Jun 28, 2011

A Tribe called ... Karl Hector and the Malcouns

Written by Eric Luecking, published July 2008

Stones Throw subsidiary Now Again is out to prove that it's not just a reissue label trying to dig up yesteryear's lost gems; it's also out to prove there are still some dope sounds being constructed today. After last year's Heliocentrics release featuring living legend Malcolm Catto bringing together a group to record a trippy freeform jazz/funk odyssey for a sound appropriately entitled “Out There,” the label follows it up with an album of jams rooted in afrobeat rhythms with funk undertones.

Former Poets Of Rhythm guitarist and producer J. Whitefield funks out with Malcouns founders Thomas Myland and Zdenko Curlija along with Karl Hector and a host of others. The results may not have you doing the worm at the discothèque, but don't underestimate this music's headnod factor.

Clocking in at just over 45 minutes, the mostly instrumental disc grooves through world rhythms and nu-funk simmered with a dash of tasty rhythmic seasoning. Throughout the set, intermissions lead us from one course to the next. “Rush Hour,” which leans less on afrobeat and more toward traditional funk, hits you with a swirling organ, steady bass, and tight snares. One section even sounds like killer bees swarming!

Recently I had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Whitefield about the project which hits record racks on July 8. Following the Stones Throw/Now Again tradition, when purchased from select retailers the album comes with a limited edition Stones Throw 45 featuring non-album tracks.

The interview

How did you hook up with the Malcouns?

I met Thomas, their keyboard player, in a teahouse in Izmir, Turkey, while travelling with a theatre group. We were discovering similar musical interests, and a year later he was invited for the first Discern/Define recording sessions back in ‘97 and is playing with the Poets live band and on many of our recording projects since then.

I like the cover artwork. It looks like some kind of African tribal necklace. What was its inspiration?

It is a tribal necklace, but to get specifics as to where exactly it’s from and stuff, you´d have to ask Matt Boyd who did the design… probably the album title gave the overall inspiration as well as the overall musical content plus a love for homemade style cover artwork.

We got a taste of the marriage of funk and afrobeat in "Weiya" from the "In The Raw" LP on Soul Fire. Talk about how that came about and why you wanted to work with afrobeat rhythms more. Did Bo Baral (Poets of Rhythm singer and frequent collaborator) growing up in Africa lead you down that path?

The departure from straight American funk happened already in the mid 90s some years before the Whitefield Brothers sessions with our Pan-Atlantics project. Basically it grew out of interest for more syncopation and polyrhythms. The strong 2 and 4 that dominates contemporary western music doesn’t give enough freedom for rhythmic experiments, and the mothership for all the side projects we are doing is still the Poets of RHYTHM which always demands a strong focus on rhythmic developments.

Is the group doing any promotional spots or shows for the Sahara Swing album?

The live band is ready to hit the stage. We played a couple of shows already with great response, and basically we´re waiting for the album to be released and tour it later this year

Can you talk about some of the influences for the album? There's definitely a Fela Kuti feel on several songs.

Fela definitely has a strong presence in African music, but for us, if at all, his early 70´s work, like Shenshema for example, is more relevant to our stuff as the classic later period where he really developed his formula of afrobeat which is rather epic in form. For this album we mostly tried to transport Mr. Hector’s influences, which are more based in Morocco, Ghana, Mali, and Ethiopia and span from western crossover to the more traditional folkloristic stuff as well.

Over the past few years, Chief Xcel from Blackalicious did a mixtape of Fela songs; other hip hop and R&B acts contributed to a Fela Kuti tribute CD in the Red Hot series; Youssou N'Dour got some attention from the hip hop crowd when he did some work with Wyclef Jean and Canibus toward the end of the 90s. Even today, artists like the Daktaris and Antibalas are getting press. Do you see African music building some steam?

I guess that started with Fela´s death in ´97. All the reissues and tributes got labels and record nerds interested in African music and explore the other west African countries for hidden musical treasures. They turned up loads of amazing stuff and otherwise we maybe would have never heard of people like Poly Rythmo, Ebo Taylor, El Rego and the many more obscure artists that never made a name outside of Africa.

Much of today's current music is made using preprogrammed sounds, synthesizers, and artists collaborating while never being in studio at the same time. Can you talk about how using real instruments and being able to vibe off one another in the studio helps to create a mood for you and your band mates when creating music?

If you regard music and creating music as a form of communication you have to recognise there are very few people who are able to communicate with machines and put soul into them. That’s why we prefer being with musicians in a room and get inspired by each other; that way you can come to results where you sometimes play above what you know, which can happen with machines only if there are errors because they are too predictable - if that makes any sense. I never managed to tell a drum machine to play free.

Have you been working on other projects since we last heard from the Poets of Rhythm and the Whitefield Brothers in 2002?

Most of the studio time was spent on Karl Hector and Whitefield Brothers sessions. Also we’ve been on tour quite a lot and just did some 45s like New Process and Polyversal Souls or the stuff with Bajka and some compilation contributions.

With this project being released on Now Again and the upcoming reissue of the "In The Raw" LP with them as well, do you have any other future projects in the works through them?

After the “In The Raw” reissue, there will be a new Whitefield Brothers album which is even more based around Ethiopian themes and going from there in some Oriental and Asian territories as well. It will also have some vocal guest appearances.

soul-sides.com, written by Eric Luecking, published July 2008

Traditional Kenyan melodies and vibes with UK Jazz: Owiny Sigoma Band

Press release: Owiny Sigoma Band

In 2009 a close-knit collective of London-based musicians - Jesse Hackett (keys), Louis Hackett (bass), Sam Lewis (guitar), Chris Morphitis (bouzouki/guitar) and Tom Skinner (drums) - first arrived in Nairobi. They were brought to Kenya's capital in order to collaborate with local musicians as part of a project established by an organisation called Art of Protest which aims to promote local Kenyan musicians and rappers. Art of Protest introduced the London faction to Joseph Nyamungu, a phenomenal player/teacher of the nyatiti (an 8-string lyre) whose scope of knowledge of the traditional music of the Luo tribe is unparalleled. The sessions with Joseph and Charles Owoko, a drummer specialising in traditional Luo rhythms developed into something unique, fresh and full of verve - a Nairobi meets London sound clash.

The five London-based musicians, who have been friends since their school days, draw on a broad spectrum of African influences, from Fela Kuti and Tony Allen to the likes of Thomas Mapfumo and Oumou Sangare. “What I heard when I first played Owiny Sigoma Band on the radio was a phat, wayward dance record with African leanings and it just felt completely right,” explains Gilles Peterson.

On reconvening with Joseph and Charles on a second trip to Nairobi in May 2010, the group had now grown to a 10-piece big band, with Joseph inviting many other musicians to join the proceedings. A two-day session at the Kenya National Theatre then culminated in the forthcoming self-titled album – a collection of gloriously loose Afro grooves symbolic of the true culture clash between the Luo and London. The founder of Gorillaz and Afrika Express, Damon Albarn, even gives the project his personal blessing, popping up on organ duties on the sprightly 'Odera Lwar' and 'Margaret Okudo (Dub)'.

In Gilles Peterson's words

"Africa is still largely untapped. The US has been dug to death, likewise most of South America and Brazil. Africa is the new Colombia in terms of uprooted treasures by the likes of Analog Africa and Soundway. Nigeria, Ghana and the French Colonies - Congo, Sierra Leone and maybe Ivory Coast - they're the ones that have been tapped, but there's so much more. I've started hearing stuff from Eritrea and Mozambique… funk bands… James Brown made an impact everywhere.

What I heard when I first played Owiny Sigoma Band on the radio was a phat, wayward dance record with African leanings and it just felt completely right. That's why it was good to continue along the path that they'd followed, because they've got a different approach to how the drums should sound and the bass should sound - it's like they've been listening to a bunch of Arthur Russell and Liquid Liquid records. These characteristics alongside the nyatiti, the vocals and the cow's horn, lend it these unique properties that you don't hear in any other African music and make it exciting. But, fundamentally, the reason that it works for me (and Brownswood) is that it's drum and bass heavy… rhythmically heavy. And all those little disco tricks… the reverbs and the tape delays that they used are brilliant. It's by no means a disco record, but it's got enough of that in it to make it sound new and inventive. Plus of course there's the whole thing with bands like Vampire Weekend, the Damon Albarn touch and World Circuit… all of that has been embedded in people's heads. So basically you throw this project in the mix which has all of those elements and that's why it's fresh."


