Nov 30, 2014

South African Jazz: JAZZ IN AFRICA VOL. 2 (by flatinternational)


Track I — 12 x 12 (vernacular) 7.28.
Upon my arrival in South Africa, I quickly learned that the twelve-bar blues (called "the twelve") reigned supreme at the local "blows". Somehow, I became fascinated with the relationship of the two musical absolutes — twelve bars in twelve keys and my wife, Terry, decided it should be "twelve by twelve". As Kippie said, "keys are keys wherever you go".

Track 2 — "Mabomvana" (Mackay Davashe) 5.02.
"Mabomvana" literally means "little red" but a free translation would be "hot stuff ". One night at a session, the subject of the number of possible harmonic "solutions" to an original melody arose and I maintained there could be more than one until the composer designated his particular "solution". Kippie agreed, but some of the others doubted it so Kippie played this vernacular piece "Mabomvava" and asked me to work out a "solution." I had never heard the tune before and my solution was based upon a familiar chord chart in F sharp major. This broke Kippie up since he had played the tune for years on a chord chart in B flat major. We decided to record both solutions of the same melody— "Mabomvana" in B flat major and "Johnny's Idea" in F sharp major.

Track 3 — "Johnny's Idea" (Davashe, Mehegan) 3.46.

Track 4 — "Like Someone In Love" (Burke, Van Heusen) 3.31.
This one features Hugh. An advocate of the Beiderbecke — Davis-Baker school, Hugh has developed many of his own personal idioms which already mark him as an original thinking musician in contemporary jazz. His proposed trip to America this winter for study may be the beginning of a major jazz career.

Total Time: 19 mins. 47 sees.

Track I — "Angel Eyes" (Matt Dennis) 11.29.
We decided we needed a "fat" tune to stretch out with and here it is. Kippie's solo, I believe, is one of the great moments of the entire two volumes.

Track 2 — "Yardbird Suite" (Parker) 3.39.
Kippie again with a bow to Parker. Of all the Parker imitators, and they are legion, Kippie seems the most personal and the least imitative. Like Parker, he is short on repertoire and long on the blues, although living where he does justitfies an un-familiarity with tunes that is impermissible in America where fifteen - tune musicians flourish.

Track 3 — "These Foolish Things" (Strachey, Marvell) 4.16
Chris again with a ballad. One learns to really play a ballad last —the most difficult challenge for an improvisor. Chris handles this well with a nod to George Shearing.

Total Time 19 mins. 24 sees. 

Nov 26, 2014

From Benin: Stanislas Tohon - Koudé Alafia Tchink System

This album is a masterpiece. Totally afrobeat taken from traditional tchinkoume rhythm of Benin that Stanislas Tohon wonderfully modernized. Recorded in Côte d'Ivoire and Produced by famous Papa Disco, the orchestration, the arrangements and especially the density of the recording make this record unique. It is also very rare and hard to find.



STANISLAS TOHON “Dans Le Tchink Système »

Afro-Soul holy grail by the “Soul Brother From Benin“, featuring the famous “Vis à Vis” band from Ghana and recorded in Kumasi in 1979.

Stanislas Tohon aka Papy Grande was born in the “ Country of the kings ” (Benin), in Abomey 1955. He’s “Chevalier de la legion d’honneur” in Benin for his brilliant musical career.

The famous soul singer from Cotonou started his musical career at the age of 9 , played with the greatest such as Gnonnas Pedro and recorded almost 35 albums. Influenced by the traditional “Tchingoume “ music , he invented his own rhythm called “Tchink Système”, a mix of soul and Beninese traditional rhythm .

“Dans le Tchink Système” is a four track album recorded in Ghana on 24 analog tracks channel  with the incredible “Vis à Vis Band”, included a rare version of his first 7 inch “Africa “  that he recorded a year before with “Les Satelites” from Cotonou.

Sang in Fon, his native language from Benin, this album is a soulful call for peace and unity in Africa, a real definition of Afro Soul music !

This extremely scarce and obscure record is now remastered and stricltly limited to 1000 copies . Official Licence available Dec 10 th 2014 .



A1 Dja Dja Dja 4:46
A2 Yallow2 5:05
B1 O Kou 5:25
B2 Paix Lo. 4:05

Nov 18, 2014

The Budos Band - Burnt Offering

For the first five years of their existence, it was a fairly simple matter to take a guess at the title of the next Budos Band recording. That’s what happens when your debut is called The Budos Band and the next two albums are The Budos Band II and The Budos Band III. That’s called establishing a precedent. And so, when the Staten Island “instrumental afro-soul” band announced that their Oct. 21 album would be titled Burnt Offering rather than The Budos Band IV, it was clear that something was up.

Reviews of Budos recordings tend to minimize the amount of growth and transformation that did go on between Budos Band I and III. The three LP’s can’t rightly be called “extensions of the same musical thought”—they’re more like a journey down an increasingly apocalyptic road. Like a high fantasy novel, they begin in a place that is bright and almost (relatively) innocent before growing and multiplying in the audaciousness and opulence of their arrangements. By the end of Budos Band III, there’s a distinct impression that these sprawling funk instrumentals are teetering on the edge, clearly brilliant but moments from spinning out of control. The band is performing music like Bobby Fischer played chess. It may have simply been an unsustainable arc.

And thus, Burnt Offering, which represents a full-on mutation rather than the previous steady evolution of Budos music. It’s 2014, and in the band’s Daptone studio, it would seem guitars are all the rage. Because for the first time, “funk rock” becomes an accurate descriptor for the still-complex musical sprawl, which now evokes the likes of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin right alongside Fela Kuti.
“The Sticks” is a fine example of what to expect, opening with a riff that sounds straight out of Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” Trippy keyboard swirls around the fuzzy guitars that are now leading the way, with occasional blasts from the horn section reminding the listener that you’re still listening to a Budos Band recording. “Aphasia” is similar but more segmented, trading off segments between familiar funk and vintage-sounding guitar breakdowns that could have been rescued from the cutting-room floor of some early heavy metal exploration. It’s difficult to say whether those two halves ever truly become a whole.

The most effective example might be “Magus Mountain,” which integrates the guitar arrangements organically with soaring horns to create something closest to the desired funk-rock fusion. The traditional drum kit (gone is the hand percussion) is also significantly more noticeable here than in most other Budos recordings, shouldering a greater burden of providing a strong foundation for guitars and horns to riff upon.

It’s a mostly successful experiment that, in all reality, still retains much of the DNA of The Budos Band’s past triumphs while simultaneously embracing a very specific stylistic addition. The new elements add freshness but simultaneously detract on some level from the band’s uniqueness, the x-factor that only they were able to provide in the past. There are still irresistible dance grooves here, but also more segments that are likely to call for headphone introspection. It might even be safer than that out-of-control feeling on Budos Band III. One can only hope that future Budos Band recordings retain at least this level of their signature sound—it’s entirely too good and too uncommon to discard. 


After three albums of uniformly excellent, Afrofunk-fueled instrumentals—titled, tellingly, The Budos Band, The Budos Band II, and The Budos Band III—where were the Budos Band to go? As great as their output has been to date, the New York ensemble had more or less painted themselves into a corner. In truth, there were many directions the group could have headed toward on their fourth album, but they dauntingly chose the path of most imaginable resistance: doom metal. Rub your eyes all you want; it won’t change that sentence. The Budos Band’s new album is called Burnt Offering—and from its wizard-sporting cover on down, it draws heavily from the late-'60s/early-'70s well of dark, arcane proto-metal.

To be perfectly clear: This is not your uncle’s Primus-shirted funk-metal. The majority of Burnt Offering is built on the same framework that the Budos Band has always used—elegantly simple guitar, deep pockets of syncopation, and bold shouts of brass—but here it’s been wreathed in the thick organ vamps of the bands that helped inspire metal, namely Iron Butterfly and Uriah Heep. Those looking for kvlt cred won’t find it here, nor should they; the album’s heaviest tracks, like the fuzz-slathered “Aphasia” and the gutbucket-distorted title track don’t come anywhere near the metal orthodoxy of Pentagram, let alone Black Sabbath. This is still Afrofunk of the Fela Kuti faith, with “Tomahawk” being the most horn-splashed and intricately polyrhythmic of the bunch.

When the delicate guitar intro of “Magus Mountain” drops into a propulsive, blown-out low gear, though, it’s as if Sir Lord Baltimore is jamming with Maggot Brain-era Funkadelic. The fidelity is immaculately retro, saturated and reverberating, which lends an even more eerily anachronistic tone to simmering, sinuous cuts such as “Black Hills” and “Turn and Burn”, the latter of which lands the album in some swampy epoch of alternate history. “Into the Fog” more or less says it all; with organ chords transmogrified into haunted-house groans, and monstrous stomps shuffling somewhere between Blue Öyster Cult's “Godzilla” and Fela’s “Zombie”, the song is all meat, zero subtext. Not that an album this earthy needs anything so subtle to get its freaky point across.

