Release Date: Oct 26, 2009
Record label: Knitting Factory
The Best of the Black President is simply a stellar collection that bests any two-disc collection out there as it represents the continued evolution of Fela Kuti's music from the 1960s through the 1990s. Compiled by son Femi, many tracks are edits of the originals -- "Gentleman," "Water Get No Enemy," "O.D.O.O." -- whose power is not reduced. Still others are second-halfs -- like "ITT," "Coffin for Head of State," "No Agreement," "Army Arrangement," and "Shuffering and Schmiling." Still others, such as "Zombie," "Sorrow Tears and Blood," "Shakara" and "Roforofo Fight," are presented in their original form.
By the time Fela Ransome-Kuti changed his name to Anikulapo—“he who carries death in his pouch”—he had already built a fence around his house in Nigeria and declared it an independent state: The Kalakuta Republic. His records began to sell in the millions throughout Africa and the colonial government of Nigeria played an incessant cat and mouse game with Kuti for the rest of his career: arrests, beatings, and imprisonment were perennial events in the musician’s life. When Kuti sang his classic attack against the military, the frightening, melancholy “Zombie”, at the Festival for Black Arts and Culture in Lagos in 1977, the Nigerian Army attacked the Kalakuta Republic where hundreds of Kuti’s followers were living.
There's a diner in central Virginia called the Blue Moon that used to play a Fela Kuti compilation what seemed like every Sunday morning for at least a couple of years-- something I mention because it's how I first heard his music and how I remember it best: Over and over again, at a decent volume. His recordings are defiantly samey, but his style is unmistakable: the horn-head/solo structure of American and European jazz applied to funk; 12-minute songs that seem to start somewhere in the middle; lots of congas, lots of honking. Something like the Nigerian James Brown, sure, but also a little like Monet's series of haystacks-- each iteration a little different but disciplined in their similarity, always some minor variation on an ideal.