Aug 24, 2017
From Athens, Greece, Afrodyssey Orchestra take you on a musical journey that flows unconstrained between genres. The ensemble's influences span Jazz, Funk, traditional West African dance music and percussion, Psychedelia, and the Greek musical culture.
Afrodyssey Orchestra are an instrumental ensemble from Athens, Greece, comprising seven established musicians of diverse musical backgrounds. They came together through a series of musical journeys over the years — and officially as Afrodyssey Orchestra from 2013. Afrodyssey is unique in Europe for their use of Greek and West African musical forms together and their sound — an expression of contemporary Athens. In devising and performing compositions Afrodyssey seek to evoke communion between audience and music, transmitting the impulse to move - an intention that reconnects to the origins of Greek music as a process that gave a village social cohesion. In addition to their original compositions, the band performs innovative versions of well-known African and Greek traditional music. Most band members are multi-instrumentalists — lesser-known instruments played include the Kamelen Ngoni, a type of African harp, and the Balafon, an ancestor of the Marimba and Vibraphone.
Labels: Afrodyssey Orchestra
Jul 14, 2017
The story of Renegades Of Jazz begins around the end of the nineties, when its protagonist faces a time in life that sees most musical ambitions crumble against the harsh realities of life. Imagine David Hanke in his early twenties, driving his first car, wearing ripped jeans and a lumberjack shirt. On the back seat of his bright red Volkswagen Beetle an electric guitar is collecting dust, as David’s longlasting enthusiasm for rock music has been gradually waning for quite some time. The music that dominated his formative years seems to have lost much of its appeal – and then a tape appears. But first, let’s rewind a bit. Born in 1977, David Hanke spends the first years of his life in Arusha, Tanzania. Within eyeshot of Mount Kilimanjaro and the equally impressive dead volcano Mount Meru, David experiences an early, highly influential part of his childhood in this vibrant East African cultural metropolis. By the end of 1982, the family returns to Germany, where David first starts exploring his parents’ eclectic record collection.
When a musical avalanche called grunge and alternative rock starts conquering the world in 1991, David finds himself utterly fascinated: these genres begin to shape his musical identity. Inspired by bands such as Soundgarden, Pearl Jam or Screaming Trees, David teaches himself to play the guitar,
grows his hair and dabbles in several band projects. But over the years he comes to realize this sound just might not be the real deal. By the end of the decade that music feels too melancholy and the structures redundant, the scene has lost its appeal. The perfect time for a certain aforementioned tape
to make its appearance, popped into the bright red Beetle’s stereo by a good friend.
Thievery Corporation on one side, Visit Venus on the other – it didn’t take more for David to dive head first into the exciting soundscapes of downbeat and sample-based music. Sharing a flat with this friend of his, David gradually discovers funk, breakbeats and modern sampling culture. All of a sudden, everything seems possible to him, without a band and yet able to use any conceivable instrument he deems fit. He couldn’t have wished for a better creative kick-start. 2003 sees his first
productions come into existence, gratefully making use of his grandma’s jazz collection, and at the same time David starts a show called Rebel Radio on a local station. In 2006 he and DJ Deli-Kutt become Mash & Munkee, releasing their first EP two years later.
Renegades Of Jazz is established as restless David Hanke’s primary musical outlet in 2009, consciously referencing a modern classic that pushes musical boundaries, »Renegades Of Funk«. The way David handles Jazz, Funk, Hip-Hop and Soul as building blocks of his very own musical form is just as open and playful, while still showing just the right amount of respect for his sources of inspiration. Renegades Of Jazz becomes the first act on the Wass Records imprint founded by the enterprising DJ and producer Smoove. The album »Hip To The Jive«, along with several singles and EPs, is released in 2011. The following year a remix album aptly titled »Hip To The Remix« shows just how internationally well-connected Hanke has become, ten years after almost quitting music for good.
