legion) who stand in for the 27 women Fela married. Fela called these beauties his queens, and they are hardly your traditional chorus line.

Imperial and exquisitely self-contained, these women never sell themselves with the smiling avidity you’re used to from Broadway. They don’t need to. Their concentrated magnetism draws you right to their sides, whether they’re parading among the audience or wriggling onstage.

By the end of this transporting production, you feel you have been dancing with the stars. And I mean astral bodies, not dime-a-dozen celebrities.

nigeriavillagesquare.com, By BEN BRANTLEY, November 24, 2009

Apr 15, 2011

The Budos Band: An interview from 2010

Hailing from Staten Island, a group of eleven musicians called The Budos Band is making their rounds this August 22nd to our beloved Granada Theater in Dallas. The group will be touring for their third album simply called The Budos Band III, an album filled with Afro-beats mixed with soul, dipped in funk, and peppered with a dash of rock that seems like it came straight out of the sixties. The amazing thing is that the group has only been around since 2005 and they have already travelled the world showcasing their intensive live shows filled with an energetic sound that no one can keep from dancing to. Their sound is the very definition of booty-shaking and baby making music.

When listening to their albums, the sounds that emanate from your speakers will call forth layers of spooky funk, salsa, and afro-beats that could raise Fela Kuti from the grave. Devoid of any lyrics, the instrumental pieces are almost specifically designed to be a soundtrack for the next Quentin Tarantino movie. The new album takes the framework laid down by their first two albums and runs with it, heading into a darker sound that still keeps your butt shaking. I corresponded with the Budos Band and asked them a few questions, Jared Tankel, the baritone saxophone player, responded.

The interview

I’ve heard you describe your music as “Afro-Soul,” I love the sound and was wondering if your new album was staying in that same vein or if you are branching into new sounds?

Budos Band III still draws heavily upon Ethiopian jazz and west African funk with the subtle influences of American soul. But this album gets much more inspiration from American psychedelic, rock and even metal music than any of our previous releases. It’s still the same band and the same sound but we’ve gotten heavier and a tad more rock oriented.

I’ve only been into this type of music for a few years and have discovered a plethora of great acts, where do you draw your inspiration from for some of these grooves?

Mulatu Astatke, Orchestre Poly-Rythmo, and the Rail Band are all African artists (Ethiopian, Beninese, and Malian, respectively) whom we’ve gotten really into. On the other side of the ocean, we draw inspiration from Curtis Mayfield, Motown, Stax, Hi Records, and American rock ‘n roll.

Is there a band leader or is it a collaborative process between all of the members?

The writing process is pretty collaborative. Tom and Dan (our guitar and bass players) work out a lot of the rhythm sections together. Andrew and I write most of the horn melodies. Brian (our drummer) is very involved in the arranging of songs. And our percussionists and organ player fall into place pretty well at this point. We’ve been playing together for so long that it’s a very comfortable process and everyone knows where they fall in the collective whole.

What’s the craziest thing that has happened at one of your shows?

Last week, we were selling Budos Band panties and some lady showed up not wearing any, bought a pair, put them on right then and there and modeled the backside for all to see.

It’s been three years since the last album, what took the longest, writing the songs, or recording?

Well, it’s been a busy couple of years for both us and our label, so really what it came down to was scheduling recording sessions that worked for everyone. The tracking itself only took 3 nights. The amount of time definitely led to stronger songs, though.

How hard is touring with such a large band?

Rolling with 10 guys definitely presents its challenges. It takes twice as long to get somewhere as it should. And even if we’re doing our best to be mellow, chaos is always brewing. But at this point, we’ve been at it long enough, we know how to make our way. It may not be the smoothest ride all the time, but we’ll get it done and rock out. We’ve perfected the art of dealing with authority – perhaps we haven’t quite perfected it, but we give ourselves plenty of opportunity to do so.

Do you guys ever play covers?

Occasionally, the first album has a cover of Sly Stone’s “Sing a Simple Song”; the second album has a cover of “My Girl” and the third has a cover of “Day Tripper”. It’s fun to take these classic, recognizable songs and put the Budos spin on them and make people go “what just happened…?”

How does where you live affect your sound?

Staten Island means rugged and raw. We practice in an old burnt out Evangelical church on a dead end street near the train tracks. We’re not concerned with being involved in some hipster Brooklyn indie scene. That doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate fans from any walk of life, but you’re not going to see the Budos break out with synthesizers and drum machines.