Burnt Offering has its own kind of subtlety, and most of it is in the interplay between meter, genre, and mood. When it falls a little flat, on the tame, muted “Trail of Tears” and “Shattered Winds”, it still manages to register as better-than-average Afrofunk with a tasteful layer of filthy hard rock smeared on top. It's not a profound exercise in fusion, and at times it seems the band might be amusing themselves at the expense of being taken seriously. But the most remarkable thing about Burnt Offering is that, at its core, it really isn’t all that much of a departure from what the Budos Band has always done. The neatest trick the album pulls off is in finding the unexplored commonality between Afrofunk and doom metal—deep grooves, murky atmosphere, hypnotic riffs—then playing them with joy and loopy abandon. Spooky, funky, freedom-loving fun: The chance to embrace something like that doesn’t come along often, and it’s to be cherished.


Don’t let that album cover and title fool you. The level of departure here is so slight that the boys could’ve gone ahead and just slapped a roman numeral four on there. The Budos Band’s approach to instrumental funk/soul has always had a touch of the ominous. They reclaim the original grandeur of Beethoven’s Fifth while fitting into the fun and frivolity of how the symphony has been fetishized over time. It’s music for dancing, to be sure, but it contains a mood that sort of hovers over the revelry. It’s looking down on itself from a great height. It isn’t imbued with judgement, necessarily, but a grave sort of knowingness. It feels good in the crowd, bathed in darkness and strange lights. But something is moving us, and we are a little bit scared of the possession. Most dance music uses this feeling as a segue to release. Budos Band just lays in the pocket and glowers with a fierce but composed solemnity.

All grasping pseudo-profundity aside, we’re talking more tasteful deep-funk liberally laden with monster-mashable, Éthiopiques-style keyboard drone. Burnt Offering lets things simmer a bit more here and there, but the record is pretty much business as usual. Despite prominent distorted rock guitar and snatches of discordance, this music is too classy for the b-movie scores that apparently inspired it. When I try to pair what I’m hearing with Argento or Romero films, it feels oddly ill-fitting. Yet the Budos sound is somehow very theme-oriented. It’s just that its foreboding swagger is too potent to take a backseat to a larger presentation. Perhaps their music is the theme to devil-may-care grace itself. That walk and lean and gesture to a world standing still in fearful anticipation.

The momentum of these songs is fearsome, their get-in, get-out run times elegantly restrained. Burnt Offering may not be a groundbreaker, and (as with previous outings) can begin to feel a tad rote if you’re not in the right mood. But this record is nowhere near the neighborhood of inessential. This is your Halloween party record, without a doubt, but really any party with Daptone artists blasting from the speakers is well on its way. So come for the gimmicks if you so choose, but you’ll be staying for the empowering, molten slab-rocking, stentorian fury these guys unfailingly bring time and again. Be sure and move somethin’ while you’re there.


Although the first three Budos Band albums (helpfully titled I, II and III) were generally regarded as straight-up Afro-beat and jazz-tinged funk/soul, rock elements did creep into the mix, and in recent years reviews of the instrumental group’s live shows have steadily grown more and more psychedelic. Burnt Offering is the culmination of that evolution, and it’s telling that they opted not to title it Budos Band IV; that mystic sleeve artwork, done by art teacher (and Budos drummer) Brian Profilio isn’t a coincidence, either. They said as much when announcing the record, noting how it “reflects their love of Black Sabbath and Pentagram as much as it does Fela Kuti.”

Indeed, right from the get-go the album proceeds along the aforementioned lines: “Into the Fog” and “The Sticks” both have signature heavy riffs powered by the bass guitar, and although the group’s horn section is equally busy, the tunes’ arrangements suggest a ‘70s rock band utilizing horns rather than a traditional funk ensemble tipping its hat at rock music. The title track recalls vintage Deep Purple, what with its ominous introductory chords followed by the launching of a heavy bassline, gloom-and-doom keyboards and searing/droning lead fuzz guitar all dominant over the horns. And “Magus Mountain” has an unexpected Nuggets vibe to it—speaking of psychedelic—in the way the guitar and organ suggest a garage rock tune with horns added to it. Even the songtitles tilt in this direction: “Aphasia,” “Into The Fog,” “Shattered Winds,” “Magus Mountain,” “Turn and Burn,” etc.

What will be interesting to see is whether the Budos Band’s fanbase will follow ‘em down this path because the group did make its reputation as being one of the more prominent young Afro-beat ensembles to emerge in the recent past. One imagines certain purist fans recoiling and dropping out while a host of newcomers discover ‘em. Regardless, artists fiercely need to experiment and evolve—case in point, another “non rock” group, Latin/funksters Brownout, recently recorded a tribute to Black Sabbath titled Presents Brown Sabbath that’s been earning rave notices—so it’s likely that a combo as talented as the Budos Band will remain a work in progress, unwilling to rest on laurels or sit still for very long.

Released on Daptone Records on Oct. 21, Burnt Offering, the new full-length album from The Budos Band, steps a bit away from the dance floor.

It moves toward the ooze of early Black Sabbath. Slithers through the minimalist rhythms of early the West German rock band Can. And swings with freedom similar to Scorpions in their Lonesome Crow fusion phase. While this record is a slight departure from all the Sly Stone and James Brown musical cues, it shines on as a natural progression. As any record collector will tell you, after you sample all the obvious funk Gods, where do you go? To the early metal, that was based in the blues.

As noted in the press release, the title track, “Into The Fog,” was recorded with a Binson Echorec, a classic tape machine used by Pink Floyd/Syd Barrett. With a trumpet solo that references early non-funky, pre-CTI Freddie Hubbard, it sets the tone of the 10-track instrumental record and stands as a warning call to fans of the band. This record will weigh a bit heavier on your brain fuzz-meter than a dance floor playlist.

And that’s OK. The Budos Band have proven with previous releases that they shake asses at shows. Consistently.

The uptempo afro-funk of the tracks “Tomahawk” and “Shattered Wind” checks in with Fela-inspired sax solos. And “The Sticks,” the second song on the record, is squarely centered on an organ-based groove. But it’s the new territory, complete with the boggy psych rock context, that gives this record a different identity.

The beautifully dirge-laden “Aphasia” reinforces the truth that all great guitar solos get better with a foot in your chest rhythm section. This is the early crunch and punch Black Sabbath tribute, but with a sharp horn line replacing Ozzy. The title track, “Burnt Offering,” wields ornate horn charts with psychedelia running amok on the organ keys, and then ends with an epic Keith Moon meets John Bonham drum solo. It is an awesome thing.

“Magus Mountain,” the standout song of the entire album, starts with a light Heart-esque guitar solo,  and then it boils ahead with the perfect balance of spiritual mysticism and rock-funk dominance. This synthesis of organ, bass, and in-the-pocket drum precision paints the perfect setting for the cavalcade horn charts to soar, swirl and explode. Keeping true to the character of the album, the breakdowns excrete with muddy metal and prog-rock essence.

Clocking in at just under 40 minutes, Burnt Offering is the band’s most challenging release to date.


What do you get when you blend psychedelic sounds, a nine piece band and add a pinch of movie soundtracks? Yeah, you know the answer to this silly hypothetical because you’ve read the headline.
Burnt Offering is The Budos Band’s fourth album and their first since 2010. The instrumental ten track offering is in no way charred, but it definitely has some hot riffs.

While previous albums by the New York outfit have been named in numeric order, Burnt Offering is the first to have its own title and it is evident why: the album departs from the more funk infused style of the previous records and delivers a psychedelic hard rock sound. Burnt Offering starts out slow but quickly builds up into a powerful rhythm.

Overall, it is kind of like a 60s James Bond soundtrack if Roger Moore were about to bust out some Soul Train moves. The opening track Into the Fog sums up it pretty well – you are about to enter into a haze of fusion.

Brass riffs are accompanied with an electric bite, which somehow manages to make funk sound brooding. At times there are worldly influences in the songs. The trumpet often sounds like it should be calling out from a baking Mexican desert and, in more than one instance, there was a Middle Eastern tone coming through.

Each song has a strong hook which is often repeated, which is what gives Burnt Offering that soundtrack vibe. Overall it works well as an album but the repetitive nature can make some of the songs blend into the background. The band have nailed intros, in particular the track, Magus Mountain has a very strong start.

The artwork for the album seemingly reveals some of the inspiration behind the album, it would comfortably sit at home on a Zeppelin or Sabbath record. In fact, the best way to describe the album is imagining Black Sabbath tasked with writing a Tarantino soundtrack, except replace Tony Iommi with brass and sax… and completely remove Ozzy’s vocals. Listen to Aphasia and you will feel it ooze Sabbath goodness.

Although it is a thoroughly enjoyable album to listen to, Burnt Offering does not break new ground in terms of sound, it just borrows from a number of influences to create a very unique but familiar concoction. In more ways than one way, it is nice to hear something which could have been released comfortably in the 70s being created in 2014.

Nov 17, 2014

New album: Afro Latin Vintage Orchestra - Pulsion

With a sound that lands somewhere between library music and fusion, Afro Latin Vintage Orchestra goes into the realm of psychedelia and beyond on “Complot” from their upcoming album Pulsion. While the vinyl has a street date of October 29, you’ll find the CD and digital releases out by mid-September. Orders are now being taken on Ubiquity’s website.