Over 100 Renegades Of Jazz remixes for celebrated artists such as Brownout, Mop Mop and his own idols like Kid Loco or Skeewiff account for how determinately David Hanke forges ahead. But Renegades Of Jazz is no one-trick pony: his second album »Paradise Lost« refuses to just meet expectations. Rather than going along with the light-hearted swing of his debut and the infectious Dancefloor Funk of his remix works, much of the sophomore album is dominated by darker, more
unpredictable moods pointing towards Blues harmonies and percussive Afro-Funk. Cinematic horn arrangements and purposeful grooves find »Paradise Lost« evoking memories of the energy of Ellington’s Jungle Band, while never leaving a newly found balance of introspection and mature club
It’s the year 2016 and David Hanke, widely recognized under his moniker Renegades Of Jazz, is back with his third full-on longplay effort entitled ‘Moyo Wangu’.
After his conceptual and darker approach to his last album ‘Paradise Lost’ released in 2015, we see Renegades Of Jazz explore the world of Afrofunk here, a world David Hanke is deeply linked to since
Due to being exposed to the sound of this East African metropolis throughout his early childhood days the love for any kind of African rhythm signatures and vibes has stuck to this day and is now reflected in the twelve tracks on the album ‘Moyo Wangu’ – a Swahili expression that translates as ‘My heart’ and perfectly describes where his heart is at.
Already having introduced the audience to his love of all things Afro with the exclusive non-album track ‘Tempo Tempo’ that was featured on the ‘Hits Agogo One’ compilation earlier this year as well as with the first single release of the album ‘Afro Cookie’, a modern Afrofunk anthem with a distinctive twist that does not only refer to David Hanke’s personal linkage to Africa but also can be seen as the origin and starting point of the musical journey we’re about to experience here.
‘Moto Moto’ musically depicts the hot, vibrant feel of a jam-packed dancefloor throughout an amazing night out, ‘Beneath This African Blue’ brings on sweet midtempo grooves and the captivating ‘Harambee’ (Let’s work together) reflects the rhythm and reiterativeness of working together featuring the brass section of the Los Angeles-based Jungle Fire outfit who add their special heat.
The albums title track ‘Moyo Wangu’ caters uplifting Afrofunk at its best and sees Marseille-based producer and multi-instrumentalist Hugo Kant delivering some thrilling flute action with a Jazz-infused twist whilst ‘Them Who Walk Slow’ is on a more laid back and tropical tip.
With ‘Karibu Tena’ – Swahili for ‘Welcome Back (Again)’ – David Hanke returns to his spiritual home in a joyful, polyrhythmic way, ‘Zebra Talk’ is another collaborational effort featuring producer and multi-instrumentalist Kabanjak, also known for his works on other projects like Deela and as part of the Ancient Astronauts duo. The touching vibe of ‘Jamboree’ resembles the overwhelming joy and heartfelt spirit of gatherings and festivities.
‘Majirani Yako Kelele’ works bubbling dancefloors with a complex swing, ‘Jazz Makossa’ amalgamates influences taken from highly Jazz-infused Makossa music and their traditional call & response techniques to a thrilling effect and finally ‘Prison Island’ concludes the album with a sweet yearning and laid back melancholia referring to the legend and history of a small island, also known as Changuu or Kibandiko, located only a few miles off shore of the beautiful Zanzibar Archipelago.
With 'Moyo Wangu' (Swahili for "my heart"), German musician and producer David Hanke, better known as Renegades Of Jazz, indicates where his heart really lies. Hanke spent much of his childhood in Arusha; a city in Northern Tanzania situated near the iconic Mount Kilimanjaro, and on 'Moyo Wangu' explores the world of afrobeat, afro funk, afro jazz and makossa. The track list of the album also features a series of guest musicians: for 'Harambee' (Swahili for "Let us work together", see also the eponymous hit by Rita Marley) Hanke invited the horn section of American band Jungle Fire, in title track 'Moyo Wangu' the flute of multi-instrumentalist Hugo Kant is given a major role, and in 'Zebra Talk', Kabanjak, half of German deejay duo Ancient Astronauts, makes an appearance. If you're not averse to a bit of African groove, open your heart and give 'Moyo Wangu' a chance; you won't regret it!
Labels: Renegades Of Jazz
Jul 12, 2017
Matsuli Music is proud to announce the re-issue of Black Fire, the 1976 debut album of legendary Cape Town jazz funk band Pacific Express. The band was home to jazz musicians Chris Schilder, and Basil ‘Manenberg’ Coetzee as well as fusion and soul musicians Robbie Jansen, Issy Ariefdien, Paul Abrahams, Jack Momple and Zayn Adam.