Where did the name “Budos” come from?

We were originally called Los Barbudos – The Bearded Ones – named after Fidel Castro’s baseball team of revolutionaries. We started getting a lot of questions about whether we were Communists; what our politics were, etc… And to tell you the truth, we just wanted to focus on playing music. At that time, there were other bands in New York that were a bit more political, so we figured we’d just leave that to them and focus on the music. Plus, we don’t have any lyrics and without a vocalist, it’s a bit tough to carry a political message. So we let the music speak for us and leave it at that. We cut the name to The Budos and when we released our first record, Daptone Records added “Band” hence The Budos Band.

Some of your songs have a very dark and scary feeling to them; do you ever listen to Doom Metal?

Yep. Our drummer Brian loves it and there are quite a few other metal heads in the group as well.

Whose mom cooks the best food in the band?

That’s a dangerous question around these parts.

mydallasmusic.com, Interview by Travis McAnelly, published July 2010

Fela Kuti: Africaman Original

A leaden cloud crept over Africa on August 2nd, 1997. Tears flowed from eyes in Nigeria, in Africa, and all over the world. Hearts became heavier. Many wished it hadn't happened. Some accepted it as part of a divine order. Anyone who was conscious of it at all recognized it as the end of an era. The battle hardened and seemingly invincible African music legend Fela Anikulapo Kuti was dead at 58 from heart failure related to AIDS.

To the Pan-African world, Fela was a towering figure who arguably combined elements of pure artistry, political perseverance, and a mystic, spiritual consciousness in a way that no other individual ever has. Musically, he achieved a level comparable to Miles Davis, James Brown, Thelonius Monk, and Bob Marley. At times, he was a Peter Tosh or a Sun Ra, yet more. Politically, he subscribed to the point of view of Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah, Malcolm X, and Kwame Ture. Spiritually, less is known about Fela, except that his spiritual vision grew from the African tradition and his belief in the sublime power of musicians.

"The world should mourn," said engineer/producer Dennis Bovell, who recorded eight albums worth of material for Fela in the mid-80s. "The world should mourn, especially the African world, because one of its outspoken has spoken. I hope another one comes along straight-away to fill the gap. Otherwise everything's going to be hush-hush and swept under the carpet, and a lotta injustice is gonna occur."

"We didn't expect it," said Nigerian reggae/afropop star Sonny Okosuns, shortly after hearing of Fela's death. "We've been very great friends since 1969 when he came back from America. We [musicians] studied him seriously. He's been a very strong force to reckon with, and he will continue to be a strong force to reckon with. He will be remembered. We hope that he will rise again."

Fela Ransome Kuti was born on October 15, 1938 and raised by a colonial Christian family of means in the town of Abeokuta, Nigeria. "My father was very strict," he told journalist Roger Steffens in 1986. "I thought he was wicked. He kicked my ass so many times. It was tough in school under our father. That's how he understood life should be, cause he read the Bible: 'Spare the rod and spoil the child.' My mother, she was wicked too. She kicked my ass so much man -- systematic ass kicking. [But] on the whole, they were beautiful parents, they taught me heavy things. They made me see life in perspective. I think if they had not brought me up with these experiences, I do not think I would have been what I am today. So the upbringing was not negative."

Fela left Nigeria and studied music at Trinity College in London from 1958 to 1962. In 1960, Nigeria gained its independence from England in no small part due to the activism of people like his mother, Funmilayo -- a central figure in his Fela's life. Fela married his first wife, Remi, in London in 1961. While Fela studied classical music at Trinity, outside school he studied and played jazz. The first recordings of his band Koola Lobitos are rumored to date from this period. His first verifiable recording was "Aigna" as Fela Ransome Kuti and His Highlife Rakers from around 1961. He also recorded several titles under the name Highlife Jazz Band in the mid to late 60s, and there was a full Koola Lobitos album released by EMI in Nigeria in 1969.

Fela's journey to Los Angeles in 1969 was the most formative experience of his life. In L.A., he met a young Africentric woman named Sandra Smith, who exposed him to the consciousness then sweeping Black America. She gave Fela a copy of Alex Haley's Autobiography of Malcolm X and unknowingly sent him on his way.