For Pulsion, recorded over an entire year, a string quartet was enlisted, making the total number of musicians to create this album land at a whopping thirteen. The music itself was played live, and Masta Conga, leader of the collective, also cites the mindset of a beatmaker, “I can take an idea and reinterpret it if it turns out interesting for the track. It allows me to pay tribute to those who inspire us and to immortalize this musical tradition.” He continues, “Where the classic work of collective repetition before the recording of the album did not allow me to arrive there, the method of work (noted below) left me more control over the production.”

Masta Conga gave us some insight on the track “Complot” and the album it comes from just a few days ago. When we first heard it, we immediately thought of Miles Davis’s On the Corner. Masta Conga responded, “Its wild and organic aspect structures my way of composing,” but he then credits Vladmir Cosma as an even stronger influence. Library music was something he says he “explored more seriously after the release of Last Odyssey,” the group’s previous album.

As for the creation of the track, he notes, “I first recorded the double bass with the percussion. Next, I record the drums. During a third session, guitar and keyboards are recorded. Lastly, brass and violins are added. In the first stage of a piece we can know nothing about the final outcome because the composition moves forward at the same time as the work of the edit. It’s a work of rewriting without any of the original idea except the rhythmic skeleton, which gives the movement.” 


A musician friend whose opinion I greatly respect shared with me that he enjoys listening to Pulsion, the fourth release by the Afro Latin Vintage Orchestra (ALVO), in two layers: The frothy jazz-influenced horn, brass and string arrangements on top and, like a musical parfait, the churning Latin, AfroCuban and other funk rhythms underneath.

ALVO was founded in 2007 around the core band of Masta Conga (percussionist, ringleader and spokesman), Benjamin Peyrot de Gachons (keyboards), Jean-Baptiste Feyt (trumpet), Max Hartock (drums), Elvis Martinez (guitar), Victor Dos Santos (alto and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet), and Philippe Vernier (baritone saxophone, clarinet, flute), a global conglomerate that Conga describes as "a space of creation all around, of various revolving musicians according to projects." They're joined on Pulsion by double-bassist David Battestini-Quadri and a string quartet. "On this fourth album, we tried a new approach by including various inspirations such as library music, spiritual and electric jazz funk, abstract hip-hop, with a touch of European groove and contemporary music," Conga explains.

The title track is quite representative of this entire piece: "Pulsion" opens with Battestini-Quadri's acoustic bass tethered to classic 1960s acoustic jazz but the other instrumentation, directed by Feyt's electric trumpet like a spectral spooky finger, quickly lifts the music like an untied balloon to float away and leave jazz behind. Even though trumpet is the lead instrument, the driving percussion rhythms frequently overtake this tune's center. "Shaman" grows from bass line doubled by piano into a hothouse flower of electric keyboards, growling reeds and other exotic sounds, and then navigates a freeform dialogue between saxophone, percussion and bass before settling into Congas's warm Latin percussion groove. "Shaman" would have also been a great title for this entire set. Rippling currents of electronics, horns, bass and strings set the subsequent soundstage for the cinematic "Drama."

Miles Davis' trumpet sound and fearless explorer's essence (more in feeling than execution) emerge like shadows from "Chroniques Marxiennes" and "French Connexion": Trumpet, piano and strings outline and punctuate the "Chroniques" arrangement, with an electric keyboard solo that conjures the spry and schizophrenic spirit—restless, relentless, irreverent yet respectful—of Chick Corea's work in some of Davis' electronic ensembles. "French Connexion" strips down the instrumentation but not the thick heady atmosphere—flute, trumpet, strings, keyboards and congas float in and out, like musical actors coming and going onstage in a play.

Pulsion is easily one of the most intriguing, entertaining and yet inscrutable sets you'll ever hear. I replied to my musician friend with my own description: If trumpeter Don Cherry recorded an album with Mongo Santamaria as his rhythm section, arranged and with strings by Nino Rota and produced by hip-hop pioneer Greyboy, it would sound like Pulsion. He's probably still laughing at this description, but he didn't disagree with it either.


01. Kagemusha
02. Pulsion
03. Rituel
04. Resurrection
05. La Traque
06. Homo Analog
07. Audio Synthese
08. La Blanche
09. Complot
10. Shaman
11. Drama
12. En Sursis
13. Chroniques Marxiennes
14. French Connexion
15. Code Panthera
16. Kung Fu

Nov 16, 2014

... Miles ... at Montreux

Nov 13, 2014

Why Africa Is Yet To Have Another Fela

Originally published at

As Felabration- an annual celebration of the Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s life and music, held in Lagos Nigeria (from the 13th to the 19th of October) climaxes, Ventures Africa looks at why the continent’s contemporary music acts, despite their rising global stardom, are failing to replicate Fela’s originality, impact and influence.

VENTURES AFRICA – On the 15th of October 76 years ago Fela was born in the ancient city of Abeokuta, Western Nigeria. He would go on to, like the Olumo Rock for which the city is known, become not just legendary but also a heritage for his people and peoples all over the world.
17 years after his death, Fela, renowned for his creation of Afro-beat, remains the heartbeat of African music and continues to with his music, made several decades ago, transcend cultures, countries, continents and generations.

The flipside however is that since Fela, African music has struggled to replicate such a revered, controversial and dominant brand in the global music scene the way the Afro-beat legend did. Contemporary African musicians have not been able to exert the sort of influence the maestro had on the African society.

Born, Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome Kuti, Fela’s sojourn into music, like his journey through life, was rebellious. Sent to London to study medicine by his School Principal Father, who was also a Protestant Minister, Fela jumped on music instead; it was only the beginning of his disobedience to authority. His life, since the start of his music career, became dominated by clashes with government authorities- from the US (by being a member of the Black Panther Party), Ghana (where he was banned from entering) to the several Nigerian governments that were recipients of his vitriolic attacks for their poor governance.

However, Fela’s musical prowess endeared him to the hearts of millions of people, in his homeland Nigeria and across the world.

His style of music was original, embellished by a complex blend of traditional African music, western jazz and funk, and the fusion of percussion and vocal styles. This meant that the appreciation of his music was as wide as it was diverse. Just as his performances in his Afrika Shrine in Nigeria regularly drew large audiences, local and foreign- Western music legends James Brown (One of Fela’s main musical inspirations), Stevie Wonder and Gilberto Gil visited, his albums gained massive receptions – Music Critique website Pitchfork Media ranked it number 90 on their list of the 100 best albums of the 1970s – as his shows abroad were also thronged to, so much so that one in Ghana caused a riot.

Zombie, released in 1977 was the archetype of Fela’s musical success. The album was not only a massive hit in Nigeria, but also across Africa and the world, and forty years on remains as popular as it was the first time it came out of the studio. That song and album also typified Fela’s activism as well as the followership he commanded. Just as Zombie raved at the Festival for Arts and Culture (FESTAC) held in Lagos in early 1977, it would also draw massive crowd in in a performance in Accra, the latter however went sour with the Ghana show turning into a riot that led to Fela and his entourage been banned from entering the West African country.

Sam Samuelson, a reviewer in popular music site, said of Zombie “it ignited the nation to follow Fela‘s lead and antagonize the military zombies that had the population by the throat… 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.

However, Fela’s activism would come at a cost. Zombie, seen as an attack on the Nigerian government was responded to with brutal force by the then Obasanjo military regime. He was severely beaten by soldiers and police who also threw his elderly mother thrown from a window- causing fatal injuries that consequently led to her death, burnt down his Kalakuta Republic, and destroyed his studio, instruments, and master tapes. Even though unsuccessful in stopping either his turn out of great music or his criticisms against Nigerian governments, state-sponsored harassments would carry on throughout Fela’s life, a jail sentence in 1984 that led Amnesty International to designate him a prisoner of conscience was the climax of his detentions and over 200 arrests.
Fela’s kalakuta lifestyle- meaning ‘rascal’ in Swahili- would also hunt him. It is widely believed that his promiscuousness and polygyny was a factor in the AIDS he contracted that led to the kaposis sacoma that killed him. But even his demise did not end his brand, many contend that he became even more popular in death. His funeral, in August 1997, was reportedly attended by more than a million people who began with a procession through the centre of Nigeria’s commercial city of Lagos.

If the thronging to his funeral was just a one day event, the yearly Felabration- conceived by Fela’s eldest child Yeni in 1998, symbolizes the enduring impact of his life and art. The festival is a mega week-long musical event in Nigeria attracting thousands of visitors from all over the world yearly to the New Afrika Shrine an- official tourist destination of Lagos State. 2008 witnessed the gathering of over 50 international musicians from the United States, Great Britain, France and Senegal to perform at Felabration, which always runs through a week of October that includes the 15th (his birthday).
And If Felabration typified the enduring appreciation of Fela’s music at home, the Broadway Musical FELA! by Steve Hendel, award winning choreographer Bill T. Jones, writer Jim Lewis, with producer backing of American rap icon Jay Z and artist extraordinaire Will Smith, depicted Fela’s enduring admiration even in faraway lands.

The show, premiered on the 23rd of November 2009 at the Eugene O’ Neil Theatre New York to an audience that included Michelle Obama, Kofi Anan, Madonna, Denzel Washington and several other international personalities, was a great success. Fela! received eleven Tony Award nominations, winning three for Best Choreography, Best Costumes and Best Sound of a musical, while also receiving a Grammy nomination for Best Musical Show Album.

In January of this year Finding Fela, a documentary by Academy Award-winning director Alex Gibney that tells the story of Fela’s life, music, social and political importance, was premiered to global appreciation.