This album is hard evidence of that 1976 musical moment in which Pacific Express forged an entirely new South African sound and musical identity out of what was ‘Cape Town Jazz’, Latin, R&B, soul, pop and fusion.
From the political heat of 1976 come the militant, upbeat and irresistible funk tracks Black Fire and Brother - where singer Zayn Adam calls out for hope and optimism in spite of present difficulties. The pace moves down a gear for heart-felt ballads and Latin-tinged jazz instrumentals. Group leader Chris Schilder, after his deep jazz beginnings with Winston Mankunku Ngozi and the cream of Cape Town’s jazz crop had already spent some time with seminal black fusion group The Drive in the early seventies. Black Fire lays down a fusion of jazz funk and soul that was later picked up on and developed by Spirits Rejoice and others.
Black Fire presents the core repertoire that made Pacific Express the resident band sensation they became at the Sherwood Lounge in Manenberg, Cape Town in the mid-seventies. The ‘coloured’ township of Manenberg – about 20km away from Cape Town’s city centre, and cut off from the black settlements of Gugulethu and Nyanga by a railway track – had been officially established in 1966, based on the apartheid regime’s belief that what they defined as different “racial groups” could not live harmoniously together. Residents had been forcibly removed from and ‘relocated’ from the various suburbs now being allocated to ‘white’ people. Manenberg and surrounds were “quite a rough place” reflects Chris Schilder (now Ebhrahim Kalil Shihab). “But the Sherwood Lounge was located close to the highway, so people could come in without getting mixed up in whatever was a happening on the streets. And once we opened – people flocked.”
Matsuli Music is proud to add the debut album of this Cape Town ‘supergroup’ among our growing catalogue of high-quality re-issues of classic South African afro-jazz on vinyl. New liner notes from acclaimed jazz historian Gwen Ansel claim this album as the first successful confluence of multiple styles delivering a uniquely South African but also globally accessible new musical expression.
Officially released on 1 June 2017.
Labels: Pacific Express
Jul 5, 2017
King Bucknor Jr. And His Afrodisk Beat Organisation – Vol. II The Black Isaiah Of Africa - African Woman
A fantastic afro-beat album from a Fela Anikulapo Kuti disciple and Kalakuta Republic member. A sublime spiritual and political session recorded in 1979 at the Emi studio in Lagos ( Nigeria). Arranged and self produced , this second Kingsley Buckor ‘s album , hopelessly obscure and impossible to find ranks alongside the best afro-beat album in history!
At the age of 19, King Bucknor Jr also known as the Black Isaiah of Africa released his second album backed by a 16 band members called « The Afrodisk » and 10 background singers . Two long and hypnotic grooves with all the afro -beat ingredients, fluid and complex drums patterns, strong horns, female voices on chorus, strong lyrics , beautiful keys and horns solos .
Essential for all the afro collectors and music lovers.
Hot Casa present a reissue of King Bucknor Jr. & Afrodisk Beat 79's African Woman, originally released in 1979. African Woman is a fantastic Afro-beat album from the Fela Anikulapo Kuti disciple and Kalakuta Republic member. A sublime spiritual and political session recorded in 1979 at the EMI studio in Lagos, Nigeria. Arranged and self-produced, Kingsley Bucknor's second album, hopelessly obscure and impossible to find, ranks alongside the best Afro-beat albums in history. At the age of 19, King Bucknor Jr., also known as the Black Isaiah of Africa, released his second album backed by a 16-piece band called The Afrodisk, and ten background singers. Two long and hypnotic grooves with all the Afro-beat ingredients: fluid and complex drums patterns, strong horns, female voices on chorus, strong lyrics, beautiful keys, and horns solos. Essential for all Afro collectors and music lovers. Vinyl replica; Remastered by Carvery (UK); Includes inner sleeve with an interview.
Face 1: Woman Nature ( 16.01)
Face 2: Mr Debtor ( 14.40)
Face 1: Woman Nature ( 16.01)
Face 2: Mr Debtor ( 14.40)
Jul 4, 2017
In Spanish, antibalas means “bulletproof”, and while the band of that name has so far avoided lunatics with assault rifles, it’s showing definite signs of being indestructible. Despite recent and extensive lineup changes, New York City’s Afrobeat juggernaut is now readying its first full-length release since 2012 and touring the jazz-festival circuit with renewed vigour.
