Release Date: Dec 15, 2017
Record label: Knitting Factory Records
Genre(s): International, African Traditions, Afro-beat
In the years since his death, Fela Kuti has become big business. His Kalakuta Republic commune has been turned into a museum with the help of a $250,000 government grant. He's inspired a Broadway musical and a documentary. There's a range of 80 per cent polyester socks on his web shop. But what of ….
I t wasn't easy getting hold of Fela Kuti's extraordinary music during much of his lifetime, but that changed dramatically after his death in 1997. The legendary Nigerian creator of Afrobeat had recorded over 50 albums, which have since been re-mastered and re-released, with classic tracks reappearing on a series of vinyl and CD compilations. The most recent box sets have been curated by musicians: Questlove, Ginger Baker, Brian Eno, and now the American singer-songwriter and actor Erykah Badu.
Fela Kuti's oeuvre is so uniquely suited to the vinyl box set that, had the format not already existed, his music might very well have forced us to invent it. In an earlier era, when "serious" listening automatically implied a focus on either jazz or Western classical, the state of vinyl technology constrained runtime to two short-ish compositions--a poor substitute for a night at the opera or a bebop quintet playing in a smoke-filled lounge. The album was invented when this shortcoming was addressed by binding multiple discs together into a book-like form--hence "album"--compiled around an organizing theme.
H aving other musicians "curate" Fela's sprawling catalogue has helped maintain the legacy of Nigeria's notorious rebel and Afrobeat founder. Soul queen Erykah Badu follows Questlove, Ginger Baker and Brian Eno in choosing seven albums centred on Fela's industrious late 1970s, when his best band, Africa 70, was intact. Badu's favourite is Coffin for Head of State, a mournful elegy for his mother, murdered by government troops.