Fela’s lasting legacy, however, is the overt influence his musical style continues to have in contemporary African and western music. His Afrobeat, aside becoming one of the most recognizable music genres in the world, in which many –including his sons Femi and Yemi have built successful musical careers, is also the foundation to Africa’s currently thriving Afrobeats (note the ‘s’) music style that is fast making global acts of African musicians.

With Fela’s legend status confirmed, his brand proven immortal, the new question now asked is why contemporary African arts have not been able to command a similar impact on Music and the society at large.

For the incomparability of his music to those of contemporary musicians, Fela’s appreciation of music – African and western – is highlighted. Describing Fela as Africa’s Handel, Peter Culshaw – who interviewed the music great – writes in BBC; “Kuti studied classical music at Trinity College in London in the early ‘60s, where he also had a jazz and highlife band called Koola Lobitos.
“When I asked him, cub reporter style, who his favourite musician was, he said: ‘Handel. Western music is Bach, Handel and Schubert. It’s good music, cleverly done. As a musician, I can see that. Classical music gives musicians a kick. But African music gives everyone a kick.’ In the ‘80s, he started calling his music African classical music.”

Such attention to what many see as pure music is often missing among contemporary African arts as is the creativity with which Fela fused several genres and instruments of music. It takes a very cultured musician, Fela’s protégé, Dede Mabiaku notes to popular Nigerian blogger Linda Ikeji. “Fela scored his music and his lyrics came along. Fela groomed his band with the sound he had scored. Ethically, he cultured a sound built within a band. After that, he now performed this song over a period of time before going to the studio to record. See the sequence.”

According to Dede, today’s artists employ the exact opposite of such a tried and tested technique. “Now let us come to the present day artiste, what are they doing? They just go into the studio, make few sounds together, make hooks, roll it round and round within a certain amount of minutes and voice on it later,” he noted.

Fela was also fiercely original in his music and uncompromising in his standard, something most African arts today are not. He is reputed for refusing to do the typical three minutes-plus songs, a stance that hindered him from scoring the big monies of western music labels. Culshaw adds “Kuti received various other offers from American record labels in the ‘80s, but at the time the problem was he was producing 60-minute-long pieces”. In the Documentary Finding Fela, he is quoted saying that you would not expect composers like Mozart or Beethoven to write three-minute numbers, so why should he?

But among contemporary arts, sacrificing quality for maximum commercial gain is the mantra, titled “going commercial” in Nigerian music parlance. “Commercial music is now recurrent, popular Nigerian music critique writes in music site, “it has a solid footing in the music industry. Observations have shown that Nigerians are happy people; they do not want to be held down with their problems or the fact that they have problems, hence ‘dance away their sorrows’, an opportunity commercial music provides abundantly”. He goes on to say that commercial artistes “push more records” than conscious ones with the former making more sales.

But Fela saw music as a vehicle of expression of his thoughts- political and philosophic, as well as a medium to advocate for causes that he believed in. This sets him aside and perhaps did not make him money as much, but a legend as such.

Fela’s societal impact is also virtually unachievable by contemporary African arts. In 2011 Australian tabloid Herald Sun said of Fela, “Imagine Che Guevara and Bob Marley rolled into one person and you get a sense of Nigerian musician and activist Fela Kuti.” Creating a state within a state as he did with his Kalakuta republic, and being described as a cult figure in the UK in the mid 80s, such was the command of Fela’s personality. Albeit it was also destructive –his marrying of 27 wives and living in denial after contracting AIDS symbolized how much so.

Nonetheless, contemporary African arts have struggled to match his conviction in social justice, outspokenness for human rights and black empowerment, against bad leadership and corruption – that still plagues Africa – as well as his indefatigable dare to be different.
Thus, Fela with these qualities, nourished of course by an immense artistic talent, continues to remain irreplaceable in Africa’s music space.

If Finding Fela- the movie documentary had been about finding a contemporary African Music commanding the same influence in African music and the society at large and standing out at the same time, it would have no doubt been a futile project. Perhaps that is why he is Fela- the kind of personality that a century only has the privilege of having once.

Originally published at 

Nov 9, 2014

South African Jazz: JAZZ IN AFRICA VOL. 1 (by flatinternational)


 American pianist, John Mehegan toured South Africa in 1959 and recorded this seminal album (vol. 1) and a second (vol. 2) with most of the horn section of the Jazz Epistles. The line-up included John Mehegan and Chris Joseph on piano, Kippie Moeketsi on alto, Hugh Masekela on trumpet, Jonas Gwangwa on trombone, Claude Shange on bass, Ray Shange on pennywhistle and Gene Latimore on drums. There is a single track featuring Samson Slingo on mbira with a spoken introduction probably by Mehegan, who also pens the liner notes. According to Jonas Gwangwa, this "was the first LP made by black people in South Africa." (Ansell, p. 98)

Reportedly only 500 copies of the original album were pressed, making it exceptionally hard to find. Teal Records' African Heritage series reissued both volumes in the early 1990s on LP, cassette and CD (TEL 2304, TEC 2304, TELCD 2304, 1991) (TEL 2314, TEC 2314, TELCD 2314, 1992), but these are equally scarce.

A more commonly available compilation CD, Jazz in Africa Vol.1, issued by Camden (CDN 1004), features a selection of tracks from the Mehegan LPs and the Jazz Epistles' Verse 1 LP however this compilation is quite poorly researched with the liner notes giving the impression that all the tracks are by the Jazz Epistles (Dollar Brand etc...) and makes no mention of John Mehegan.


Side A

 Track I — Venda introduction (traditional) 1.48.
Samson Singo is a busker (a strolling street performer) who wandered into the studios during the session. The mbira piano is about eight inches long and four inches wide. It consists of a number of steel spikes of varying lengths attached to a wooden resonator; the spikes are plucked with the thumb nails.

Track 2 — "Delilah" (Victor Young) 6.06.
Splicing "Delilah" into the Venda introduction we thought might point up the light-years that exist between the "beginning" and the "present". Chris Joseph is on piano.

Track 3 — "Round Midnight" (Monk, Williams, Hanighen) 4.16.
This track features pianist Chris Joseph who was the only musician in the Union who knew the tune. In criticizing the musicians in Durban, I mentioned this fact — the next day, his phone rang three times.

Track 4 — "Lover Come Back To Me" (Romberg-Hammerstein) 3.38.
Kippie insisted this be "my" tune, but we finally compromised on adding some I6's by Kippie, Hugh and Jonas.

Track 5 — "Body and Soul" (Green, Sour, Heyman) 4.08.
This features Kippie, who really "plays" the tune rather than treating it as a virtuoso tour de force.

Side B

Track I — "Old Devil Moon" (Lane, Harburg) 5.30.
This tune came up at a jam session and Kippie, who was only vaguely familiar with it, insisted on working it over until hejcould call it his own. The G major chord in the bridge absolutely gassed him each time we went around. He considered it a "moment of truth" in the tune. He is right, of course, for who ever heard of anyone going from an F minor chord to G major? Surely a moment of truth.

Track 2— "Yesterdays" (Kern, Harbach) 5.25.
We seemed to run into meter trouble on this tune until we dis¬covered that Jonas was deliberately juxtaposing a "quote" of one part of the melody over the chords of another part. Of the three (Hugh, Kippie, Jonas) Jonas was the quickest "study" with a new tune and seemed to have the best facility for playing in the twelve keys.

Track 3 — "X-Ray's Friend" (Freddie Gambrell) 3.32
This track features Chris Joseph again. For all of his rather amazing familiarity with present-day idioms of jazz piano, Chris manages a lyricism that is quite his own.

Track 4— "Cosmic Ray" (Vernacular) 3.40.
This is Ray Shange playing the pennywhistle, or for that matter, two pennywhistles simultaneously as he does on this track. Playing the pennywhistle is only one aspect of this deeply sensitive man who draws magnificently and also plays credible jazz drums. The "pennywhistle," incidently, costs about five shillings, or about sixty cents in United States currency.


The idea of geographical jazz has persisted long after the actual fact has ceased to exist. There probably has not been any authentic regional jazz since the Kansas City school of the late Twenties and early Thirties, yet the myth of local indigenous styles has flourished, reaching it's most preposterous heights with the "East Coast - West Coast" dichotomy of the Fifties,

Beyond the limits of continental United States, we have been told of French jazz, German jazz, Scandinavian jazz, etc. until it seemed that the kaleidoscope of world jazz was as equally stunning in it's ramifications as world painting or world literature. This, obviously, is not true for the rather simple reason that practical materials of jazz do not allow for the essential separation of the attitude (what to express) from the device (how to express it). The inseparable connection of these two factors in jazz accounts for the vast imitative nature of world jazz. Unlike the prophet, the jazzman is not without honour", only "in his own country, and in his own house". Devices, or technics, can and should be cosmopolitan, but attitude or feeling, must be local and specific in order to be valid.