May 2011 will see release of the Owiny Sigoma Band's self-titled debut album on Gilles Peterson's label Brownswood Recordings. The record, which is being tagged as a "cross-cultural clash of London and traditional Kenyan music", is the result of a collective of London-based musicians travelling to Kenya in 2009 to collaborate with musicians from the region. The jam sessions that transpired form the basis of this forthcoming release on Brownswood Recordings. If you're expecting the now usual Afrofunk new band, you're in for a big suprise since this album is really a new crossover sound of traditional Kenyan melodies and vibes with UK Jazz!!



A highly varied fusion of European and African styles that works surprisingly well.

The Owiny Sigoma Band has a very unusual back-story. Its initial genesis took place in January 2009 when, basking in the euphoria of the election of Barak Obama, five optimistic Londoners headed to Nairobi to collaborate with unnamed Kenyan musicians, for a project partly facilitated by Art of Protest, a voluntary organisation that aims to promote local rap artists and other music makers. The London crew, which includes keyboardist Jesse Hackett, his bass-playing drummer Louis, drummer Tom Skinner, and guitarists Sam Lewis and Chris Morphitis (the latter also doubling up on bouzouki), had no real clear agenda other than getting to know the place, and to create some kind of musical exchange with local players.

Things quickly gelled after Art of Protest introduced the London lads to Joseph Nyamungu, master of the eight-stringed lyre known as the nyatiti, and a powerhouse of knowledge regarding the traditional music of his tribe, the Luo of western Kenya. Joseph then drafted in his drumming mate, Charles Owoko, and everyone was ready to rock, the first set of recordings taking place at a disused factory in the middle of a huge potato market, during a marathon four-day session. Then, 14 months later, the Londoners returned for another couple of days’ worth of recordings, this time with additional Kenyan players drafted in by Nyamungu.

The result is a highly varied album that works surprisingly well, despite being all over the map and decidedly rough around the edges. Opening number Gone Thum Mana Gi Nyadhi draws you in with a mellow groove laden with bass hooks and sprightly keyboard lines, bubbling beneath some ropey Luo vocals; Odero Lwar has delightful lyre riffs and quietly mesmerising drums beneath the boys’ percolating rhythm, while the radio-friendly Wires shifts the balance into the sphere of the Brits, but counterbalances the Anglo influence with doses of Congolese-styled guitar.

Here on the Line gives the boys full focus, with only a gentle lyre and the odd percussive sprinkle hinting at a non-London locale. For me, the truest highlights come when the Kenyans are allowed less-encumbered spotlights, on numbers such as Owegi Owandho and Rapar Nyanz. But everything on this album has enough verve to keep you tuned in from start to finish, making for a refreshingly different listen whose very unevenness somehow adds to the appealhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif.

bbc.co.uk, written by D. Katz


A wild spirit and untamed heart infuses this hypnotic, trance-inducing offering from Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings, bringing together a consortium of musicians from Kenya and the UK. Named after the grandfather of central figure Joseph Nyamungu, and with vocals loosely based on traditional Luo tribal chants, the bass-heavy rhythm section drags you through the dark heart of modern day Nairobi and London. Light touches and gentle innovation sprinkle the opening and closing few tracks, but it is the harsh vocals and all-powering trance that really lingers in the soul. Blur supremo Damon Albarn pops up on the organ on a couple of tracks.



This Nairobi-London sound clash mixes traditional Kenyan Luo styles with contemporary westehttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifrn influences, and really works. The project started when Jesse Hackett and other members of the electronic hip-hop and soul collective Elmore Judd went out to Kenya at the invitation of a voluntary organisation promoting local musicians. Here they met up with Joseph Nyamungu, an exponent of the traditional nyatiti 8-stringed lyre, and began performing with him and local percussionists, naming their band after Nyamungu's music school (and his late grandfather). Back in London, Judd played one of the tracks they recorded to DJ Gilles Peterson, who was so impressed with "this weird collage with a great groove" that he commissioned a full album for his Brownswood record label. The result includes nyatiti solos alongside percussion and bass work-outs, but the best sections are those when both groups come together to create a quirky, slinky dance style. This is just the sort of project Africa Express set out to promote, so it's no surprise to find Damon Albarn adding Farfisa organ or omnichord (like an electronic autoharp) on a couple of the tracks.



Owiny Sigoma Band frontman Joseph Nyamungu says the songs on this record came to him while walking down the street, or in dreams. He takes you daydreaming with him, and tells you stories through interruptions of cow horn, and short keyboard flourishes setting a scene of dusty, busy urban bluster. Owiny Sigoma is a person, but he is not in the band that is named after him. He was Nyamungu’s grandfather in Kenya. Nyamungu runs a school, which also bears the name, at which he teaches and sells nyatitis - an eight-string lyre on which strings are played with a violin-like bow. And Nyamungu brings his musical teaching to this album, a collaboration with fellow Nairobi native and percussionist Charles Owoko and four London-based musicians. The songs are based on traditional Luo folk songs of Kenya, recognisable by their irregular chanted rhythms, the band add repetitive basslines, and a clatter of uptempo drums.

Nyamungu’s opener ‘Gone Thum Mana Gi Nyadhi (Play The Music With Confidence)’ is as if he is instructing his new cohorts through fresh rhythms and musical ideas, and, like a conversation building pace, the dialogue picks up its own distinctive groove. And the vocals reinforce this, Nyamungu repeating lines with extra emphasis on the phrasing, which feels its way into your subconscious through creeping rhythms. ‘Odero Lwar’ follows suit, upping the tempo ever so slightly, the chanted vocals getting more strained, guttural and urgent. Whistling and off-mic breathing punctuate the dense atmosphere, made eerier still by the wail of the unusual cow horn. It’s a low, ominous groove and so it’s a surprise what happens next – with the melody and pop structure of third track ‘Wires.’ The tight wind-up/wind-down licks of the single - one of two English-language songs on this record - shows the English musicians are not just along for the ride. When they step out to do their own thing it is like a different group, and brings to mind the Afrobeat-influenced indie of the likes of Vampire Weekend. And they have chops of their own, keys player Jesse Hackett toured with Gorillaz and Africa Express, which explains the involvement of Damon Albarn, who makes an appearance on the Farfisa organ. Drummer Tom Skinner, bassist Louis Hackett and bouzouki and guitar player Chris Morphitis all adapt to their new environment, capturing the feel of what their hosts were sharing while bringing in wider African influences like Fela Kuti and Tony Allen, as well as late 70s New York no wave dance moves.

Elsewhere on the record the band are back to the unstructured and loose, natural grooves, which benefit from seven to eight minute durations. Deep dub roots come to the fore on ‘Margaret Okudo Dub (My Friend)’ with echo-drenched vocals and stabbing keyboards punctuate. They strip things back altogether on Nyamungu’s solo piece ‘Owegi Owandho,’ a simple wood block beat with vocals standing higher than the repetitive fiddly nyatiti line. Natural funk from the west takes over on root dance note-based instrumental Afro-disco ‘Nabed Nade El Piny Ka’ making it clear why Gilles Peterson, on whose Brownswood label the record is released, started comparing them to Liquid Liquid. It is understated, but undeniably funky, with a stripped down three-piece lineup of bass, drums and keys, a handful of the English musicians conjuring something new based on ideas and techniques only newly learned. Like Nyamungu humming a tune walking down the street, the Owiny Sigoma sound has personality, swagger and its own distinctive groove.



Following the explosive new album of Seun Kuti, here comes a second 2011 afro-storm with the eponymous first album of Owiny Sigoma Band!

Over the years african music fans have been used to enjoy productions from the western part of the continent (Nigeria, Ghana, Benin, Mali, Senegal... ) but oddly enough sounds from eastern Africa have generally remained more confidential. With this first production half-kenyan collective Owiny Sigoma Band nevertheless proves that oriental Africa also probably abounds with musical treasures.
Revealed and produced by Gilles Peterson on his brilliant Brownswood Recordings label, the group is actually half east-african and half-european.

On one side stands London-based Jesse Hackett known for his participation in Gorillaz as well as his interesting Elmore Judd soul/beats project, on the other a group of Nairobi-based musicians led by Joseph Nyanmungu and his traditional 8-stringed lyre. Add to that the presence on a couple of tracks of Damon Albarn, whose love for afrobeat is well-known (think of his previous collaborations with Fela's legendary drummer Tony Allen) and you get a very original kind of afro-disco sound.