As singer-percussionist Sifu Amayo explains, it’s kind of an old-meets-new situation. Under the London-born, Lagos-raised musician’s direction, Antibalas is returning to its roots in the sounds he experienced at the legendary Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s Shrine nightclub when he was a teenager: hypnotic, drum-heavy jams topped off with jazzy horn solos and a socially conscious message. But the younger players who have flooded into the band’s lineup since 2015 are also bringing their own 21st-century touches, including electronic treatments and heavier guitars.
“We have a new generation of musicians who have joined, just in the past year,” Amayo tells the Straight in a telephone interview from his Brooklyn home. “So just to get them going we’ve been reviving some of what I call older new material—a lot of stuff that I’d written in the past that was very epical—big, big compositions that just did not fit on the albums that we were doing back then.
“I was kind of holding on to the idea of playing longer compositions that made people study and think and want to know more, as opposed to the three-minute songs that we’re all more used to,” he continues. “So it was an opportunity to try something old and new—‘old’ meaning how we used to listen to music back in the day. You’d put an LP on and let it play, and you’d make time to listen to it. So that’s where we are right now.”
Where the Gods Are at Peace, which Antibalas will release in August, exemplifies this new approach. It contains just three long songs, which link together as the first leg of an eventual trilogy with sci-fi overtones. The central concept involves the arrival of new gods—or “alien cowboys”, as Amayo notes—who join forces with indigenous landkeepers and others to clean up the mess we’re now in.
“Some of us are struggling with this situation where we are today; some of us are coping badly,” Amayo explains. “So I figured, as a musician, I had a mission to look ahead and offer some sort of… Not solutions, but I’m saying ‘Okay, why don’t we just push forward?’ So that’s my perspective: I want to go to a place where the gods are at peace, not a world where the gods are constantly at war.”
And what better way to get there than through music?
Imagine a world where every person is temporarily transported to outer space for the sole purpose of looking back on earth to experience its sheer beauty. For a brief moment, we could all escape the greatest atrocities of our time and take in an outer-world perspective to see all of humanity living in harmonious coexistence. Brooklyn's own Afrobeat stalwarts Antibalas welcomes you aboard an enlightening cosmic voyage to witness the world in a new collective realm, and to journey off to a majestic multi-dimensional island, Where The Gods Are In Peace (Daptone Records: September 15, 2017). As depicted on Antibalas' latest album cover, the intergalactic golden island is a most desirable place waiting for your arrival!
Antibalas' new studio album, Where The Gods Are In Peace, is an epic Afro-Western Trilogy searching for solace from American political opportunism, greed and vengeance. Through its battle cry of resistance against exploitation and displacement, Antibalas' long-form compositions investigate oppression in 1800s America that eerily mirror the current state of the country. Three explosive original arrangements cultivate an urgent call to heal a broken system. Ultimately, the sonic excursion lands on an island where love is our first instinct. A new ideology is born opening our hearts to the possibilities of living as one unified people, where all gods are equal and together we prevail.
True to traditional form, Where The Gods Are In Peace pays respect to the forefathers of Afrobeat with compositions spanning nine to 15 minutes in length. With a blessing from the Fela Kuti legacy early in the band's career, Antibalas has long been revered for re-popularizing the classic Afrobeat sound while adding their distinct New York City grit to the mix. Influences of punk rock, free jazz, and hip-hop seep into their expansive works to define a truly 21st century translation of the Afrobeat genre and beyond.
Where The Gods Are In Peace unfolds with "Gold Rush," a tribute to our forgotten indigenous people. A kung-fu master by day and Afrobeat superstar by night, lead singer Duke Amayo initiates a striking narrative from the devastation of the Gold Rush era. Indigenous communities being depleted of land and resources for the profit supporting a greedy system, Amayo sings of the bloodshed and sacrifice endured by legends Black Hawk, Sun Dancer and Sitting Bull. Reparations are in order for fallen indigenous heroes and slaves who tirelessly fought for freedom.
In the historical lesson presented with "Gold Rush," Antibalas sets forth a thick interlocking groove with a backdrop of hard truths. Dancing with a higher purpose in feeling the pain of the past while ecstatic rhythms move the soul is a form of creative resistance. To engage in full body movement intersected with poignant lyrical expression bonds communities in service of helping rehabilitate the world.