For instance, post - Freudian literature has flourished in all of the major countries of the world, yet a specific national stamp completely distinguishes one from the other: Joyce in Ireland, Kafka in Germany, Virginia Woolf in England, Sartre in France, Faulkner in America. The technical devices employed are common to all, but the feelings revealed are deeply grained in each national experience. The short happy life of West Coast jazz began (Miles Davis Ninetette) and ended (abandoned Columbia album) on the East Coast and it's main progenitor, Gerry Mulligan, was born in Philadelphia. Since 1952, there has been talk of a Detroit school (Byrd, Burrell, Flanigan) and a later -day Chicago school (Bright, Jamal), but there is little in either case to justify the term "school".

Jazz in Africa is basically similar to jazz in the rest of the world (same idioms, same devices, same repertoire). It just happens to be much better than jazz in the rest of the world, excepting America. The reasons for the superiority of African jazz lay in the presence of one mature giant, altoist Kippie Moeketsi, age 34, whom I would rate with Getz, Peterson and Far low as concerns sheer melodic invention; two young disciples of Kippie's, trumpeter Hugh Masekela, age 22, and trombonist Jonas Gwangwa, age 23; and finally pianist Chris Joseph, age 21. Kippie, Hugh and Jonas are African and hail from Johannesburg; Chris is Indian and lives in Durban.

The recent history of South African jazz is intimately bound up with the names of Kippie Moeketsi and Rev. Trevor Huddleston, an Anglican missionary belonging to The Community of The Resurrection. Father Huddleston was born in England and lived in South Africa from 1944 until 1956. Apart from his work with the spiritual and social lives of the African people, Father Huddleston sought for some means of tapping the musical talent of his flock. From this evolved the Huddleston Jazz Band, of which Hugh and Jonas were charter members. Under the leadership of Father Huddleston and bassist Bob Hill (a Scotsman, who can burr with the best of them), a jazz clinic was established and with it an organized'effort to obtain recordings and instruments, as well as to hold classes in basic harmony.

Through the efforts of Hugh and Jonas, Kippie, who had been inactive for several years, became involved and a first-rate group, built along the lines of the Parker - Gillespie ensemble, slowly developed. Instruments were obtained, including a trumpet from Louis Armstrong which Hugh plays on these recordings, and the group gigged around Johannesburg as an organized unit. Finally in 1958, Hugh, Kippie and Jonas joined the pit band of "King Kong", a folk opera similar in structure to "Porgy and Bess", composed by an African, Todd Matshikiza, and produced by Europeans. Since then, things have not been very active jazz-wise and although this magnificent "front line" continues to play dance gigs, more and more, jazz has given way to the African counterpart of rhythm and blues.

Nov 7, 2014

Muyei Power - Sierra Leone in 1970s USA

Muyei Power or Orchestre Muyei (muyei means ‘our country’) was one of the top dance bands of the1970s in Sierra Leone. Soundway Records' first collection of music from this West African country (‘Muyei Power: Sierra Leone in 1970s USA’) is an album of rock-infused, 'afro' music from a group that traveled the world throughout the mid 1970s. Fusing elements of electric Congolese and Nigerian music with fast, syncopated, uptempo modernised arrangements of traditional music, Muyei Power produced a series of unique single-only releases that have been unavailable for 35 years. The rare recordings featured here are a glimpse of a dynamic and powerful band at the very height of its powers.
Even though lyrically Orchestre Muyei focused on traditional themes and songs, the arrangements and formulation of the instrumental side of things still very much reflected the mixed nature of urban Sierra Leone music, exemplified by a small collection of bands that also included Afro National, Sabanoh 75 and Super Combo.
For the early part of 1970s the band toured extensively throughout Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire before making a handful of 45s in local TV and radio studios.
The recordings featured here however come from a period of touring the college circuit in California during late 1975 and early 1976. Later that year, as they played the colleges of the east coast, they gave the tracks to the owner of the African Record Centre in Brooklyn, New York. He initially released two of them on his in-house Makossa Records label as 7-inch 45rpm singles in 1976. The tracks from 1975/6 were then not heard of again until 1979/80 when the African Record Centre released many of them on a series of Makossa Records 12”s that sounded far superior than the records that had been released a few years earlier.
Orchestre Muyei Power finally split up in 1979 leaving no proper album releases and only a handful of recordings for us to enjoy all these years late
- See more at:

Muyei Power or Orchestre Muyei (muyei means ‘our country’) was one of the top dance bands of the1970s in Sierra Leone. Soundway Records' first collection of music from this West African country (‘Muyei Power: Sierra Leone in 1970s USA’) is an album of rock-infused, 'afro' music from a group that traveled the world throughout the mid 1970s. Fusing elements of electric Congolese and Nigerian music with fast, syncopated, uptempo modernised arrangements of traditional music, Muyei Power produced a series of unique single-only releases that have been unavailable for 35 years. The rare recordings featured here are a glimpse of a dynamic and powerful band at the very height of its powers.

Even though lyrically Orchestre Muyei focused on traditional themes and songs, the arrangements and formulation of the instrumental side of things still very much reflected the mixed nature of urban Sierra Leone music, exemplified by a small collection of bands that also included Afro National, Sabanoh 75 and Super Combo.

For the early part of 1970s the band toured extensively throughout Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire before making a handful of 45s in local TV and radio studios.

The recordings featured here however come from a period of touring the college circuit in California during late 1975 and early 1976. Later that year, as they played the colleges of the east coast, they gave the tracks to the owner of the African Record Centre in Brooklyn, New York. He initially released two of them on his in-house Makossa Records label as 7-inch 45rpm singles in 1976. The tracks from 1975/6 were then not heard of again until 1979/80 when the African Record Centre released many of them on a series of Makossa Records 12”s that sounded far superior than the records that had been released a few years earlier.

Orchestre Muyei Power finally split up in 1979 leaving no proper album releases and only a handful of recordings for us to enjoy all these years later. 


Soundway Records was recently named as one of the British labels defining the sound of 2014. Despite the location of its English headquarters the label, home to newcomers Ibibio Sound Machine, is perhaps best known for reissuing rare West African vinyls that have generally never been heard outside of their country of origin. Soundway continue in that vein with Muyei Power: Sierra Leone in 1970s USA, a 5-track compilation of music from one of the most popular dance outfits in 1970s Sierra Leone. Blending elements of electric Congolese and Nigerian music with uptempo variants of traditional Sierra Leonean beats,  Muyei Power (also known as Orchestre Muyei) crafted a sound that was emulated by few others.

After spending the early part of the decade on the road in their home country as well as neighboring Liberia and Cote D’Ivoire, the band took their sound around the world. The tracks featured on the compilation were recorded between 1975 and 1976 when the band was touring the Californian college circuit. Muyei Power disbanded in 1979 before officially releasing an album, leaving behind a handful of singles that were last released over 30 years ago. This latest compilation will gives listeners a glimpse of the band at their best. Muyei Power: Sierra Leone in 1970s USA is available now on CD & vinyl from Soundway Records. Both come with detailed liner notes, whilst the 180 gram vinyl comes with a free digital download insert code. 


British musical archaeologists Soundway Records’ recent sonic excavations led them to Sierra Leone via California, as they uncovered a gem of record (or records) produced by 70’s Afro-fusion collective Muyei Power. Having formed a close relationship with lead vocalist and bandleader Abou Whyte, the team have managed to compile a collection of singles (originally released as 45’s via California label Makossa Records) that the group recorded between 1975–1976 whilst touring America. Recognised as one the biggest bands at the time in Sierra Leone, their sound is an explosive cross cultural blend that fuses funk , rumba, rock , jazz and soul music into traditional Sierra Leonean arrangements.

The album opens with an isolated bass line from ‘Wali Bena’, which is immediately met with summery guitar lines and a mass of percussions comprised of crashing cymbals, congas played in triplets and syncopated drum patterns. The vocals follow suit as Whyte’s intense and passionate performance is met with hypnotic backup harmonies. Towards the end, the band makes room for a guitar solo that is both soulful and exotic as its carefully planned out phrasing treads on an afro-Cuban melodic passage that effectually turns into an abrasive rock solo with high bends and sweeping trills.

The mutual understanding of each section of the group creates a welcoming atmosphere to these tracks, as each instrument compliments the next by allowing them to shine and ultimately help enhance the storytelling of Whtye’s lyrical themes. This is evident in ‘Be Patient’, which initially falls into a slower tempo with its Latin-esque horn melodies that are harmonized with the understated up-strokes of the rhythm guitar. The percussion line is sprinkled with vibrant shakers played at the end of every bar, looping tambourines and delicate bongo hits. The real treat occurs in the track’s mid-section, as a lone drum pattern picks up and sets the new tempo that the rest of the band effortlessly fall into. The song moves from its Latin roots into a full blown Congolese inspired rumba as sparse shakers are replaced with frantic congas. The same melodies seem more colourful and lively as the band partake in their signature vocal harmonies sung in their native Limba dialect.

‘Ben Ben Bee’ opens up with a wall of percussions that set the rhythm of the song. It effectually gives way for an eastern charmed saxophone lead, while jittering guitar lines help emphasise its melodic passages. The quick vocal chants that move between a call and response style approach to a full choir, help solidify the beautiful brass refrains. The arrangement allows the bass to come to the forefront in the bridge as it has a ‘solo’ moment where it walks through pentatonic scales that are complimented with tasteful harmonic phrasing.