The omnipresence of the Nyatiti lyre (an essential instrument in traditional Kenyan music) gives to this album a delightfully exotic touch, but it is his brilliant association with infectious percussions and house-like beats & basslines that results in Owiny Sigoma's really fresh sound. Tracks like "Wires", "Margaret Okudo", "Doyoi Nyajo Nam" or "Nabed Nade Ei Piny Ka - Rework" sound like no other previous productions and should not leave many listeners stand still.

But there is more! This LP is also home of a few remarkable afro-folk ballads ("Here On The Line", "Gone Thum Mana Gi Nyadhi"...), truly out-of-time moments lost somewhere between London....and Nairobi!



Along with its close neighbors, Tanzania and Uganda, Kenya—as viewed from Europe or North America—is one of the final frontiers in African music. Indirectly, this is the result of the decades-long, overwhelming impact of Zairean rumba on east Africa, and its fall-out. From the 1960s through the 1980s, Zairean emigré bands dominated the Kenyan scene, discouraging the emergence of indigenous styles; only taarab, the Muslim orchestral music which developed along the Swahili-speaking coast, and benga, the electrified dance music played by Shirati Jazz and other Luo-speaking bands, survived the onslaught. And to date, all attempts to give Kenya a start in the world music stakes have failed. Early on, Virgin Records released excellent albums by Orchestre Makassy (Agwaya, 1982) and Super Mazembe (Kaivaska, 1983), but neither clicked—and both bands were, anyway, mainly composed of Zairean emigrés, playing essentially Zairean music. Later initiatives also fell by the wayside.

The first, biggest and—unless you count American president Barack Obama's Luo heritage—only break Kenyan music has ever really got in the world stakes was the song "Malaika." Written by Fadhili William, and recorded with his band, the Jambo Boys, in 1960, "Malaika" became an international entity (and its Kenyan origin quickly forgotten) after it was covered, first, in 1965, by South African singer Miriam Makeba, and later, in 1981, by Boney M (it has since been the subject of interminable copyright wrangles).

Nothing changes overnight, but nothing, equally, lasts forever. Owiny Sigoma Band will not, on its own, place Kenyan music at the center of the world stage. But it is an earthy, rhythmically heavy, colorful, mesmerizing, sui generis disc which—although it is not "pure" Kenyan—deserves to give the country's music profile a hefty boost.

As featured here, Owiny Sigoma Band is composed of five Londoners and seven Kenyans, plus guest artist Damon Albarn, of Gorillaz and Afrika Express. The two contingents first came together in Nairobi, Kenya's capital, in January, 2009, as part of an initiative by cultural activists Art Of Protest, a not-for-profit exchange organization set up to facilitate collaboration between musicians from Britain and Kenya. Test recordings made their way to Brownswood in London, and a second Nairobi session was arranged, over two days in May, 2010. Empathy levels ran high in both directions and Owiny Sigoma Band—named after singer and nyatiti (harp) player Joseph Nyamungu's grandfather—is the throbbing, highly recommended result.

The five Londoners are keyboardist Jesse Hackett, guitarists Sam Lewis and Chris Morphitis (who also produced), electric bassist Louis Hackett and drummer Tom Skinner. Hackett, who sounds intimately familiar with benga, constructs spare, percussive ostinatos which, like those in the Luo style, work like a complementary drum; with Skinner, a familiar face on the cutting edge of British jazz, he creates dub-like drum and bass lines which smoke. The partnership delivers weight, but it also has a pronounced bounce, a real vivacity.

The Kenyans include, most prominently, Nyamungu, who sings lead (in Luo) on most tracks and is as frequently featured on nyatiti, and the traditional drummers Charles Owoko and Charles Obuya. Most of the tunes were adapted from Luo folk songs brought along to the sessions by Nyamungu. John Marita Odumba adds cow horn to three tracks, and orutu (fiddle) player Boaz Otiendo stars on the Kenyans-only, eight-minute closing jam, "Rapar Nyanza." Joseph Alego Ondir adds a lovely, jangling highlife/rumba guitar melange to "Wires."

Other notable cameos include Albarn's retro keyboards, which hint at Ethio-jazz crossed with Afrobeat, and Lewis' lead vocals on "Here On The Line," which sound a bit like balladic-Grateful Dead circa Workingman's Dead (Warner Bros, 1970).

Read the full article at allaboutjazz.com!


01. Gone Thum Mana Gi Nyadhi
02. Odera Lwar
03. Wires
04. Margaret Okudo (Dub)
05. Hera
06. Doyoi Nyajo Nam
07. Owegi Owandho (Solo)
08. Nabed Nade Ei Piny Ka (Rework)
09. Here On The Line
10. Rapar Nyanza

Owiny Sigoma Band // Album Teaser by Brownswood

Jun 27, 2011

Fela Kuti - Zombie (1976/77)


he Nigerian military regime's reprisals against Kuti moved from relatively low level harassment to outright bloody brutality in November 1974, following the release of the album Alagbon Close. But this was as nothing compared to the vengeance the army, enraged beyond reason, took on him following 1976's Zombie.

Over a choppy, quick-march accompaniment from Afrika 70, Kuti begins the song by calling out, sergeant-major style, "Attention! Quick march! Slow march! Salute! Fall in! Fall out! Fall down! Go and kill! Go and die! Go and quench!" Each phrase is followed by the women singers' taunting response, "Zombie!." There's much more to the lyric, but this passage, revisited at various points in the lyric, wound the army up massively. Crowds chanted it at soldiers in the street, and like never before, the military sensed the growth of popular resistance. The response was terrible...

On 18 February, 1977, around 1,000 soldiers, most of them armed, swooped on Kalakuta. They cordoned off the surrounding area, broke down the wire fence around the community's buildings, and kicked their way into the central structure. Occupants were stripped and barbarously abused: particularly unfortunate men had their testicles beaten with rifle butts; particularly unfortunate women were raped (one also had her nipples crushed with stones). Kuti himself was beaten close to death, sustaining a fractured skull and several broken bones. His mother, then aged 77, was thrown from an upstairs window, fracturing a leg and suffering deep trauma. The army then set fire to the compound and prevented the fire brigade reaching the area. The ensuing blaze gutted the premises, destroying six Afrika 70 vehicles, all Kuti's master tapes and band equipment, a four-track recording studio, all the community members' belongings and, for good measure, the free medical clinic run by Kuti's brother, Dr Beko Kuti (also severely beaten in the attack). The first journalists to arrive on the scene were assaulted by soldiers. Inquisitive passers-by were similarly set upon. The army didn't want any witnesses. (They were unsuccessful at least in that: Kuti sent several dozen photos of the immediate aftermath of the attack to Black Music magazine in London, which published them along with the testimonies of Kalakuta residents).

Although Kuti won the war of words which followed, he sensibly decided to leave Nigeria for a while, and in October went into voluntary exile in neighbouring Ghana. But his political stance didn't endear itself to the Ghanaian authorities either, and after a few months he was deported back to Nigeria.

This edition of Zombie includes two valuable, previously unreleased tracks, "Observation Is No Crime" and "Mistake." The second, a medium-paced, conga-rich tour de force by Afrika 70, with an excellent solo by trumpeter Tunde Williams, was recorded at the 1978 Berlin Jazz Festival. Incredibly, the gig was frequently accompanied by cat-calls from the audience, some of whom appear to have gone along only to heckle Kuti for his perceived attitude to women. But Kuti and Afrika 70 had faced much worse than this the previous year, and continue cooking up a storm, unfazed.

Read the full article at allaboutjazz.com


Zombie defined Fela’s legacy more than any other album he recorded. The album was a direct insult to the Nigerian army, “Zombie no gon Go, less you tell him to go. Zombie no gon think less you tell him to think.”

As a result of the Biafran War, Nigeria had the largest standing army on the continent. Although they may have liked Fela’s grooves, they did not enjoy being mocked.

At the time, Fela, his wives, extended family, bandmates, and entourage, somewhere in the range of 150 people, all lived at the Kalakuta Republic, a compound that was also home to a recording studio and health clinic protected by an electric fence. One thousand soldiers surrounded the compound and set fire to the generator, powering the electric fence. Once the fence was totally powerless, they charged the compound and terrorized everything in their path.