"I don't see what's happening in our country and around the globe as a problem, it's an opportunity," says Amayo. "We fight the hardest when things are about to change. Our generation has the incredible ability to make things better for generations to come. We're at a critical tipping point, it's time for change."
The second composition, "Hook & Crook," is a fearless portrayal of the inherent thievery embedded in our colonial past. Amayo sings of "soaring up Kilimanjaro" to gain a broader perspective to realize he must detach from "crooked hooks." People have the power to wake up, march and dance with defiance. It's time to act now, shake up the system, and end the crooked cycle.
Comprised of three movements, "Tombstown" enters a new beginning, an island rich with gold and lush with resources where balance is restored. The opening movement sets course on being good-doers. Amayo sings, "One whose turn is up, make the world good." When it comes your turn, leaders do good, be just, and act wise.
For the second movement, Antibalas invites Zap Mama to invoke the powers of a goddess to help reshape and rebuild, to carry water to the people. Obstacles arise with an outlaw sheriff galloping to loot hearts and return people to a broken system. In the face of victory, there's always those who try to slow you down. In the final movement, people must elevate to higher ground with spiritual guidance leading them to the gates of Zion. Beyond the gates the outlaw cannot go; we move into the future with open hearts with infinite possibilities.
"There's something unique about making music during these dark times, you're really able to make a difference," says Martín Perna, baritone saxophonist and founder of Antibalas. "It's essential to respond to what's happening politically around the world, and the album title suggests that if the gods are not getting along, then how could people get along. It takes humans out of being at the center of life. Our role as musicians is to present the best art possible, which should ask more questions than it answers."
Labels: Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra
Jul 3, 2017
You’ve got to applaud a band who go above and beyond just to be able to write, play and record their own songs. After guitarist Garba Touré’s home in northern Mali was occupied by jihadists with a violent hatred of music, he fled south to Bamako, the capital, and formed Songhoy Blues with three other musicians.
It is no wonder, then, that ‘Bamako’, the second track on their second studio album, Résistance, is so full of life. This is the place they sought solace, and you can hear it. It’s a song about having a good night out in a town full of energy, and it’s a track that kicks back with brass bursts on odd riffs, adding to the already swelling funked-up guitar line, the stalwart of this band’s sound.
When Damon Albarn’s Africa Express musical project came to Bamako, Songhoy Blues auditioned and were picked to contribute a track to a compilation album, working with Nick Zinner, guitarist of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. They named their first album Music in Exile, a sure-fire description of the band’s dangerous beginnings and an indication of where the anti-music terror of northern Mali had taken them – far from their home.
It then took them on successful tours all around the world. If Résistance stands for something different from that first record, it is the sound of the band continuing to fight back. Music is their form of resistance, and the joy of their sound, as well as the plethora of musical influences they picked up on tour, embody their defiance in never allowing something as life-affirming as music to be taken from them.
The communal spirit lives on. The nature of this music is the expanding joy and its danceable nature – it’s no wonder others want to get in on the act. Notable collaborations on this record come from punk-rock legend Iggy Pop, as well as South London grime artist Elf Kid. At the beginning of ‘Sahara’ is Iggy Pop shouting a somewhat unnecessary “We’re going to the Sahara, baby”, before half-singing, half-speaking “It’s a genuine culture / No Kentucky-fried chicken.” It’s a ridiculous line, made all the more prominent with it being one of the record’s very few lines in English, but you have to imagine it all being said with a smile, from Iggy and the band alike. The track is saved by a wonderfully incessant guitar groove which breaks down into a cutting psych-rock jam, heralded by a funk which resonates throughout the record, continuing with no sense of stopping through slower numbers like ‘Hometown’ and ‘One Colour’, where even a children’s choir doesn’t diminish from the undeniable groove of this band.
Elf Kid’s verse on ‘Mali Nord’ is lyrically typical of the South London grime scene. You could argue that this Lewisham youth has few problems compared to the genuine risk of losing your hands if you are caught playing music, a very real risk once faced by the members of Songhoy Blues. But hearing the voice of a young rapper alert to the problems of asylum-seeking is reassuring. It also seems to point in just the direction the Songhoy boys are after: of varying people from any background coming together simply to play music.