"It was incredible how my head was turned," he told the New York Times in 1987. "Everything fell into place. For the first time, I saw the essence of blackism. It's crazy; in the States people think the black power movement drew inspiration from Africa. All these Americans come over here looking for awareness, they don't realize they're the ones who've got it over there. We were even ashamed to go around in national dress until we saw pictures of blacks wearing dashikis on 125th street."

"I wasn't aware I was sending him," says a proudly reflective Sandra (Smith) Isadore. "I was being myself and so happy that I had met an urban African. I was trying to get to my roots in 1969. In my own mind, they (Africans) didn't have a struggle. It came to me as a surprise when I was in Nigeria [in 76] and Fela gave me this credit, cause I had not given the credit to myself."

In L.A., H.B. Barnham recorded the high-life jazz sound of Fela Ransome Kuti and the newly renamed 'Nigeria 70.' Those recordings, recently released by Stern's Africa on CD, are the earliest document of Fela's work currently in print. In 1970, EMI financed a session in London at Abbey Road studio, which became Fela's London Scene. In London, Fela was befriended by percussionist Ginger Baker. Fela appeared on Baker's Stratavarious album and played live shows with the former Cream drummer, one of which was released as Live With Ginger Baker. Later, Baker would produce Fela's classic, He Miss Road. By 1971, Fela's musical career was focused and directed, and it exploded in terms of quantity and quality of output. It was the beginning of his own style of music -- Afrobeat.

Over the next six years, Fela Ransome Kuti and the Africa 70 would record some twenty albums that are the bedrock of his musical legacy. Classic titles such as Shakara, Afrodisiac,Open & Close,Why Black Men They Suffer, Gentleman, Algabon Close, Expensive Shit, Upside Down, and Confusion established a standard of intricacy and musical ferocity seldom equaled. While Fela himself was not a sensational horn or keyboard player, his compositional skill and ability to assemble and direct crack musicians was the essence of his art. While the whole of the Africa 70 band exuded talent, the trumpet playing of Tunde Williams and the drumming of Tony Allen in particular exemplified the best musicianship in Africa.

Dennis Bovell echoes the thought. "I would say he was Africa's number one. He was a great composer, and that's more than a musician. The composers compose shit and any musician can play it. I think he was a great composer, full stop."

In 1974, after the first government attack on Kalakuta Republic (as he was calling his self contained commune in his mother's converted house in the Surulere section of Lagos), Fela's resolve and militancy were reinforced, and it was directly reflected in his music. "I refuse to live my life in fear," he later said. "I don't think about it. If somebody wants to do harm for you, it's better for you not to know. So I don't think about it. I can say I don't care. I'm ready for anything." He changed his name to Anikulapo-Kuti in 1976 to shed his colonial name and emphasize that he was 'one who holds death in his pouch.'

Fela needed death in his pouch to survive the second attack on Kalakuta. Several significant events led to the fateful day. In addition to the increasingly anti-authoritarian tone of his music, Fela purchased a printing press and was distributing an anti-government newsletter in late 1976. He also publicly boycotted FESTAC 77, the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, and in so doing blatantly criticized the dictatorship for their corrupt dealings with foreign multi-national corporations (Shell, I.T.T., etc.).

On February 18th, 1977, the Nigerian government tried to break Fela for good. 1,000 soldiers attacked Kalakuta in an infamous and brutal display of barbarism that left Fela severely beaten, with broken legs. His followers were brutalized and raped. His mother was thrown from a second story balcony, hastening her death. For Fela, it was truly time for musical war. The event ignited retaliation in the form of Sorry Tears and Blood, No Agreement, Zombie, Vagabonds In Power (VIP) and Coffin For Head of State. Fela would mark the anniversiary of the attack in 1978 with a traditional marriage to 27 of his female followers.

Fela's recording career changed with his spiritual outlook in 1981, when he had a vision in a trance. "[Before 1981] I was spiritually aware, but subconsciously spiritually aware," he told Roger Steffens. "It was a trance -- very spiritual and real. It was like a film. I saw this whole [world] was going to change into what people call the Age of Aquarius. The age of goodness where music was going to be the final expression of the human race and musicians were going to be very important in the development of the human society and that musicians would be presidents of different countries and artists would be dictators of society. The mind would be freer, less complicated institutions, less complicated technologies. It was in that trance that I saw the aspect of the Egyptian civilization. The whole human race were in Egypt under the spiritual guidance of the Gods." On the political front, Fela formed Movement of the People (M.O.P.) and entertained the idea of becoming a democratically elected president of Nigeria.