The soldiers were ruthless. They took broken bottles and shoved them into the private parts of the women. They threw Fela’s mother out of a second story window and beat Fela within an inch of his life. By the time they were finished, the entire compound had been burnt to the ground, and any journalists, emergency responders or onlookers were also beaten.



Zombie was the most popular and impacting record that Fela Anikulopo Kuti and Africa 70 would record -- it ignited the nation to follow Fela's lead and antagonize the military zombies that had the population by the throat. Fela is direct and humorous in his attack as he barks out commands to the soldiers like: "Attention! Double up! Fall In! Fall out! Fall down! Get ready!" Meanwhile, his choir responds with "Zombie!" in between each statement. Since the groove was so absolutely contagious, it took the nation by storm: People in the street would put on a blank stare and walk with hands affront proclaiming "Zombie!" whenever they would see soldiers. If "Zombie" caught the attention of the populous it also cought the attention of the authority figures -- this would cause devastating personal and professional effects as the Nigerian government came down on him with absolute brute force not long after the release of this record. Also included are "Monkey Banana," a laid-back groove that showcases drummer Tony Allen's mastery of the Afro-beat, and "Everything Scatter," a standard mid-tempo romp. Both songs are forgetful in relation to "Zombie," but this is still an essential disc to own for the title track alone.



Zombie is often cited as Kuti's finest or most essential album, and its title track is also one of his most notorious compositions. It's one of his most upbeat and deeply funky, with horns blazing in a frenzy. Yet the lyrical content of the song, which compared Nigerian soldiers to zombies, pissed off the government something fierce, to the point that Kuti's commune, the Kalakuta Republic, was raided and burned. Fela was brutally beaten, his band's instruments and master tapes were destroyed, and his mother suffered fatal injuries after being thrown out of a window. Yet, while the history makes the song intriguing, it's the furious rhythms that make it an enduring and hotly grooving piece of music.



"Zombie" is without a doubt Fela's most important political song, and probably the best synthesis of his composing strengths -- pulsating march-like grooves, funky backbeat rhythms, and great, catchy horn riffs. "Mr.Follow Follow" is not far behind, though it has more of a P. Funk vibe. Unlike the other Fela discs from this massive reissue project, "Zombie" does not couple two original LPs on one CD (what other Fela album could possibly stand up to this!), and instead offers two previously unreleased performances. This is essential music for anyone who considers themselves a fan of jazz, funk, African or international music.

If you are unfamiliar with Fela this is a great place to start. I own just about everything the man recorded, and if I had to pick just one album, I'd start here. This is some of the most powerful and funky music ever made, and if you had to give just one musician the title of "The Rhythm King", Fela Kuti would be the only man standing tall next to James Brown.

Miles Davis once said that Fela's music was the music of the future, and in more ways than one I think he was right. Afrobeat are on the rise again, with bands like Antibalas, Karl Hector & The Malcouns, Nomo, Vampire Weekend, The Budos Band and Fela's own son Seun Kuti, doing their spin on afrobeat. Some of these bands are very good, but Fela will always be the Undisputed King Of Heavy Heavy Afrobeat, and even though he is loved and recognized amongst funkateers and musicians alike, the man is still criminally underrated. A true genius.

I'm not sure how to say it, but there is something majestic about Fela's sound. Especially in the horn sections. And it's music for all occasions. Are you meeting your friends for a drinking session at a smokefilled nightclub? Play Fela. Late night dancing? Fela. A funeral? Fela. Weddings? Fela. National anthem? Fela.
It's strange that a country like Italy, for instance, doesn't have a Fela song as their national anthem. Songs about corruption, dictatorship, media-control and bad ledership should be perfectly suited for Italy.

If you want to pick up other classic albums by Fela, try these first, as they are just as good as "Zombie": "Roforofo Fight/Fela Singles" and "Shakara/London Scene".

The title, "Zombie" is perfect medicine for any militaristic or military-ruled country. Perhaps it is the most potent military satire ever put to music. It is tempting to narrow it down to Fela's continuous feud with the Nigerian military governments in the mid to late 70s, but it is a universal antidote to the militaristic virus. The other antiauthoritarian piece here is Mr Follow Follow.

But my favorite piece on this CD is "Mistake", which was recorded live at the Berlin Jazz Festival of 1978. I had watched this on video many years ago, but now it is issued on CD. This demonstrates the prowess of Fela's large band. This particular piece is a strange and unique creature indeed. The drumming is big and expansive with the seeming chaos of an overloaded mamiwagon, seemingly untidy, but with an inner, buoying coherence that floats the listener like a boat on gentle waves. This only becomes apparent after repeated listening. You now know why Fela's master drummer at the time Tony Allen, is still considered the best drummer in popular music.

Then, there is Fela's solo lyrical saxophone evoking echoes of highlife, jazz and Lagos life. It also has the least incendiary lyrics of all the songs in the album, socially conscious but almost pleading and gentle. Although the lyrics are in pidgin, I consider this to be one of his most Yoruba pieces in its sensibility and the dignity of its flow.

It is long and leisurely- classical fela. Fela did not do short records. He wringed the music out of any tune in a pop symphonic fashion.

When you ask someone who Fela Kuti is, a lot of people may tell you how he was a Nigerian musician who studied music in England and returned to Africa to explore and create his own style. Others might talk about how he believed A.I.D.S to be a fabricated illness that didn't really exist, and how ironic it was that he died from it. Some may talk about how he turned his house and a small area of land into his own Republic inside the nation of Nigeria.
Still, others may tell you about his music. People will tell you that he created that elastic Afro-beat style you may have heard other musicians using as an umbrella for their styles of music.
But the problem today is that we love to categorize and box things off into a corner, and while he did invent Afro-beat and he should get credit, it needs to be mentioned that there is also an intangible quality about Fela Kuti's music.

Zombie has to be one of my favorite albums of Fela so far. This album, like all of his other albums, require a lot of patience and stamina and acquired taste, but for those of you who find meaning in Jlo, Ludacris, or pretty much most things that people are told to like, then you can still appreciate Fela's music, but it will take time.
Pop music is instant gratification music, and that's why I've always hated it. Fela's music is more like real life, and that's why it conjures up more powerful images and feelings then "I'm still Jenny from the bloke."

This album is charged with political satire. The rhythms build up steam, as does the horn section, the singers, and Fela Kuti, and the songs explode into melodic progressions which are lengthy and get reapeted in a hypnotizing way. As a result, the songs can sound wistful, angry, un-well, or anything else that a human feels like. All of the songs have an urgent and agressive feel, and they can completely hypnotize you, while at the same time (and with Fela's lyrics) can heighten your awarness.

I'de write more, but I would simply advice you to get this album. In my oppinion, the best songs are the first and last--"Zombie" and "Mistake".
If you are already a Fela Kuti fan, then why haven't you bought this album yet? And if you're not, this is one of the best. Plus, the inlay has a lot of information on him. It's a good idea to read all of it before you listen to any of the songs, because then you'll have a greater understanding and a deeper appreciation for them.
Very Powerful album.

My seven year old son who is heavily into monsters etc. is absolutely obsessed with this record. He tells me it's because the big Fela is singing about zombies. What really hooked him in though, is the phat grooves laid down by Afrika '70 on this superb platter. The relentless funk delivered here is very much five-star Afrobeat. Others may point to the big mans purple patch in the early '70s as the place to start.Yet the commitment to the material from Fela and co. lifts it up there with the likes of Confusion and Shakara. If you like having your booty moved whilst raising your consciousness then snap up this lil' treasure. It's an excellent place to board the Afrobeat boat.


Zombie (1976/77)

Fela in his life time was never ‘a good bed-fellow’ of the military institution. As a political activist, he believed the army should operate under the mandate of a civil government. If national interest compels the armed forces to intervene in government, the army is obliged to hand over power to a new civil government elected by the people and enjoying their mandate. To do otherwise is to usurp power particularly since a soldier’s duty is not to seek a political mandate. For emphasis in the song, he narrates the military in motion comparing their orientation to the Zombie, without minds of their own. Fela paid a big price for this bold condemnation of the military institution. One thousand members of the Nigerian army attacked and burnt down his house after the release of the record. The tribunal set up to investigate the cause of the attack as a result of the public out-cry against the army, heard, as part of the evidence presented, an example of the Zombie album cover with the military uniform and boots displayed boldly. The army justification of the attack was that Fela treated the military institution with levity.

