May 10, 2011

Fela Kuti - Shakara (1972)/ London Scene (1971)

Information by Knitting Factory Records:

London Scene (1971):

To understand where Fela’s musical quest began, you have to start with his education at London’s Trinity College School of Music. While his family had sent him to England to study medicine, Fela had more musical aspirations. After finishing school, Fela returned to Nigeria and with his band Koola Lobitios and his star status began to flourish in his native land, fusing the sounds of Jazz and Funk with the traditional African music he had been raise on. EMI, his label at the time, saw the true power of his musical creation, which he termed “afro-beat”, and brought Fela and his band back to London. The result was London Scene, Fela’s first release, recorded at Abby Road. While recording this album, Fela began his friendship with Cream drummer Ginger Baker, who plays uncredited on the track “Egbe Mio”. London Scene is the beginning of what would become Fela’s signature “Afrobeat” style and a great introduction to the man and his music.

Shakara (1972):

Shakara is a two-track release of 13-minute songs that showcase Fela’s satirical side. “Lady”, perhaps one of Fela’s most popular tracks, criticizes westernized African women who he felt had been corrupted by their embrace of the new feminist movement of the time. “Shakara” is another lyrically lambasting track that takes on braggarts and blowhards who boast false claims about their personal power and influence.


Additional reviews

Fela Kuti was often described as "the James Brown of Africa," but one could also argue that he was Africa's equivalent of Miles Davis or John Coltrane. Truth be told, either description is valid. Kuti was highly eclectic, and his innovative, visionary music contained elements of funk/soul, jazz, and blues, as well as African music. That eclectic spirit proves to be a major asset on Shakara, which consists of two 13-minute performances by Kuti's Africa 70 band: &"Lady" and &"Shakara (Oloie)." Performed in English, &"Lady" finds Kuti criticizing modern African women in a humorous way for becoming what he sees as overly westernized and embracing a western view of feminism. You might agree or disagree with the song's viewpoint, but the groove and the beat are irresistible. Equally addictive -- and equally sarcastic -- is &"Shakara (Oloje)," which is sung in both Yoruba and English and makes fun of the type of pompous, loud-mouthed braggarts who can never make good on their empty boasts. When Shakara first came out in 1972, it was a vinyl LP with &"Lady" on one side and &"Shakara (Oloje)" on the other. But in 2000, MCA reissued Shakara on the same CD as Fela's London Scene.


Fela at his Wickedest!!!

I once had a conversation with a Nigerian friend of mine. Having listened to Fela since my teens, *I* can understand some of his tunes -- whereas she said that even some Nigerians have no idea what he's talking about. It is unclear whether she meant this literally - - because I know she did feel a lot of his beliefs were nonsense... or the fact that Fela did have his own Fela-ese langauge - - Regardless, I am not sure whether understanding or not understanding Fela is a plus or minus when it comes to his music... Aside from the Nigerian government, I'm sure there were many Nigerian women overall who did not appreciate LADY and others... On the other hand, along with ZOMBIE ARRANGEMENT, its his most famous arrangement and the groove is so infectious you are totally pulled into his world whether or not you fully understand or agree with it (one of the great experiences of listening to Fela at work!)

The sessions on this album were recording circa 1971 and 1972. Egbe Mi O features a (non-credited) guest appearence by Ginger Baker on drums, who was Fela's "sponsor" in his trips to the U.K., arranging a lot of gigs for him and eventually doing an unbelievable recording with the group featuring two drummers, Tony Allen being the other.

All in all, the arrangements on this album are tight and funky... and just in the same era that JB was doing SEX MACHINE and SUPER BAD (and admitted to have been influenced by Fela). The mutual influence in apparent. The tunes are also amazing because of Fela's unique "layered" groove concept... similar to JB, but unbelievable in the way so many pieces of the puzzle just snap together and build as seemingly neverending layers are added to the developing groove. Each musician has his part and sticks with it PAINFULLY (Fela was famous for firing musicians on the spot who added stuff to his music), but as the next section or musician comes in, it takes on a totally different me, function and perspective. Soulfully overwhelming complexity through sheer simplicity - - the art of both Fela and JB.

As a closing note, its great to get my hands on this double feature - - because there was a time in the U.S. when his albums were ultra rare, only available as imports, and would be those issues whith just one or two tunes... This album in contrast is chock full of bass, rhythm, horns - - and Fela bestowing his unique vision of society and politics at the peak of his career. - - I'd say if you had to pick one FELA album, this may very well one to consider...!


1. Lady
2. Shakara (Oloje)


1. J'Ehin J'Ehin (Chop Teeth - Chop Teeth)
2. Egbe Mi O (Carry Me I Want to Die)
3. Who're You
4. Buy Africa
5. Fight to Finish

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