‘Bi Loko’ is a melting mixture of soulful funk and raw afro-beat, with its punchy and loose arrangement that emits a strong groove. It also gives room for each musician to move freely as they alter their riffs and refrains, making it feel more like an impromptu jam session than a carefully mapped out piece. By the end, the song is transformed into a musical conversation between the lead guitar with its distorted solos and the saxophone that slides in and out of the frame.

The celebratory tone of the record makes for an inviting listen , and not only allows outsiders to understand and appreciate the universal sounds of Muyei Power but also the feeling and atmosphere of Sierra Leone during this era which , from this listening, was filled with rich vibrant spirits.


The producers at Soundway Records have struck again, doing one of the things they do best: releasing extremely obscure, extremely specific, extremely good African/Afro-diasporic music (although they also release some extremely new, extremely  awesome African/Afro-diasporic  music as well, for example Ibibio Sound Machine).

These descriptors all apply to Orchestre Muyei Power, which was apparently one of the top dance bands in Sierra Leone in the 1970s, although we at the Afropop office had never heard of them. Unfortunately, the music of Sierra Leone (past or present) remains largely unknown to the wider world, and until now, this band has either been forgotten or missed by the reissuers, anthologists, bloggers and other lovers of the African old school who trawl the used record bins of the world. So, once again, all props due to Soundway for digging this up and sharing it with us all!

The music on Sierra Leone in 1970s USA is an about as excellent an example of hard-driving, straight-ahead Afro-funk as you could wish to hear. Every track bubbles with energetic percussion, conversing bass and guitars, richly harmonized vocals, soaring sax, fuzzy guitar solos, and a momentum that just won’t quit. Like so much African popular music from the period, the sound is strongly influenced by African-American funk, especially the syncopated grooves of James Brown, but also clearly draws on local musical and cultural traditions for the vocal melodies and rhythms. But unlike many bands at the time, Muyei Power’s music may actually have been shaped by direct contact with American audiences during the 1970s.

The tracks featured on this reissued album, some of the only recordings the band ever made, were captured in California in 1975-76, while Muyei Power was touring the college circuit in the U.S.
Wait a minute!

Think about that statement! This group was either well known, well connected, or simply brave enough to embark on a multi-year sojourn in the United States. Other African bands had done the same before (for example Fela’s disastrous but fateful American touring experiences in the mid-to-late 1960s), but for Muyei, we can only imagine how their hard-driving, percussion-rich Afro-funk would have connected with college students at that time, and speculate on how this encounter shaped their music. We can only wonder what bands shared the stage with them, what music they checked out during their American sojourn, and how these experiences influenced the band.

If these recordings can be taken as a testament to the quality of the music on that tour, we imagine that seeing Muyei Power live in 1975 must have been an insanely exciting experience. Their sound is that of a live band par excellence, with non-stop groove and extended solos the order of the day. 


Wali Bena 6:39
Be Patient 6:14
Ben Ben Bee 3:40
Bi Loko 6:58
Yamba Sowe 7:15

Nov 6, 2014

More zamrock ... The Blackfoot – Millie

Lead Guitar & Vocals: Ottiman Mpondzi
Rhythm Guitar: Alfred Yabe
Bass Guitar & Vocals: Garry Musopa
Drums: George Kabale

Recorded at dB Studios (Lusaka, Zambia)
Producer: Andre Abrahamse
Executive Producer: Goodson Nguni
Originally released by Goodson Records as Youth Power
Acquired & Reissued by Zambia Music Parlour as Millie
Zambia Music Parlour Producer/Director: Edward Godfrey Khuzwayo
Zambia Music Parlour Cover Design (Insert): James Zulu & Marco Mumba

Goodson Records Liner Notes:

This LP introduces the “Jackson Five” of Zambia: young, energetic, creative and funky musicians. From Livingstone to Chililabombwe, people scream when the Blackfoot (that Kitwe-based rock, or shall we call it funky-rock, group plays). Since I have worked with or produced all the big names in Zambian music circles, I must admit the Blackfoot being so young and school-going blew my mind when they entered the studio to bring you, especially, this long player called Youth Power.
- Goodson Nguni (Executive Producer)

Leonard Koloko (Zambia Music Legends):

From the city of Ndola came the great band managed by Zambia Music Parlour. The band was originally formed in Kitwe under the name Holando Boys and initially specialised in bubblegum pop before turning to Zamrock.


A1. When It's All Alright
A2. Papa Papa
A3. Nothing To Give
A4. Sundie's Popcorn
A5. Groovy Bone

B1. Inyonga Ya Tobeka
B2. Poor Connection
B3. Millie
B4. Running

Nov 5, 2014

Fela Kuti: Chronicle of A Life Foretold


Originally published by THE WIRE

When Fela Anikulapo-Kuti died in August 1997, Nigeria lost one of its most controversial and inspirational cultural figures. Here, the Africa-based writer Lindsay Barrett maps the extraordinary trajectory of Fela's life, detailing the emergence of his patented brand of Afrobeat, his anarchic lifestyle, and the ongoing battles with the Nigerian authorities. This feature was originally published in The Wire 169 (March 1998).

No one who knew him well was surprised when Nigeria's greatest musician Fela Ransome-Kuti changed the first part of his double-barrelled surname to Anikulapo in the mid-1970s. He was just being consistent. Throughout his career, up to that point, Fela had constantly changed his mode of living and transformed the nature of his music. Eventually this process of change was to become the force that motivated his entire life.

The renaming was instructive. Anikulapo means 'I have death in my pocket', which is to say, as he often did, 'I will be the master of my own destiny and will decide when it is time for death to take me'. When he died in August of last year at the age of 58, Fela appeared to fulfil the prophecy implicit in that earlier name change; and the manner of his dying was as dramatic and unruly as the manner of his living.

In the weeks leading up to his death, Fela's condition deteriorated while he refused to accept treatment from Western-trained doctors, in spite of the fact that many of his family were illustrious medicos (Koye, the eldest, and former Minister of Health; Beko the younger, who was once President of the Nigerian Medical Association, detained incognito by the Nigerian government for his outspoken protests against what he believed to be the anti-democratic activities of the military; and his elder sister, a former matron in Nigeria's health services). To the end Fela was a conscious rebel. The themes of his rebellion never changed, and the anarchy which often seemed to surround his life and music was always tempered by the fundamental truths which he sought to elucidate with regard to both African society and the ongoing exploitation of people in African nations.

Fela's family wanted him to become a lawyer, and in 1958 he left Nigeria for the UK, ostensibly to study law. But many of his close friends maintain that he never intended to follow that line, and that he had made his decision to be a musician from his schooldays.

Once in the UK Fela enrolled In the Trinity School of Music. The trumpet was his preferred instrument, as most of Nigeria's leading highlife band leaders were trumpeters and at least two of them, Rex Jim Lawson and Victor Olaiya, were early heroes of Fela's. Although his father, the Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, encouraged him to play the piano, he had begun to practise the trumpet on his own before leaving secondary school, and sat in with many of the popular groups of the day. Bandleaders such as Roy Chicago, Bobby Benson, Eddie Okonta and the late anarchic genius Billy Friday all encouraged him and spoke highly of his youthful talent. However, Fela once told me that it was the discovery of Miles Davis's early recordings with Charlie Parker that strengthened his commitment to the instrument when he began studying in London.

During his stay in London, Fela also listened to Afro-Cuban music, and began performing in venues frequented by African students and workers with a group of dedicated Nigerian musicians which included the pianist Wole Bucknor, who became the Musical Director of the Nigerian Navy Band, and the fine jazz drummer Bayo Martins. In fact Martins was a seminal influence on Fela's listening habits, and was largely responsible for steering him in the direction he was eventually to take in building a close link between jazz and highlife music.

Fela returned to Nigeria in the mid-60s, and was employed by Nigeria's National Broadcasting Corporation, but he seemed to have little interest in working there. He formed his first professional group, The Koala Lobitos, and in their earliest performances the musical influences which had exercised Fela's imagination in the UK came to the fore. The group made some recordings, and while Fela's trumpet playing, though lyrical, sounded weak in interpretative power, his singing was innovative, more discursive and rational than the general run of highlife vocalising of the time. Fela's musical sensibility drew on the principles of West African popular music, especially its hypnotic, cyclical rhythm patterns, and he was always conscious of the ability of music to carry a social message in a powerful way. Accordingly, the lyrics he wrote for The Koala Lobitos also demonstrated a desire to bring new subjects into the purview of the music.

In 1968, by which time he had consolidated the membership of The Lobitos, new elements began to surface in the music which were strongly influenced by James Brown's recordings. In that year Fela gave a number of press interviews claiming that Brown had actually "stolen my music". Whatever the truth of the matter, what was clear was that in emphasising the rhythmic and improvisational elements, Fela's music was drawing closer to the kind of extended trance-like workouts that defined Brown's music of the period.

Later the same year, Fela went on a maverick tour to Ghana, the acknowledged home of highlife. He was accompanied and guided on the tour by Benson Idonije, a well-known Nigerian producer who was responsible for the presentation of jazz on Radio Nigeria. But while his music was well received by both Ghanaian audiences and musicians, he felt that in Nigeria his talents were still not appreciated. He either lost or left his job at the radio station after that. While still in Ghana he met a promoter called 'Duke', a Ghanaian who had relocated to California, and together they began to plan a tour to the USA.