Mister Follow Follow
Mr. Follow Follow is about those who allow themselves to be led blindly by others. Since nobody can live in isolation, Fela sings about those who follow with their eyes wide open and those who follow with their eyes closed. Saying if you have to follow, it is better to follow with your eyes and ears open. For if you follow blindly, you will always remain in the dark: ‘…if you dey follow them book! Na inside cupboard you go quench!…cockroach dey! Rat dey!…na inside darkness you go dey! If you have to follow them books, you have to read with some sense, see with your eyes and hear with your ears’, he concludes.

Observation Is No Crime
For the first time, Fela’s listeners have the pleasure of a bonus UN-released track. Unlike all other works from these ‘Best Of’ compilations, ‘Observation Is No Crime’—is one of the few tracks Fela performed live but never recorded in the studio or released. Recorded live at the November 1978 Berlin Jazz Festival, Fela is singing about those who would like to stop him from giving his opinion on issues that involve the individual life: ‘Na oild I dey carry! Sand sand man no come spoil my own! (Meaning he is carrying a barrel of oil on his head and he does not want any sand-carrying man around him.). Literally comparing the delicate nature of individual life to a delicate barrel of oil, when oil falls into a heap of sand, it is difficult to recover the oil from the sand. Fela says he is given a mouth to say things he feels like saying, same thing for his eyes which are for him to see with. Turning to the government in Nigeria, who have always tried to silence him, he concludes by saying: ‘…Observation Is No Crime.’.

Mistake, another bonus UN-released or recorded track in a studio by Fela was recorded live at the Berlin Jazz Festival November 1978. The Listener could hear Fela say to the booing crowd: ‘I am sure you are still sitting down to hear more from us…to the Berlin audience who sat through a two and half hour concert performance of Fela and his band with boos and calls of ‘No Disco! No Travolta’. Fela was booed for being what they assumed to be a potentate and misunderstood as a jazz musician. Most of his critics could not understand how a man like Fela who campaigns against racism, at the same time travels and lives like a monarch, with harem and personal aids. Some critics of his performance at the Berlin Jazz Festival claimed he could not play the piano, was a poor saxophonist, and a jazz-festival is not the right place for him. These critics were there to express their own opinions, just as much as the young man at the stage entry who, in the last third of the well-disputed concert, shook his young head and said: ‘we’ll have to kill him or he will never stop.’ Can anyone imagine killing a man because a concert lasted longer than expected, and he does things his own way and, in so doing, gets the people excited to the point one feels like committing murder? That was how much Fela could touch people. In Mistake, Fela says: ‘When everything is all right—it means That’s good! When everything is not right—it means That’s bad. Nobody likes things to go wrong, but it is always a mistake that causes things to go wrong. There are two kinds of Mistakes, Fela explains in this song: Good Mistake—that is UN-intentional mistake, and Bad Mistake—that is deliberate mistake. Good mistake he sings: ‘…you fit repair! Bad mistake you cannot repair’. The mistake you make people laugh at you!, but you stand like man! After they come to apologize for laughing at you—that is good mistake. But the mistake you make, you cannot stand like man – that is bad mistake. Mistake is about government policies in Africa. The leadership when they make policies, and things go wrong, they fail to accept their wrong. Since no one is perfect, Fela calls on African leaders to take credit or blame for their policies whichever way the result. Putting soldiers in schools or burning down peoples homes are not right. The government should admit and take responsibility for their wrongs.

Written by Mabinuori Kayode Idowu


1. Zombie
2. Mr. Follow Follow (Mister Follow Follow)
3. Observation No Crime
4. Mistake

Femi Kuti talks ...

Just a few weeks ago, Nigeria celebrated a relatively peaceful election, with incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan and his People’s Democratic Party emerging victorious in a process unmarked by the violence and rioting that has scarred polls in the past.

This was good news to all Nigerians, particularly to the musician Femi Kuti, whose family has been immersed in a passionate fight for peace and justice in Nigeria for several generations. His grandmother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, was an active anticolonialist and a devout proponent for women’s rights. His father, Fela Kuti, was perhaps the country’s most well-known political maverick, a multitalented musician who became an immensely powerful representation of the country’s desire for freedom and change.

“Growing up, listening to my father, I was able to understand what his deeper message was,” remembers the younger Kuti, who performs at the El Rey on Thursday night with his group Positive Force, during a recent telephone conversation. “It opened my mind. His music passed on information in a way that was pleasurable, simple, moving. Young people can dance and sing and then it is only later that they realize what the song was talking about, that it had a deeper meaning. Music is very powerful that way.”
At 16, Femi, Fela’s eldest son, joined his father’s band and soon after Fela’s death in 1997 began making music of his own. Today, Femi carries on the family tradition with a fervor — at 48, he is an international Afrobeat star and an eloquently outspoken voice for a new Africa. He set about facilitating a Lagos run of the hit Broadway show "Fela!" (based on his father’s life), to open just before the elections.

“I think the most important thing for Africans to understand, especially the young people of Africa to understand — is that all African countries, despite their political structures, are all one people. I want them to see that we are brothers and sisters and to try to love one another instead of accepting this divide that exists for very stupid, ignorant reasons.”

“People need to understand what 500 years of slavery did to Africa, what 50 years of colonialism did to Africa, what so many recent years of corrupt government has done to Africa,” explains Kuti. “Young people, especially, need to understand this history in its context. They need to understand what people like Marcus Garvey, my father, my grandmother, people like this who sacrificed their time and their lives to fight for the emancipation of Africa.”

Kuti was keen to remind the country of this history, particularly the potent activism inherent in his father’s legacy — and figured that the Bill T. Jones-directed "Fela!" was certain to remind Nigerians once again of his father’s tremendous influence on the country.

“I think the average person here will love the show,” said Kuti before "Fela!’s" Lagos opening, “The Americans succeed in communicating my father's life in a way that is understandable to all cultures. If you were to take this show to Japan, people would understand — because the Americans have told it in a way that crosses those boundaries. So I think it’s important that people here in Nigeria set aside their assumptions and open their minds to it.”

The show was indeed a hit, but for Kuti and his fellow Nigerians the celebration faded with news that over the last few weeks post-election violence has erupted against the PDP’s Christian following. Hundreds of churches have been burned and several people have been killed, just as Kuti kicked off his U.S. tour.

“I heard news from Lagos that there is violence again,” Kuti said last week in a call from New York City, “and it saddens and angers me. There is great hope for Nigeria, but there is still so much unrest and conflict too.”

Yet despite this, Kuti continues his family’s fight with the same stubborn exuberance as his father, and grandmother before him.

“There are people in my family, and many, many other people in history, who knew they might be killed for what they were doing. So you can’t compromise when you see injustice and you see the truth. I try to give myself to my family as well as to my music, but I cannot compromise.”

latimes.com, written by Jessica Hundley, photo by Julien Mignot

Jun 24, 2011

Karl Hector & The Malcouns - Sahara Swing + exclusive free download


Karl Hector is a new name to me (we’re told he’s the mysterious leader of the Funk Pilots) and he has teamed up with The Malcouns (Thomas Myland and Zdenko Curulija) who have previously dabble in projects like the Berlin Serengeti and released soul/funk 45s on Watou Records and the producer of Poets of Rhythm/Whitefield Brothers, J. Whitefield.

As last week was all about Ethiopiques at Glastonbury, this album takes their Ethio-jazz triumph to the next level as the sand falls off your shoes on the ‘Followed Path’ to Afro-funk-jazz enlightenment. As a side note, what little I saw of Jay Z on TV surely put to rest any doubts that hip-hop can’t top the Saturday night pyramid stage, well done Mr Eavis (as featured in this months’ Songlines).

It’s all here. If you fancy abit of Fela, ‘Debere’ is the track with glorious organ whilst ‘Jabore Pt. 3’ is a slow waddle on a Sun Ra trip to the water-hole. On a percussive tip, ‘Psycles’ gets in a groove and ‘Koloko Pt. 1’ is the funky horn tune.