It’s a music difficult to neatly categorise (as much of the best music often is) and western listeners should be careful not to generalise. Any notion of ‘desert music’, associated with the legendary Sahara stalwarts Tinariwen, doesn’t quite fit here. The musicians may all be from Western Africa with similar back-stories of having escaped troubles in their homelands, but where Tinariwen take a back-seat groove approach, Songhoy Blues are their younger, faster champions, with a far fuller pocket of energy. This quartet are very much a pop guitar band, borrowing from American blues icons like the Jimi Hendrix or John Lee Hooker they spent their teenage years stuck on, or Talking Heads' Remain in Light, which, itself, took inspiration from Western African music.
Traditional African influences come to the surface in the spirit with which frontman Aliou Touré sings in a loving call-and-response style with his bandmates. Short solos for fiddle bring tracks like ‘Hometown’ back to the roots of what this kind of ‘folk’ music – in its very original sense, meaning music of the people, of ordinary, acoustic instruments – is about. Elsewhere, handheld percussion cuts through the chorus of ‘Yersi Yadda’, competing with the Western drum kit, but even keener to stick to the slinky guitar riff it emulates.
Where British guitar bands like the Arctic Monkeys have failed in enabling their audiences to dance in any way more stylised than an up-down jump, this guitar band play songs you could very nearly jive to, partner in hand.
Labels: Songhoy Blues
Jun 30, 2017
.... around a distrust of Nigeria's elites. Now they're the audience for the musical about his life.
It’s a humid Thursday evening at one of the most exclusive hotels in Lagos, and police are everywhere. They check drinks at every entrance, supervise metal detectors and patrol the lobby in bulletproof vests while hundreds of wealthy Lagosians and expats sip overpriced cocktails and munch on fancified street food.
Security is always tight at private events in this city of 22 million, but the cops’ presence feels especially strange because the guests who paid $15 to $160 to be at the Eko Hotel are there to see a bare-bones version of a Broadway show celebrating the life and music of a singer who built his reputation on his fervent hatred of the Nigerian elite and the police who protect them.
“Them dey break, yes, them dey steal, yes, them dey loot, yes,” Fela Kuti sang about the police and military, before he died of AIDS in 1997. “Them dey rape, yes, them dey burn, yes, them dey burn.”
Across town, Kuti’s son, Femi, was preparing for his weekly public rehearsal at his family’s legendary concert hall, the Shrine, where entrance is free most nights of the week, cold beers are $1.50, and a joint doesn’t cost much more.
The contradiction of these two coinciding events underscores some of the inherent challenges of reproducing a Broadway show in the city where it’s set. That’s especially true in Lagos, the West African megacity defined by its vast income inequality, a theme central to much of Fela Kuti’s music.
Kuti was known worldwide as the king of Afrobeat. He produced about 50 albums of politically conscious music that enraged the Nigerian government and defended universal struggles of the working class, earning himself comparisons to Bob Marley.
The musical “Fela!” premiered off-Broadway in New York in 2008 and moved to Broadway the following year. Since its debut, more than a million people have seen the production across the United States and England, and it has racked up three Tony Awards. The show chronicles Kuti’s difficult life, features his original music and offers audiences a lens into his rise to fame, which led to his violent encounters with police and soldiers who targeted him for his political lyrics.
When Kuti’s son, Femi, a famous musician in his own right, first heard about the show celebrating his father, he claimed he would only watch it in New York if the producers promised it would later come to Nigeria. “When I finally saw it, I cried like a baby,” Kuti said. “I wasn’t ready. They took my mind back.”
And the production team kept its side of the promise, bringing “Fela!” home for the first time in 2011 and the second time last month. But there’s a discord between the somewhat glamorous story of Fela’s ascent and the way a musical celebrating him had to be packaged when it was brought to his hometown.
“When you present this play in New York or in London, it’s a story,” said Rikki Stein, Kuti’s longtime manager and friend, who served as executive producer for “Fela!” “In Lagos, it’s history.”