The spiritual revelation precipitated the name change of his group form Africa 70 to Egypt 80, and he slowed the Afrobeat groove to a more meditative pace and mellower mood and generally referred to it as 'African music' thereafter. While his musical output in the early 80s was also slowed and his skepticism of record companies grew, he struck up a trusted relationship with Linton Kwesi Johnson's musical partner, Dennis Bovell, who recorded Fela Live In Amsterdam for release on EMI in 1983.

Bovell also recorded the original tracks for Fela's ill-fated Army Arrangement, which was completed by Bill Laswell at the urging of Fela's manager Pascal Imbert, while Fela was detained in Ikoyi and later Kiri-Kiri prison on a trumped up currency smuggling charge. Since Fela had received so much recognition as a result of his imprisonment, the album was widely exposed, but without Fela's consent. "It was an idea I had to get Fela to play with new sounds, but not to change his composition," explains Bovell. "I just wanted him to play what he played, but with new equipment. Those guys, they didn't understand. As I told them, 'you wait till I finish with LKJ [and I'll finish the album]. They were like 'we gotta go now, man. The iron's hot, we gotta strike.' -- total record company shit. They changed the whole shit to what they thought was new. And they fucked it up. [When] they snuck a tape recorder into the prison, and they played it to [Fela], he was like, "Motherfucker! Who's that!?' Especially when he heard Bernie Worrell replace his own organ solo he was deeply pissed. 'Take that off. Take that off! I don't want to hear it!'"

Fela was released from the internationally publicized prison term in 1986 after eighteen months. He toured the US several times, slowly fell out of circulation and withdrew to himself and his communal circle at the Ikeja Street residence in Lagos. Fela would only release half a dozen more albums (half of what he recorded with Bovell remains in the can). In his final years, Fela continued to play at The [new] Shrine, but the recordings tapered off. "The thing that bothers me more than anything is that before Fela transcended, he was doing a new music," says Sandra. "And that music was never recorded. Maybe that music was not for the world to hear. Only for a few. He just felt like he didn't need anyone to exploit his music, so he refused to record. Fela even told me in 1991, 'why even bother?' I've said everything. It's all been said. It's all been done.'"

Fela's back catalog of over 75 albums remains largely out of circulation with only nine legitimate CDs on the market: four from Shanachie (Black Man's Cry, Original Sufferhead, Beast of No Nation and O.D.O.O.) and five from Stern's Africa (The 69 Los Angeles Sessions, Fela's London Scene, Open & Close, He Miss Road, and Underground System). Randall Grass of Shanachie Entertainment says that many offers were made on Fela's back catalog while he was alive, but nothing came of it. As Dennis Bovell explains, "Motown came to see him, and he refused. They only offered him a million dollars [for his catalog], and he thought 'hey, shit, no. I wipe my ass with a million dollars. That's my toilet paper bill!'"

Fela briefly found his way into international headlines again in 1993 when a dead body was found near his house. He was arrested, charged with murder, but eventually released. It would blur into the latter part of the list of an alleged 356 trips to court in 25 years.

This past April, Fela made news with yet another 'Indian hemp' bust, but as he did so many times in the past, he escaped conviction. The charges were dropped in early July, a mere month before his passing.

When the government hung the eloquent writer and outspoken environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and imprisoned Fela's brother Beko Ransome Kuti in recent years, it was perhaps a chilling sign of the end for Fela. He did not respond in either case. Some argue that Fela was too ill to fight, yet he clearly was able to muster the energy to elude conviction on the hemp charges. These questions remain unanswered.

Sola Oniyide, a Nigerian member of the Elite Club, an L.A. based organization involved in charitable activities and now focusing on AIDS awareness in Nigeria since Fela's death, says his generation grew up on Fela's music. "He used his music to address a lot of problems within our society. Fela was a very complex man. He was a visionary. He really believed in his cause. He never gave up. If all we Nigerians can learn something from him, [it's] for us to be able to speak to our beliefs and live our beliefs. He taught us that we have to speak up."