The tour took place in 1969, and turned out to be a frustrating sequence of triumphs and disasters. It was halted when it was discovered that the promoter had not obtained the proper work permits for all the group's members. In addition, some members absconded, and in a legal fight with some of the local promoters, Fela seized a collection of hired instruments and shipped them back to Nigeria. He left the USA under a cloud of debt and threats of legal action, but in the few months he had been there he also met many musicians and other artists, especially writers and painters, who were harnessing their creative energies to the kind of radical politics that were being espoused by groups such as the Black Panthers. It was on this trip that he realised how valuable an understanding of Africa's history could be to the expansion of music's outreach, and it was during this trip too that he was able to record some of his latest compositions with a new group of musicians who interpreted his musical vision with a greater level of commitment and ability. He called this group Nigeria 70.

On his return to Nigeria Fela renamed the group a second time, calling it Africa 70. He hired the Kakadu (Parrot) nightclub in Yaba, a suburb of Lagos, renamed it the Afro-Spot, and instigated a programme of three live sessions a week that were to produce some of the most extraordinary events in African musical history.

Liberated by the music's new open-ended forms, some of the members of Africa 70 emerged as performing geniuses in their own right: tenor saxophonist Igo Chico Okwechime (replacing Isaac Olasugba), drummer Tony Allen, guitarist Fred Lawal and percussionist Henry 'Perdido' Kofi. Fela gradually dropped the trumpet and concentrated on leading the group by conducting it from the front and singing. Eventually his rudimentary keyboard riffs, which he used as part of his conducting formula, began to become more integral to the arrangements. By early 1971 he had stopped playing trumpet solos entirely and Tunde Williams, playing second trumpet, developed into a key player, taking over the important brass parts which Fela introduced into the arrangements.

By now Fela was virtually composing his songs in public. Each week at the Afro-Spot new works were premiered, and Fela would talk the audience through the meaning of the lyrics and work the group through the arrangement on stage. In this way classics such as "Lady", "Go-Slow", "Water No Get Enemy", "Chop And Quench", "Palava" and "Shakara-Oloje" emerged to become part of the urban folklore of Lagos. Not only were the songs massive local hits, but for many Lagos citizens it became imperative to attend these sessions, where Fela's interactive style made the audience a part of the performance.

That year – 1970-71 – Fela set a pace which was incredible, not only in terms of his musical growth but also his philosophical and ideological trajectory. The issues he raised as he discussed the lyrics of his songs grew increasingly topical, and he began the form of public speaking which he termed 'yabis' in which he would excoriate government officials for their inefficiency, or preach a new form of freedom of expression which he equated with the right to smoke 'igbo' (marijuana). Before his trip to the USA, Fela had neither smoked nor drank. He was a serious and committed musician, definitely no libertine. Back in Lagos, he claimed that a young woman he had met in America (who was later to sing on one of his albums) had introduced him to marijuana, and he was now convinced that the use of stimulants was not taboo provided the user was 'conscious'. This attitude was eventually to contribute greatly towards his many confrontations with the Nigerian government, and his public criticisms became increasingly focused on specific instances of what he considered to be government hypocrisy and the betrayal of national potential.

As his group grew from nine to 16 members, the music became less lyrical and more strident, the arrangements more complex. In 1974 Fela had a serious falling out with his tenor saxophonist Igo Chico, and in one of the legendary feats of his life, he vowed to replace Igo himself in 24 hours. According to the legend, Fela practised for 17 hours straight, and when the group appeared at the Afro-Spot that Friday night, he played all the famous Igo Chico tenor saxophone solos, not nearly as brilliantly as the master but with enough competence to satisfy his loyal audience.

This period also marked a turning point in Fela's commercial strategies. He moved from the Afro-Spot to a new club located in another part of Lagos called Surulere. The club was owned by a legendary Lagos entrepreneur, Chief SB Bakare, and Fela began to operate a full week's schedule. It was here that he first referred to his club as the Shrine, and began to speak of his musical existence as a religious rather than a purely commercial experience.

Fela's recording strategy was a particularly unique one at this point. Almost monthly he would go into the EMI studios in Apapa and produce extended versions of two of the group's most popular and topical compositions. EMI would release the songs immediately, their remarkable sales fuelled by the fact that a few weeks after they were issued on vinyl, Fela would stop singing them in his club. Fela continued this strategy for two years, issuing records like news bulletins, so that he served as a symbol of Nigeria's united national consciousness, as his songs would be heard blaring from loudspeakers across Nigeria as soon as they were released. The fact that his lyrics were in a very direct form of pidgin English was crucial, as it made his records accessible throughout Nigeria and much of Anglophone Africa.

Now Fela decided to build his own management team and control the release and performance of his music himself. In the early 70s, multinational record companies such as EMI, Decca and Philips/Phonogram had a stranglehold on recording and management of groups in Nigeria and elsewhere in West Africa, bankrolling watered down versions of US soul and Fela's patented Afrobeat. But as Fela developed into a megastar he sought to gain greater benefits from his recording contracts by encouraging competitive bidding among the rival companies for his independently recorded tapes.

The strain of this strategy caused cracks to appear within Fela's own organisation. He tended to be informal and careless with his finances, and some of his musicians broke away when it became difficult for him to pay them regularly. This was the period too when he began to expand his team of female dancers and establish a commune in his mother's house at Mosholashi-Idi-Oro. His sexual appetite was legendary, and many young women submitted themselves to a life of virtual enslavement as he preached an ideology of chauvinistic control and established a lifestyle that was based on his theories of female submission.

With the departure of certain musicians, the nature of the group changed drastically. Fela added more percussion and developed a new style of rhythm guitar voicing, laying a greater emphasis on the guitars and bass to carry the melody lines. He gave control of the reed and brass sections to Lekan 'Ani' Animashaun, a baritone saxophonist and one of the stalwarts of Fela's music, and spent more time refining his keyboard playing. Along with the ensemble singing of his female chorus, these developments became the signatures of his music, and the most distinctive sound of Afrobeat emerged from this era.

Some time In 1974, Fela moved from his Surulere base to the former Ambassador Club, a famous nightspot owned by the Lagos-based Ibo businessman and entertainment tycoon, Chief Kanu. This club was rechristened the African Shrine, and it was here that Fela began to incorporate ritualistic elements into his performances, including the pouring of libations and ceremonies performed by a succession of visiting traditional priests, some of whom appeared from nowhere, it seemed, and disappeared just as mysteriously. There was a Camerounian High Priest who, it was claimed, had sacrificed a human being at the Shrine and brought the victim back to life. Then there was a Ghanaian who performed magic tricks, and a Yoruba 'Babalawo' who gave Ifa divinations for selected members of the audience. Eventually Fela himself was declared High Priest of the Shrine, and each of his performances was prefaced with an elaborate ritual ceremony, replete with face painting, libation pouring, wild dancing and special prayers offered to the ubiquitous 'God of Africa'.

The African Shrine was located right opposite his mother's house, where his commune was still based, and his presence attracted a lot of commercial activity to the area, including a swarm of marijuana dealers. It was in this period, from 1974-76, that both his lifestyle and political attitudes coalesced into a flagrant challenge to the Nigerian authorities.

Apart from openly advocating the smoking of 'igbo' on the theory that "the God of Africa created this herb to enlighten his people", he also paraded his harem of young women all over Lagos. For a while they were appendages to his entourage, but in mid-1975 he began to incorporate them into his show, first as dancers and then as members of the vocal chorus. Later that year he undertook the famous single-day traditional marriage in which he pledged himself as husband to 28 women.

There followed another change of name for the group. Fela had begun reading esoteric literature promoting the belief that African history had been distorted and misrepresented by Western academics, and his interpretation of these ideas and transformation of them into musical themes became his main concern. Reflecting this embrace of pan-African revisionism, he now called his group Egypt 80.

Fela began applying these radical ideas in a pungent and systematic criticism of the Nigerian Government's own decrepit value system. Inevitably, the state began to fight back against both his political criticisms and what some government officials referred to as his 'immoral' lifestyle, and in what would turn out to be just the first of many raids on his club and commune, Fela's house was raided in daylight by teams of soldiers and police.

During the raid Fela was arrested and taken to the notorious Alagbon Close jail, where he was hailed as a hero by the prisoners and installed as 'president' of one of the toughest cells, named after the infamous dark hole of Calcutta but pronounced 'Kalakuta'. On his release he immortalised this experience in the extraordinary protest song "Kalakuta Show", and renamed his commune the Kalakuta Republic. This marked a major turning point in his life, and in many ways may have sealed his fate.

Fela's domestic lifestyle, and his battles with the Nigerian authorities, became major selling points for Nigerian tabloids. One newspaper, The Sunday Punch, serialised a set of features about the Kalakuta experience, liberally sprinkled with pungent quotes from Fela himself, and sold in numbers hitherto unknown for independent newspapers in Nigeria. His reputation also began to spread abroad: The New York Times ran a major feature on him, and his comments began to surface in foreign articles surveying Nigeria's economic and political climates. It is a moot point whether this attention was responsible for his increasing militancy or whether it was the other way round. Whatever the cause, Fela's radicalism increased and his music became even more powerful as a result. The consistency with which he interpreted political events and issues in musical terms was remarkable. The anti-military pieces "Zombie" and "Unknown Soldier" were seminal products of this period. They indicated that Fela was unbowed in the face of sustained attacks from the police and military.