There’s four short interlude tracks called, Transition >I<, >Z<, >B< & >W< and drift towards the ambient/experimentation side but I l’d like to think there are (at least) 22 more elements (being the rest of the alphabet) in transition that could be put together as one coherent piece; perhaps the bonus disc on the next album? It’s hard to believe this album was recorded in Germany but these guy’s know their stuff as if they’ve smoked Steve Reid’s classic ‘Lion Of Juda’ for the past 20 years and re-invented the sound. The tracks I keep going back to are ‘Nyx’, ‘Followed Path’ and ‘Toure Samar’ as they are as funky as the Dap-Kings, as psychedelic as a walk with Jim Morrison in the desert, as jazzy Sun Ra and as kick-ass as Fela Kuti and James Brown all wrapped up into one.



Music tends to evolve in a manner that rarely produces spontaneous creation of new styles. Rather, in the world of 21st Century pop music, new sounds are typically born from genre hybridization. Thus, we are given the gifts of disco-punk, nü-rave and metal-gaze. These stylistic mashups may not always be successful (if you throw a rap in the middle of a twee-pop song it doesn't work, for example), but the continuous exploration into the blurring of genres can often lead to some impressive, even revolutionary music.

Karl Hector and the Malcouns take stylistic biochemistry to a breathtaking and invigorating level. With roots in both the Sahara and Germany, Karl Hector and the Malcouns combine Afrobeat, Krautrock, jazz and funk in a mixture that yields some of the most innovative and aurally stimulating music to have arrived in recorded form in some time. And given that the band's influences are firmly entrenched in the culture of the experimental '70s, there's a deep and rich analog sound that bathes these mesmerizing tracks. Had I not been supplied with any information surrounding this release, I almost would have assumed it was a lost masterpiece from 30 years ago, and quite frankly, it might as well be.

"When The Sun Breaks Through" has a raw jazz-funk sound that's equal parts Fela and Coltrane, clattering and blaring through a rugged groove. "Nyx," meanwhile, is the first track to truly display the group's Krautrock tendencies. With buzzing keyboards and some kickass funk guitar riffs, "Nyx" is akin to a Neu! and JB's jam session, which I never realized was such a mind-blowing combo. "Followed Path" has a darker groove to it, touched up eerily with psychedelic organ, and the title track creeps with a haunted swagger, like electric Miles Davis in a 1970s cop show.

Given the sounds and techniques that get stirred about therein, Sahara Swing could be a genre unto itself. It's a truly impressive feat when an album can sound vintage and truly innovative, yet this does both. Karl Hector and the Malcouns are true innovators, both visionaries and classicists in a time where neither seems to exist anymore.



Once in a while I can appreciate more light-hearted, less artistic but still enjoyable music. And this one belongs to that category. The music is relatively simple, repetitive and superficial, but it has a great funky drive, and no other aspiration than to bring fun. It brings back musical concepts of the late 60s, especially because of the organ sound, but with the repetitive dance beat of modern music. The good thing is that the tracks are relatively short, so instead of falling asleep for lack of intellectual stimulation or emotional appeal, the variation keeps the attention going. Some of the tracks are great, as "Touré Samar", with a dry funky rhythm guitar, great bass and drums with a powerful horn section, and "Follow The Path", which ressembles some of Mulatu Astatqe's work, yet staying away from the great Ethiopian's soulful music. Don't expect the steaming magic of Fela Kuti either. It funks, it grooves, it sounds African, it sounds jazzy. Most pieces are just bland. I usually hate this kind of music, but well, apparently not today.



For the last six weeks, I’ve spent my drive time cloistered within the soothing cocoon of Fela Kuti’s Expensive Shit/He Miss Road. Accordingly, few contemporary albums have battered through that hermetically sealed, parallel universe where I smoke acres of trees at the Kalakuta Republic circa 1975 while inventing a plethora of dance moves, including the Roger Rabbit, the Cabbage Patch and the Wop.

One of the rare exceptions has been Karl Hector and the Malcouns’ Sahara Swing, released earlier this month on Stones Throw subsidiary, Now-Again Records. Information about Hector is scarce, with his only previous recording experience being one 7-inch that he recorded a dozen years ago as the leader of an ostensibly aviation-themed outfit called the Funk Pilots. But his influences are clear: Fela’s slick, seraphic swing and James Brown’s filthy pigpen funk.

Other cited inspirations include Mulatu Astatke of Ethiopia,Jean-Claude Vannier and Can, the latter being particularly prominent, no doubt partially because of Hector’s Krautrock-weaned German backing band. It’s no Expensive Shit, not even close, but it’s a fun, graceful ride, with both crisp jazzy jams and disco-inflected dance grooves. In fact, here’s a video of me moving to it. Yes, in case you were wondering, the sport coat is C&R.



Stones Throw subsidiary Now Again is out to prove that it's not just a reissue label trying to dig up yesteryear's lost gems; it's also out to prove there are still some dope sounds being constructed today. After last year's Heliocentrics release featuring living legend Malcolm Catto bringing together a group to record a trippy freeform jazz/funk odyssey for a sound appropriately entitled “Out There,” the label follows it up with an albuhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifm of jams rooted in afrobeat rhythms with funk undertones.

Former Poets Of Rhythm guitarist and producer J. Whitefield funks out with Malcouns founders Thomas Myland and Zdenko Curlija along with Karl Hector and a host of others. The results may not have you doing the worm at the discothèque, but don't underestimate this music's headnod factor.

Clocking in at just over 45 minutes, the mostly instrumental disc grooves through world rhythms and nu-funk simmered with a dash of tasty rhythmic seasoning. Throughout the set, intermissions lead us from one course to the next. “Rush Hour,” which leans less on afrobeat and more toward traditional funk, hits you with a swirling organ, steady bass, and tight snares. One section even sounds like killer bees swarming!



It's amazing what Europeans can come up with these days. The Malcouns, a loosely-knit ensemble of world music wiseguys, have unleashed a fascinating experiment in mixing authentic African grooves with funk and free jazz. Listeners might find this music bizarre and unhinged, or will wonder why nobody thought of it before. But either way the resulting skanky groove is artistically fresh, technically astounding, and you can totally bug out to it. The Malcouns surely understand the sounds, structures, and instrumentation of various styles of African music. But the real fun is when the troupe adds the chicken scratch guitar of the lowdownest funk and the off-kilter horns and percussion of the wildest big band jazz.

All of these can be found in the top-of-the-album showpiece "Nyx," while looselimbed rhythm workouts like "Sahara Swing" and "Psycles" sound like what Miles Davis would have birthed if he had truly made it into deepest darkest Africa during his sonic explorations back in 1969. Other highlights include the spooky "Jabore Pt. 3" and the funky soul of "Passau Run," which wouldn't sound out of place on a souped-up version of Dr. Funkenstein's Mothership. These German studio vets surely lack the political and cultural influences that really got their favorite African, jazz, and funk masters into the righteous groove. But the groove is here nonetheless, with an absolutely fascinating mix of seemingly incompatible sounds that can work together in surprisingly skanky ways.



01. When The Sun Breaks Through
02. Nyx
03. Followed Path
04. Transition >J<
05. Sahara Swing
06. Psycles
07. Transition
08. Koloko Pt. 1
09. Debere
10. Transition
11. Jabore Pt. 3
12. Mystical Brotherhood
13. Timely Interuption
14. Transition
15. Mellow (Version)
16. Rush Hour
17. Transition
18. Toure Samar
19. Passau Run

Exclusive Free Download:

Karl Hector & The Malcouns - Live at ChoiceCuts

"This show is a recording from May 09 with our good friends Karl Hector & The Malcouns who have performed for us about 6 times now. One of the tightest collectives of musicians we have had the pleasure of welcoming to ChoiceCuts, this show will take you all over the world with some incredible rhythms, melodies and arrangements all tied together with afro-tinged funk music originating from the Southern Sahara and played by some of the tightest German funk musicians you can hear these days."


Here we go ...

Karl Hector & The Malcouns live at ChoiceCuts by ChoiceCuts

This show is a recording from May 09 with our good friends Karl Hector & The Malcouns who have performed for us about 6 times now. One of the tightest collective of musicians we have had the fortune of playing for us, this show will take you all over the world with some of the most interesting rhythms, melodies and arrangements...

Free download at ChoiceCuts Soundcloud page here!

Jun 23, 2011

Portraits: Kalakuta Queens by James Petrozzello (2011)

Photographer James Petrozzello‘s gorgeous portraits capture the strong beauty of the FELA! dancers paying tribute to the original Fela Queens. “I have long been a fan of Fela Kuti – the musician, the political figure, the icon,” James told Okayafrica. “The first time I saw his ‘queens’ I was struck by their radical style. I wanted to make these photos to pay homage to their beauty and to bring attention to the women who contributed so much to Fela’s life.”