Jamaican reggae singer and Pan-Africanist Burning Spear toured with Fela in Africa in the late 80s. "I think Fela is a strong African singer, and I think the masses in Africa into what Fela do," says Spear. "For Fela hitting some strong point and some logical point wherein noone else would hit. His message was very strong within the music. If he wasn't important, they wouldn't try to break him down. When you try to do the right thing you will get a big fight. If you let the wrong things interfere, you going down."

"From what I observe, Fela is a person who stands up for people in Africa, throughout the world, cause his music go beyond. Is not limited," observes former Black Uhuru frontman Michael Rose, with whom Fela recorded in 1986. "When you listen to Fela, you know that his music on a level and it's brilliant."

Brian Eno, often considered one of Western music's most articulate musicians, producers and musicologists referred to Fela often in interviews dating back to the 70s, placing him in a class by himself. "In 1972, I first heard a Fela record," Eno said in 1988. "I'd heard James Brown and understood what that was about. Then I heard Fela, and he was an African who listened to James Brown. And he'd taken what James was doing, but really extrapolated it in a big way. The early 70s recordings were the best I think."

In 1995, Eno told the BBC, "I listen to [Fela] over and over and over again. I have more albums by him than by any other single artist . . . I listen particularly to the way the bass is used; that's what really interests me about these records. The use of the bass as an instrument that is both percussive and melodic at the same time. "

Adjectives such as 'unequaled' and 'original' seem entirely appropriate in describing the life of Fela Anikulapo Kuti. You can search and run the lists of comparisons to try to find another story like his, but then how many communes have there been on the face of the Earth, within the iron clasp of a military dictatorship? How could an island of egalitarianism under its own rule of law possibly exist in a state that has its way with any of its other subjects? How could it flourish for so long and be led by a musician, whose cultural, political and spiritual magnetism drew together the resources to make it possible? How could it be revived after brutal attempts to destroy it? If it was a unique circumstance, then it was a unique individual who made it possible.

Ayuka Babu, Executive Director of the Pan African Film Festival is Los Angeles says there is no other individual in Fela's league and emphasizes the complexity of the artist's motives. "Fela was viewed as a cultural, political and musical leader in the Black world. He was really a Pan-Africanist. Nigeria was his particular platform, [but] all the questions he raised in Nigeria, he felt these were issues that had to be faced in Africa and throughout the Black world as well as the Diaspora. He reflected what everybody felt and everybody thought."

As to Pan-Africanism, Fela often espoused its tenets. "That is the only way the Africans can benefit from their environment," he said in 1986. "The way Africa is cut up now and the way the individual African governments behave in Africa is negative to progress. This is why we see the unified Africa as the ultimate. Because Africa is not unified, that is why South Africa can operate [in apartheid]."

Babu says that what the Western world thought of as 'outrageous' behavior was always a calculated political statement by Fela. "The marriage [to 27 women] was a political act," he explains, as a response to the accusation that he was corrupting young unmarried girls. "'[Now] you can't say they're not married.'"

When Fela later divorced his wives, he explained that he did "not believe any more in the marriage institution. The marriage institution for the progress of the mind is evil. I learned that from prison. Why do people marry? Is it to be together? Is it to have children? People marry because they are jealous. People marry because they are possessive. People marry because they are selfish. All this comes to the very ugly fact that people want to own and control other people's bodies. I think the mind of human beings should develop to the point where that jealous feelings should be completely eradicated."

Babu explains that on the question of "Do we follow ourselves and our traditions or do we follow the European tradition?, Fela squarely was on the side of 'follow ourselves.' Black folks have been smoking ganja for 7,000 years in Africa," Babu explains. "It is a traditional herb that we use to alter our state of consciousness. There is no place on the continent where it is not smoked traditionally. [Fela's] position was that the attack on marijuana was racial and Eurocentric."

Fela himself felt that his views were often marginalized and trivialized. "During the political struggles I had so many names attached to my personality like 'hooligan,' 'hemp smoker,' 'wearing briefs,' 'half-naked.' All this shit -- they gave me all kind of bullshit names. That kind of myth went on so long that it confuse so many people. After the prison, the whole country realized my point much [more] clearly. It's finally go to the point where the honesty of my struggles became very exposed, clear. That vindicated all my views."