To Nigerians, Kuti was much more than a singer. He was one of the country’s first musicians who tried to use his fame as a force for good. His lyrics criticized the Nigerian government for corruption and human rights abuses, and Kuti paid the price: He was arrested about 200 times, and his mother died from injuries she sustained during a military raid on their home. At one point, soldiers assigned to stop his performances burned down the original Shrine.
None of that slowed Kuti down. He even tried to run for president. “He proclaimed that his first act upon being elected would be to enroll the entire population in the police force,” Stein wrote in Kuti’s obituary. “Then, he said, ‘Before a policeman could slap you, he would have to think twice because you’re a policeman, too.’” (Unsurprisingly, Nigerian officials barred him from participating in the election.)
Even two decades after his death, Kuti’s music is played and replayed across the country, and his lyrics remain ever relevant to Nigerians’ daily lives.
Lagos is the most populous city in Africa, and Nigeria’s massive oil industry has created a visible wealth gap here. Decades-old waterfront slums now sit in the shadows of high-rise condominiums, and there’s so much demand for luxury apartments that developers are building man-made islands to create more space to accommodate them. The cost of living in the city’s most expensive areas is comparable to Los Angeles or New York.
In the poorer areas, deep in the heart of mainland Lagos, where Kuti’s son Femi lives, electricity will go out for weeks at a time. And an unemployment crisis has prompted so many Nigerians to leave the country that they accounted for 10% of all migrants and refugees who crossed the Mediterranean during 2016, according to the United Nations.
Despite Nigeria’s class struggle, time has changed Kuti’s legacy here, allowing the very people he criticized to come to appreciate his music and his movement. “Fela! The Concert” ran for four nights in Lagos in April, and while it may have been marketed to a higher-income bracket, its goal was to continue to share and celebrate Kuti’s life and impact in Nigeria.
Kuti earned his fame while the country was ruled by a military dictatorship. It has since transitioned to a fledgling democracy, and while corruption and abuse of power remain rampant, Kuti’s international recognition and the passage of time have softened his reputation. Once seen solely as a maker of protest music, now he is embraced with pride by mainstream Nigerian culture.
In the latest rendition of the musical, the producers dropped much of the original storyline to create a stripped-down show of Kuti’s most famous hits. The downsizing was largely a logistical decision, Stein said. When the musical cast visited Lagos in 2011, it took 40 tons of equipment, five trucks and 94 people just to unload and install the set. Despite the adjustments, the most recent show didn’t disappoint: It was complete with a 10-piece Afrobeat band, a troupe of dancers, and of course, Kuti himself, played by American actor Sahr Ngaujah.
On opening night, Kuti’s fans flooded excitedly into an air-conditioned concert hall at the hotel, and those in the front rows were soon on their feet. Many of the attendees who dished out for tickets are not regulars at the Shrine, where Femi Kuti still plays twice a week. Still, the younger Kuti understands his father’s reach, and has become more open to remembrances that honor him in different settings.
“Everyone loved him because his touched everyone’s pain,” Kuti said of his father. “Plumber, carpenter, driver, house help — everybody understood him.”
Ola Abidakun, a local government official who paid $75 for his seats to the show at the Eko Hotel was drawn to it in part because it wasn’t a Nigerian production. “When I heard it was performed by non-Nigerians, non-Africans, even, I thought, ‘That’s amazing,’” he said. “‘I just have to see it.’”
Abidakun’s comments run contrary to what Femi described as the most common criticism his father’s friends and fans have expressed over the original show. When talk first emerged about the American interpretation of Kuti’s stories, many people believed it should have been produced and cast by Nigerians. But Femi came to disagree with that sentiment, and now sees the benefits of showcasing it with an international hook. The level of dramatic and musical training needed to make the show work couldn’t have happened without the support available on Broadway, he said.
In 2011, at Femi’s request, the “Fela!” cast performed one show for a jam-packed crowd at the Shrine, and tickets were only a few bucks a pop. But the sheer cost of moving a massive performance abroad means that just to break even, the tickets can’t always be so affordable. After that opening night, the show moved to the Eko Hotel, where it also lived for the entirety of its return to Lagos last month. On that first night at the hotel in April, the audience called for encore after encore.
“Fela’s life deserves to be global,” Femi said. “He deserves for everyone to understand Nigeria and the political climate, what was happening in his mind and what his struggles were.”
Originally published @ latimes.com
Labels: Fela Kuti