Here are the portraits:


Rujeko Dumbutshena, Catherine Foster, Abena Koomson, Jill Vallery, Shaneeka Harrell, Shakira Marshall, Lauren De Veaux, Oneika Phillips, Hettie Barnhill, Iris Wilson, Aimee Graham Wodobode.

Baoku And The Image Afrobeat Band - Okodoro Oro (The Realistic Reality)

Baoku Moses, a Yoruba native from Nigeria, West Africa is based in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. Baoku, a professional, cultural performer of African arts, started his Afro beat career in 1997 shortly after the passing of Afro beat legend Fela Kuti, the father of Afro beat. Baoku uses Afro beat to preach, teach, entertain and educate about the issues facing all of humanity. What distinguishes his style of Afro beat from other musicians is his integration of African drums such as the Nigerian bata and talking drums, djembe, Senegalese bottom drums and much more into his music.

Baoku's Homepage


Like so many that have come before him, Baoku Moses left everything he knew in Nigeria and immigrated to the United States in hopes of a better life. Along with a few personal items, Moses brought something entirely unique and intangible: his exceptional skills as a drummer and dancer. Combining traditional African drumming and dancing into the modern sound of Afrobeat, Moses came equipped with hopes and a rare talent.

However, unlike many before him, Moses didn’t begin playing music until he was in his twenties. After a short stint working in the Nigerian film industry, Moses joined Ivory Ambassadors, a cultural organization that preserved, celebrated and taught traditional African music, drumming and dancing in 1996. Before joining Ivory, Baoku felt he was “blind” to his own culture. After becoming a company member, Baoku was immersed in the diverse traditional music of Nigeria and beyond. Music mesmerized him in a way that it had never before and he began contemplating the possibility of a life in music. From the outset of his training, it was apparent he had a creative and natural ability to write songs. Baoku explained that, “the training was intense, the exercises could make you cry, and it was very hard on the hands. We didn't use a microphone, everything was vigorous and very technical.” After learning various styles, Baoku quickly developed a unique approach as a “drummer dancer”, that is, on stage he had the ability and flexibility to dance while drumming. At Ivory, he learned the traditional music of over twenty five African tribes, absorbing their cultural practices, their rhythms, and their dances. By the end of his time at Ivory, Baoku had worked his way up to lead drummer, and began directing many music shows.

In 1997 Baoku first heard Afrobeat, the same year Fela Anikulapo Kuti died. Having never listened to much Afrobeat, Moses became intrigued and soon became entranced with its sound. As Baoku explains, “I began to eat it up like food, day and night, to listen to it, to rip it apart.” Baoku claims that Fela's spirit came to him, “Afrobeat became a calling for me from God, with Fela as the messenger. Within two days of first hearing it, I wrote my first Afrobeat song, within the space of a month, I don't know how many Afrobeat songs I wrote. We have a saying in Nigeria, no one can trap breeze or water.” Indeed, Afrobeat’s influence on Baoku's drumming can be heard in such tracks as “Free Nigeria” on his album Okodoro Oro with its infectious multi-layered rhythms and the hypnotic sound of the talking drum underlying the track.

Baoku is a gifted musician, but he also has a passionate commitment to justice as did Fela Kuti. After moving to Cincinnati, he has brought musicians from different genres together to perform in what he calls a “Unity Jam.” He started it in December 2009, as a way to use music to bring people together. The Image Afro-beat Band, his current group, also brings together musicians from different backgrounds. “Kowa de na sa” (‘everybody with their own’) is a song about unity. As he says, “The pain, the gain, suffering, smiling, situations, conditions, sadness, happiness, feeling and dying are all absolutely the same all over the world.” He does not believe that the Nigerian traditions should be preserved for Nigerians alone. Baoku embraces all people through his music. He wants to bring the rich rhythms of Africa to the public at large so that these musical traditions can be celebrated and preserved. He shares his understanding in teaching both children and adults. When I asked him about his understanding of unity, Baoku said, “One message that is important about unity is for people to begin to understand that we do need each other. The first thing I am is a person. It is not too hard for a rich person to look at a neighborhood and to see that the people are not eating three meals a day. People shouldn't suffer like this. People need other people to grow. They need each other to survive. They need to embrace each other.”



1. Freedom
2. Sowa Daa Bi (Is it good like that?)
3. Kowa De Na Sa (Everybody with their own)
4. Oro Sunukun (Deep Issue)
5. Free Nigeria
6. Alakiti (Everybody)

From Switzerland: The Faranas - Who Are You?

In the seventies, when Fela Kuti started to mix Afro music with Jazz and Funk, he created the Afro beat the way it is known today. Now, 40 years later, Afro beat is experiencing a revival, not least due to the Broadway and London musicals honoring Fela Kuti.

Switzerland now has its own Afro beat orchestra: The Faranas. If you assumed that the ten Bern-based musicians merely want to be part of an upcoming musical trend, you assumed wrongly. It all started in Berne, on a hot summer night in 2003.

Long before the Afro beat fever hit Switzerland, a bunch of Bernese musicians played a concert in honor of Fela Kuti. The club was packed with people sweating, singing and dancing until the early hours. Even though it was planned to be a one-time event, the success of the night led the musicians to pursue the concept to keep giving concerts. After countless shows in Switzerland, Germany and Italy, playing the music by the Nigerian, Fela Kuti, the group, then known as The Felas, decided to write and record their own material.

By releasing their first record, Who Are You? the Swiss-Senegalese group, now The Faranas, has made a substantial contribution to the further development of Afro Beat music.

Who Are You? – the Album

When listening to The Faranas, it becomes obvious that they are not reproducing ready-made patterns, but presenting their own musical interpretations. This is also reflected in the slightly ironic band name The Faranas (Pidgin English for foreigners) as well as in the title of the album Who Are You?.

The Senegalese singer and percussionist Mori Samb, who joined the group in 2009 was born to a Griot family. Griots are the poets of western Africa who hand down their traditional knowledge and wisdom through chants and stories. Mori Samb, has added a new colorful dimension to the Afro beat of The Faranas.

There are no boundaries to the new Afro beat fever. Will Switzerland soon submit to the hype?



Farana = Pidgin English for “foreigner”.

Some Faranas travelled around the globe with open ears and have found a new home within the melting pot of their ideas. They have come up with a unique interpretation of afro beat, which they are now presenting on stage and on their new CD.

The Faranas’ musical roots can be traced back to dirty funk, swinging jazz, soul and electro. These influences are mixed with traditional Griot chants, driving percus sion pat terns as well as afro beat grooves. The result is an authentic, archaic but still modern sound.

The raw grooves of the rhythm section are the Faranas’ heart beat. The drumbeat and the earthy virtuous bass combined with percussion, guitar and vibraphone form the foundation for the powerful horns, the soulful vocals in English and the Griot chants in Wolof.

The Faranas support your heartbeat, flush your ears and electrify your legs.



Press comments

“The currently most interesting World Music Band in Switzerland”

“Rarely has a provocative follows grooving Tonwerk leaving a Bernese Studio.”

“With influences of jazz and funk, their Afrobeat invites furiously to dance and party, without never losing itself in monotony.”

“At the release party, an impressive concert from where every note is sitting at the right place. In the audience, the jazz savvy as well as the native African are equally represented - and all get their money’s worth.”


01. Ouverture
02. Saccarbala
03. Who Are You? Intro
04. Who Are You?
05. Nomad Tales
06. Dochinudjamano
07. Die Kaa
08. Djiowlene
09. New
10. Farana
11. Xew Xew

Jun 22, 2011

Fela Kuti - Unnecessary Begging (1976)/ J.J.D. (1977)


The "Na Poi" batch concludes with more great Ghariokwu Lemi artwork (the rear cover of J.J.D. is as good as the front) and two mighty albums. In the lyric for "J.J.D. (Johnny Just Drop)," the sole track on the eponymous album, Kuti returned to the subject matter of "Sense Wiseness" from Before I Jump Like Monkey Give Me Banana and "Mr Grammarticalogylisationalism Is The Boss" from Excuse-O; making fun of the "been-tos" who'd returned from studies abroad with an inferiority complex about African culture.

Unnecessary Begging by contrast salutes the Nigerian working class. The title track posits ghetto values as more honest and civic-minded than those prevailing among Lagos' business and political elite. "No Buredi (No Bread)" urges Nigeria's put-upon students and workers to stand up and demand a more equitable society.