"He's got a very unique place in history," says Randall Grass, whose company has released four CDs of Fela's work. "There are very few African artists who are as overtly political as he was. He created a style of music that is completely unique and that virtually nobody else has successfully performed and recorded on an ongoing basis. To a large degree it was an extension of his own persona -- musically, psychically, and lyrically. It sprang out of the whole experience of Fela at the Shrine in Lagos."

Grass, who visited The Shine in 1976, recalls an utterly unique experience. "It was incredible. It was packed with people. It reminded me of the communal rock vibe in the sixties. It was more than just a musical show. It was genuinely an alternative scene. You had this open air club with a couple of levels to it. Hemp smoke was thick in the air -- flags from all the African nations ringing the courtyard. You had the stage with Africa 70, which was just a pretty awesome spectacle. It would just go on for hours, generally until dawn. There were raised platforms with young women gyrating, almost like go-go platforms. There was a real sense of rapport between Fela and the people in the audience.

"Before the performance there would be a ceremony, a libation to the ancestors and sort of a consecration. That's why he called it The Shrine. He would come out with a cigarette or a spliff in his hand and stroll around and talk for twenty or thirty minutes about whatever was going on at that time -- the latest police attack or something the government was doing, anything that was on his mind. Then a small boy would run up with his saxophone, and he would play a solo and then someone else would solo. Then Fela would go over to the keyboards and play there for a while. Then he would take the mike and go into the main melody of the song with a lot of call and response. A typical song would be like forty-five minutes or an hour."

"He was very important to many people," says Sandra Isadore. "Right now, I think about those people that he left behind. Those in the compound that he gave employment to. Those that he took in off the streets. Those that would not have had a place to stay or a job or a future had it not been for Fela. Fela was a very generous man. This is the man that I know. He gave opportunities to many. At the same time, he was like a common man. He was very simple. He didn't need a lot of flair. I know it sounds strange, but . . . when he came [to America], I said 'Fela, you're a star, I should hire a limousine.' He said, 'No. Can all my band members go in the limo?' If everybody couldn't go in the limousine, then he couldn't have it. He would not be separated. He didn't put himself above any of them or anyone."

Fela's enormous appetite for life was both an essential part of his genius and a direct contributor to his decline. His last political statement was made by ironic counter-example. He died of AIDS as a result of his promiscuity. For Africa, the death of a figure with the stature of Fela may change minds about the reality of the AIDS problem. "Even in death, Fela has raised the question [of AIDS]," notes Ayuka Babu. "The leadership [in Africa] has not come to grips with AIDS. Had Fela known how sick he was, he would have spoken out."

Fela's view of death and fear itself were among his defining characteristics. He told biographer Carlos Moore in This Bitch Of A Life: "Death doesn't worry me man. When my mother died it was because she finished her time on earth. I know that when I die I'll see her again, so how can I fear death? . . . So what is this motherfucking world about? . . . I believe there is a plan . . . I believe there is no accident in our lives. What I am experiencing today completely vindicates the African religions. . . I will do my part . . . then I'll just go, man. . .Just go!"

While his rejection of Western medicine and safe-sex practices clearly hastened his death in the end, his Africentric approach to life allowed him to live to the fullest in the overall sense. He lived more life in 58 years than most could in 116. "Fela will make no apologies for nothing," says Sandra. "He lived his life his way, the way he wanted to live it. It can definitely be said he had a full life. He twisted his shoes his way, nobody told him what to do. I fought with him on many occasions. It was not easy dealing with Fela Anikulapo Kuti. From the very beginning it was a fight, but it was fun. It's the end of an era for me."

When a person of far reaching impact passes from the Earth, it is tempting to bring out the superlatives, grand statements, and conjecture in an attempt to be convincing. Time will determine the real legacy of Fela Anikulapo Kuti. As it has been, Fela's will likely continue to be an underground story outside the African world. Perhaps his back catalog will see the light of day and his music will be widely available for the world's inspection and appreciation.

Equally possible, his legacy will pass into further obscurity as his catalog becomes increasingly out of print. Perhaps Fela will take on the dimensions of blues singer Robert Johnson, another griot who lived life in his own way, was at times loved and at times loathed, but among those who truly knew his art, was undeniably revered as its most important player. To whatever history Fela Anikulapo Kuti will ultimately belong, for those who touched him -- either personally or through the intangibly intimate contact of his greatest recordings -- he will never be forgotten.


First published, The Beat V5/6 1997 - Copyright 1997, Carter Van Pelt