Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Fela Kuti - Cross Examination (+playlist)

Above, is a YouTube clip of Fela Kuti and Africa 70 performing a classic Afro-beat tune titled "Cross Examination." Although the performance took place at the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1978, the sound has not dated and still sounds just as fresh and exciting today as it did at the time.

It actually reminds me of the comprehensive show at the Africa Shrine in Lagos during those days. The live performances at Shrine were usually songs that Fela hadn't released and sometimes hadn't recorded. Fans were treated to music no-one else was aware of unless they came to a live show. This exclusivity brought fans and lovers of the genre.

The song is a political tune, indicting the African Military dictators that monopolised power in a lot of the independent nations of the continent at that time. Accusing the soldiers of seizing power by force in military coups, also pointing out that some of these military rulers were the instruments used by the colonial masters to put down those that were demanding independence for their nations.

In the intro to the song, he mentions people like Kwame Nkrumah, Beko Kuti his brother, his mum and of course, his best friend JK Brimah.

Please enjoy the epilogue to, Afro-beat (Making sense of the Fela bandwagon).

The clip will give you (the reader), an idea of the sight and sounds of a Comprehensive Show at Africa Shrine during the 1970s.



Thursday, 14 November 2013

Afro-Beat Part 3

The Fela Bandwagon..(Conclusion):

Someone once asked the reason why afro-beat music has become suddenly more popular, readily accepted and is growing stronger with time. I don't know for sure, but the answer could be the raw energy from the music. 

Everyone has their own way of rationalising the sound. I loved the rhythm section when Tony Allen was drummer and leader of the backing band, Africa 70. He held sway over the percussive elements, led by example and kept the maverick players in check without stunting their natural growth as instrumentalists and musicians. The jazzy horn lines and witty vocals were for me, an added bonus.

Fela himself was a first class musician who composed, arranged and oversaw all the material elements in the music. The man was a multi-instrumentalist. On stage, he played the keyboards, saxophone, sang and conducted the group's repertoire. This is one of the reason I disagree with the many people that like to describe him as Africa's James Brown, he was more than that. JB had a conductor, didn't play any instruments on stage and entertained only through his singing and dancing.

Fela performing Afro-beat live

But afro-beat as a genre, has to evolve like other genres. If it doesn't, it could end up like the old soldiers, who never die but just fade away. 

Brian Eno talks about Afro-beat

Music producer, Brian Eno describes the Nigeria 70 (later Africa 70) sound as music from the future. High praise indeed and a validation for afro-beat as a sound. To keep to this vision, the afro-beat genre needs more young people to get involved, bring their own energy and creativity into the genre so it may keep evolving, stay fresh and entertaining.

To those who are active within the genre today, I say thank you very much for your efforts in promoting a revolutionary African sound. Keep the faith, but watch out for those who jump on the bandwagon because of Fela's fame and notoriety. Work with songwriters that think outside the box and embrace all comers. After all, the music is the boss!

Thank you!


Friday, 1 November 2013

Afro-beat. What Next? Part 2

Fela Bandwagon contd...

The world is watching and waiting for hits that will enhance and give the afro-beat genre a stronger foothold, keep it interesting until it gets passed on to the next generation. It's what Fela Kuti would have wanted. 

I mentioned JK Brimah because Fela Kuti's personal and musical development wouldn't have been complete without the influence of JK. (A chapter is dedicated to JK in Fela's autobiography "This Bitch of A Life" written by Carlos Moore), the story is even more interesting when JK tells it. It annoys me that today's practitioners see JK (who is still alive and well) as an irrelevance, only good in their eyes when they want their undeserved validation.

JK at a Party

Other individuals who supported and encouraged Fela's musicality but today are given no credit, (especially during the years of strife and turmoil), were individuals like Tunde Kuboye, who ran The Jazz Club of Nigeria, promoted African and Jazz music at the Museum Kitchen every Friday evening, and organised an African Music Festival once a year. His late wife Frances, Fela's cousin, a dentist by profession. A lady who could easily have made it as a professional singer, if she'd decided to leave Nigeria and settle anywhere in the western world. Some others were Fela's contemporaries who played Jazz at the floating Buka on the Marina in Lagos, guys like my ex-boss at Japan Petroleum, Femi Asekun (Skipper), his friend Femi Adeniyi-Williams and uncle Art Alade. These were the people Fela would rush to jam with, whenever he could break away from the madness at Kalakuta.

Fela developed Afro-beat because he wouldn't have been able to make a living playing jazz. Not in Nigeria anyway. So he developed his genre, using a core of local musicians like Tony Allen, the amazing drummer, Henry Kofi (Pedido), Igo Chiko and a couple more talented instrumentalist, who remained a constant part of the Nigeria 70 band, later to become the Africa 70. The commercial music played by the band during those heady days, has stood the test of time. The compositions were unsurprisingly popular and accepted by everyone because of the satire and social commentary in those compositions. Songs like "Na Fight", "No Bread", "JJD", "Buy Africa", "Don't Gag Me", "Lady", "Shakara", "Yellow Fever" etc., amused and entertained, but didn't stray into the political minefield that would bring the wrath of military governments down on Fela's head in the later years.

Fela Album Cover

What I'm trying to say here is, even when Afro-beat went political, there was always a theme to the compositions. A message that made every song unique and identifiable to the listener. That element is missing within the genre today. The message and point to Afro-beat as a sound, is in danger of being swallowed up and lost forever, if the diluted and watered down modern compositions continue. After all is said and done, what would be the point of it all?

S.T.B. and J.J.D.

I think Fela would have wanted Afro-beat to grow as a satirical vehicle for social commentary, more than he would have wanted to be regarded as an icon. He was after all a man like anyone else and not the caricature two dimensional image that is being planted unto the public consciousness today. It would be better if practitioners of Afro-beat drop the hype and get back to basics, there is plenty more work to do because that man, Fela was a tough act to follow when he was alive. It makes it even tougher, that he is now regarded a legend and an icon.

Tony Allen and I

I would urge any artist interested in venturing into afro-beat, to disregard what is presented at the moment. Ignore the half baked presentation of cover songs that could never compare to the original songs. Study the philosophy behind Fela's tunes and if possible, imprint their own personality into their compositions. This would be the ideal way to excel at making a great and unique afro-beat standard. In short, being original is the most important thing, and believe me, the genre needs this, more than anything else.

...More later


Interesting blog at tomorrow!

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