Kuti's political engagement was to intensify during the latter half of the 1970s, with the formation of his Young African Pioneers party, its (occasional) YAP newspaper and his absolutely serious attempts to be elected President of Nigeria. Knitting Factory's third batch of reissues will consist of the albums which set out Kuti's political program and chronicle some of his actions.

Read the full article at allaboutjazz.com


This 1977 release consisted solely of one 22-minute song, "J.J.D. (Johnny Just Drop)." It actually wasn't much different in length than most of his releases from this era (which usually contained two songs adding up to half an hour), but still made rather short value. The song was decent enough, making extensive use of a live crowd and busy hand-drummed rhythm at the beginning, then gliding into a typical (if very long) Afro-funk-jazz vamp. It's been paired with a 1976 release (with the customary two songs and half-hour of music), Unnecessary Begging, on a single-disc 2001.



A 1977 release (J.J.D) and a 1976 one (Unnecessary Begging) are paired together on this two-for-one CD reissue, one of the less remarkable ones in MCA's Fela series, though not unworthy. J.J.D. consists solely of one 22-minute song, "J.J.D. (Johnny Just Drop)." It actually isn't much different in length than most of his releases from this era (which usually contained two songs adding up to half an hour), but still made rather short value. The song is decent enough, making extensive use of a live crowd and busy hand-drummed rhythm at the beginning, then gliding into a typical (if very long) Afro-funk-jazz vamp. The title track of the two-song, half-hour Unnecessary Begging has an uncommonly (for Fela) slow-burning tempo that effectively maintains its slow, moody pace as instruments drop in and out. Philosophically, Fela takes his usual stance here -- not that it's a bad one -- deploring poverty and government inadequacy. His trademark weird electric keyboards are heard near the conclusion, sounding like a warped record that's out of sync with the rest of the track. The other song, "No Buredi (No Bread)," is a bit more up-tempo and, in its favor, makes greater use of those indefinably strange keyboards, which have an extraterrestrial quality when heard at length.



Fela Kuti was a Nigerian musician, amateur afrocentric philosopher, and social and political gadfly. His songs are fascinating combinations of an American funk aesthetic and traditional Nigerian percussion, and develop at a leisurely pace but in a way that keeps you hooked. From 1975-1978, he released a flood of records, and in retrospective the songs from this period are among his most confident work. We should be thankful to Wrasse for reissuing these albums, even if they can be difficult for American customers to obtain.

"J.J.D. (Johnny Just Drop)" is a scathing indictment of colonialism, a product of Fela's view that Africa was better off on its own. The music is fine mature Fela. What makes it very special, however, is its recording ambience. Fela and his band played this tune at a party at the Lagos compound where he lived, the "Kalakuta Republic", and one can hear the crowd cheering him on as he gets started. Now over thirty years after the Nigerian army destroyed the place, and a decade after Fela's death, this whole scene is gone to us, but listening to "J.J.D." gives one the slightest impression of what it must have been like. This is one of the Fela songs I return to most often. While "J.J.D." is energetic, the second track "Unnecessary Begging" offers a more cool counterpart, avoiding high peaks and falls and maintaining more or less the same groove throughout. It's entertaining enough, but I feel that the singing here isn't up to the usual standards of Fela records.

If you've never heard Fela's music before, the songs "Zombie" and "Unknown Soldier" are probably the best place to start. But all of Fela's discography is worth eventually collecting.
The J.J.D. (Johnny Just Drop)/Unnecessary Begging CD, which also includes the song No Buredi (No Bread), which was the B side for the original Unnecessary Begging recording, offers classic Afrobeat music from one of the best and most prolific periods of Fela's career. J.J.D. was recorded live at Fela's Kalakuta Republic compound in Nigeria in 1977 and Unnecessary Begging/No Buredi was recorded in 1976. All three of the songs offer great, extended Afrobeat jams and the CD also provides some nice pictures, cover art work, and liner notes. An added bonus for this CD is that none of the three songs on it appear on any of the three most popular Fela compilation discs (i.e., Anthologies 1 and 2 and the alternately titled Best of the Black President/Best Best of Fela Kuti CD), each of which consists of two CDs. That's one reason to consider this particular "twofer" reissue as one of the best of the noncompilation CD's in the Fela catalogue to get. For the uninitiated, I would recommend starting with the alternately titled Best of the Black President/Best Best of Fela Kuti CD. Be forewarned, however, Fela's Afrobeat music is very addictive, and once you get a taste for it, it is highly likely that you are going to want to get a lot more.
For all the African people who border on diasporic enlightenment listen up!!This CD jests the african returnee with his "Imported mannerisms".Fela from my perspective a serious "African".Besides the melody and the rhhythms is a message about being honest,fearless and daring to be originally different.This is a must have if you know or want to know the African perspective.Juslisen if you want!!!(do you see the trick)
"JJD/Unnecessary Begging" is another gem in the Fela two-albums-on-one-CD reissue series on MCA. As original LPs, "JJD (Johnny Just Drop)," recorded live at Fela's home/club/compound, Kalakuta Republic, was released in 1977, while "Unnecessary Begging" and its b-side "No Buredi (No Bread)" were issued a year earlier in 1976. These albums were part of what was arguably Fela's greatest period as he released more than a dozen albums between 1975-77! While "Zombie" and "Opposite People" are clearly the essential recordings from this period, this disc, and all of the Fela reissues, are really indispensable.



Unnecessary Begging (1976)

Fela says ‘Unnecessary begging’ in area (Ghetto) rules is not done—it is not necessary. In the ghetto, if you give your word, people believe you for such words until you do otherwise. African ghetto thoughts and deeds are the traditional way of life of the people. They are based on age-long belief that: ‘words are like eggs, when they drop, they cannot be taken back—it is not necessary. However today, sings Fela, some of us in the spirit of trust believe in our governments. We go into agreement with them to provide us (the people) good houses, good roads, keep the economy buoyant. What do the people get? No government. Corruption at the highest level, etc.! With all this, there are still some academics who preach patience, ‘Intellectuals’ and ‘leaders of thought’ who try to justify the mismanagement of African lives by those in government as ‘problems of young democracies’. Fela says this is Unnecessary Begging. He calls on those in power, to beware of the day when the people will revolt against this situation. It will be a day to render accounts, there will be no room for any Unnecessary Begging.

No Buredi (No Bread): In ‘No Bread’, Fela is talking to average man on the street. To Africans. Africans throughout Diaspora. With all the sarcasm he can Muster, Fela calls the average man who has been for so long exploited to look closely at himself. ‘Look you! You are standing on the ground and your legs are shaking. Your legs are responsible because they are weak and tired from long sufferings,…you sit down like you don reach gbi! Eyes dey role, like thief him eyes…hunger dey show him power! You no get power to fight—No buredi(No Bread)’. The average man accepts all the shortfalls of the system without protesting against it. Africa, the home of the black man, is rich with all the natural and mineral resources. But it is only in Africa that man still carry the shit of the world on his head. Fela stresses the fact that everything overseas came from Africa. In conclusion, he says: the average man should stand firm now and say : Enough To! No Bread (No Money)…I don tire hen!—No Buredi! (meaning we are tired of your grants and aid packages, we are tired of No Bread—no money).

Written by Mabinuori Kayode Idowu


1. Unnecessary Begging
2. No Buredi (No Bread)

J.J.D. (1977)

Johnny Just Drop is talking about Africans who travel abroad only to return home with new values and mannerisms. Since the advent of colonialism in Africa, the education system left Black people with an inferior perception of their culture. Those who are Western educated, are in the habit of repeating untruths about African traditions and heritage, because the discipline to think and act big has not yet become a part of Africa’s present day academic and intellectual traditions. For example, those trained in the use of English, Spanish, German, French or Portuguese languages will argue forcefully that those are international languages in which alone science and technology can be intelligently studied. If this is true, one wonders how the ancient Black Egyptians built the pyramids or how the guild of craftsmen in Benin and other parts of the continent created the works of art produced over many centuries past. In JJD, Fela is reminding Africans travelling abroad in search of greener pastures to be proud of their original cultural values—those inherent values the JJD ‘educated’ elite have been brainwashed to despise.

Written by Mabinuori Kayode Idowu


1. J.J.D. (Johnny Just Drop)