Eventually he fell out seriously with his record companies and began to attack them also. It was clear to Fela that the government had been putting pressure on these organisations to undermine his independence, and he set out to prove that he could survive without them. One of his most famous songs emerged during this period, "ITT" ("International T'ief T'ief"), in which he heaped abuse on Chief MKO Abiola who was then 'Vice President for Africa and the Middle East of ITT', owners of the Decca label.

In a further break from the conventions of the record industry, some of Fela's closest friends were drafted into his organisation to handle contractual and promotional matters. These included the late Kanmi 'People's Lawyer' Osobu, Alhaji UK Buraimoh, the late Akin Davies and Barrister 'Wole 'Feelings Lawyer' Kuboye. Now Fela began to tour Nigeria playing concerts that drew up to 50,000 people at a time in places such as Port Harcourt, Aba, Benin City, Warri, Enugu, Jos, Kaduna and Calabar. These were not club dates but fully fledged stadium concerts. This strategy, and Fela's increasing popularity, seemed to anger the government even more, and towards the end of 1976, after Fela had returned to Lagos following one of his major national tours, one of the most vicious attacks on his home took place.

The timing of the raid was strategic. Nigeria was about to host the Second World Festival of Black and African Arts (FESTAC 77), and the government obviously wanted to silence Fela before the expected large contingent of international visitors arrived in Lagos for the festival. If this was the intention, it backfired badly. The raid was covered widely in the media, and the songs Fela wrote by way of response emerged as some of his most popular international hits. In fact, during the festival the African Shrine was packed almost every night, proving more popular than any of the official FESTAC events, so much so that most nights Fela and Egypt 80 had to play four shows instead of the normal one or two.

In early 1978, a few months after FESTAC, Fela's home was raided again, and this time the raid was carried out entirely by the military - with tragic consequences. Fela believed that the raid had been ordered personally by the then Head of State General Olusegun Obasanjo, a fellow Ogun State indigene, who had been humiliated by the amount of attention Fela had received during FESTAC. During the raid, Fela's mother, Funmilayo, who was then around 75 years old, was thrown from a first floor window by "an unknown soldier". In addition, Funmilayo's house, and an adjoining clinic belonging to Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti, were both burned to the ground. Official explanations for the raid were cynically off hand, which angered Fela even more.

When his mother died some months later from complications arising from the injuries she had received during the raid, Fela led a protest march carrying a coffin to the official residence of the Head of State in central Lagos, and also wrote one of his most tragic hits, "Unknown Soldier", which contained the heart-rending lamentation, "Dem kill my mama, political mama, the only Mama in Africa".

Shortly after the death of Funmilayo, Fela and his group went on a European tour, where he was surprised to discover that he had a massive following, especially in France. He toured for about three months, but on his return to Nigeria some of the key members of Egypt 80 - percussionist Henry 'Perdido' Kofi and drummer Tony Allen - left the group. In addition, one of its brighter young stars, the guitarist Kologbo, absconded and remained in Europe. The European tour was a success both critically and commercially, but once again Fela's casual approach to finance led to disagreements within the group. Moreover, he seemed increasingly depressed over the death of his mother.

Although he had never been a big drinker Fela had created a special compound which he called 'Felagoro' made from marijuana mixed with the local gin 'ogogoro', and he used it extensively during the European tour. The compound was a powerful hallucinogenic and sometimes, when under its influence, his performances were erratic, and the music was mostly held together by Lekan 'Ani' Animashaun, who had developed into a powerful baritone saxophonist, and was officially designated musical director of the group.

During the European tour Fela introduced his teenage son Femi on stage in the heat of a hard-driving performance in a circus tent outside of Paris. It was a real baptism of fire, as Femi was breaking in a new alto saxophone, and previously had only practised with the group during rehearsals. But before a crowd of more than 10,000 Fela ordered Femi to take his first major solo. Fela stood by the side of the stage driving his son on with shouts of encouragement and derision. The experience proved its worth. Femi now leads a group called Positive Force, and has developed a streak of determination in almost direct response to his father's unorthodox method of apprenticeship.

After his return from Europe, Fela's life and music took on a doomed brilliance which was overshadowed by a cloud of inevitable confrontation. Raids by the police and military became even more regular when he moved to Ikeja and took over another club, where he installed the New African Shrine. His hangers-on from Mosholashi-Idi-Oro followed. They virtually repopulated the area around the Shrine bringing hard drugs, especially 'bana' (heroin) and crack, with them. Fela spoke against the use of any drugs other than igbo, but many members of his entourage, including some of his wives, had already become junkies, a development which only seemed to reinforce the allegations of immorality and criminality that the government was levelling against him.

The confrontation between Fela and the security forces now developed into one of the saddest displays of state terrorism ever seen in Africa; sometimes it appeared that individual government members and departments were vying with each other to see which one was more anti-Fela.

In 1983 Fela announced that he would be standing for President in the forthcoming Nigerian elections on the ticket of his own party, the Movement of the People (MOP), in order to "clean up society like a mop". Following the elections, the military overthrew the new civilian government and the attacks on Fela increased again. He was accused by one agency of flouting the country's currency laws because he returned from an overseas visit with about 1000 US dollars. He was arrested, charged, and kept in detention for almost two years. He was released in 1986 after yet another coup had occurred, but just a few months later he was charged with kidnapping one of the young women who lived at his house and whose father was said to be a senior official in one of the security agencies. Fela was acquitted, but a year or so later he was accused of murder after someone had been killed in a fight at the Shrine. Years later, Fela told me that he believed the dead man was killed and planted in the club by yet another branch of the security services.

Even during this incredibly fraught period, Fela's music retained an innovative strength. Just before the breakdown of apartheid in South Africa at the beginning of the 1990s he began to turn his attention to the subject of world racism, and the economic exploitation and international hypocrisy that sustained it.

His composition "Beast Of No Nation" evolved out of a statement by South Africa's President PW Botha: "This uprising [against the apartheid system] will bring out the beast in us." The song was powerfully argued and the music showed that Fela had not lost his sense of rhythmic vitality in his approach to composition. Many of his last songs written between 1993-96 represent some of his best work, containing large scale orchestrated arrangements with more freedom for melodic interpretation. In a parallel with the increased sophistication of his music, Fela announced that marriage was an erroneous imposition of control on a fellow human being. Accordingly, he granted freedom to all his wives, or at least those who remained - more than half of the original 28 had already absconded, although many of them remained resident in his house and as members of his performing ensemble.
Even as Fela was revising his lifestyle, the authorities were closing in. A few weeks before his death, his health shot to pieces by years of official and personal physical abuse, he was paraded in chains on state television in Lagos by yet another security agency, the Anti-Drug Squad. Even in these harrowing circumstances, Fela maintained his dignity, challenging the director of the agency openly, and declaring that he did smoke marijuana and considered it not only his right but a privilege ordained for humanity by the "God of Africa".

By now, Fela's poor health was obvious. He was skeletal, but his spirit was unbowed. He continued to appear at the Shrine, and whenever the group, led by Lekan Animashaun, struck up its signature tunes, he still found the strength to leap on stage and blast his adversaries and proclaim his belief in the rejuvenative power of his personal vision. To the end, Fela believed that this vision was motivated by a spiritual link to the ancestral power of Africa, and that even if it did not save his own life it had the power to restore a sense of political renewal in the continent.

Fela died on 2 August 1997. Some members of his family announced that he was suffering from AIDS, and have demanded that the Nigerian government establish a campaign to officially recognise the AIDS issue as a potentially catastrophic one for the whole of Africa. In this way they probably hope that Fela's death might help bring about the kind of fundamental changes in Nigerian society which he strived for during his life, but failed to achieve, in spite of his constant battles with officialdom.

Fela's funeral developed into a festival of joy and anger unprecedented in Lagos. Three days of processions culminated in a public service which brought the city of well over five million people to a standstill - obviously, Fela's spirit still ran deep in the hearts of the masses.

It is no exaggeration to say that Fela's memory will always symbolise the spirit of truth for a vast number of struggling people in Africa and beyond. His music and the determined consistency with which he challenged authority and demanded that popular ambitions and attitudes should be reflected in the official objectives of the nation's leadership will continue to create a basis for radical challenges to the complacency of officialdom. His musical legacy is a solid one. His compositions are effectively underscored by the huge number of records which he leaves behind. Everyone who worked with him retained a deep sense of his musical spirit, and in the future, his formal musical legacy will grow even stronger as the extraneous elements of his wild, anarchic lifestyle give way to reflective tributes to his talent and the philosophical relevance of his ideas.

The members of Fela's group, devastated by his passing, will find it difficult to keep the flame alive, but there is also a need to preserve the traditions which Fela established. One of his greatest legacies is the consummate technical proficiency which he enabled his instrumentalists to achieve even without travelling beyond Nigeria. Some of his soloists, such as the young baritone saxophonist 'Showboy' and the leader Lekan Animashaun, have the breadth of experience as well as the evanescent quality of stardom in their veins.

Now that he is no longer alive, the eternal values which gave birth to Fela's perpetual struggle to find justice in life will gain new strength through the immortal power of his musical vision.