The "Fill in the Blank" of "Who Knows Where"  

Posted by Wayne Bretski in

Today we're going to start incredulously staring at a series of artists that have come to exemplify a particular style of music native to their country. The prototype here is Bob Marley, ambassador of reggae music and Jamaican generally. I'll probably be posting much more of my old reggae (ska, calypso, soca, etc.), but the number of "Bob Marley" fans to "roots reggae" fans is a little ridiculous.

The Stare is tipping a glass to all time greats, at infrequent time periods. To start, I think the most apt comparison to Marley is Fela Anikulapo [Ransome] Kuti. While Marley had nothing to do with reggae's origins, however, Fela virtually invented the genre with his band. The two biggest names in traditional Nigerian Afro-Beat are his son Femi Kuti and his former drummer Tony Allen. He was a towering giant in the political and musical history of Nigeria, and Africa in general, and I'd like to share some of his music, and that which recalls his legacy.

Afro-Beat is primarily dance music, based on West African highlife. While highlife is a jazz-based genre, and Fela himself had studied Classical music and jazz in Britain, he took his stage clues from American R & B and funk acts, especially James Brown. And while the music is meant to move the body, the sheer length of many songs kept the audience from losing their heads:

Shuffering and Shmiling, Part 2

Furthermore, he was decidedly outspoken politically, decrying the corruption and crime, violence and insensitivity, and racism of African governance, not the least problematic of which was Nigeria's president Abiola and General Obasanjo.

Teacher Don't Teach Me No Nonsense, Part 2

A strong believer in Pan-Africanism, Kuti at various times embraced socialism, the Black Panther movement, and his own brands of political ideology: in the '70s he established a communal home/recording studio for many connected to the band known as the Kalakuta Republic. Although he declared it outside of Nigeria's law, the authorities disagreed. The Republic was also formed in part as a polygamist colony; at one time Kuti had 27 wives.

Beast of No Nation

Fela died in 1997 of complications related to AIDS. His legacy lives on in his son Femi, who records and tours in the Afro-Beat style today. He is as politically outspoken as his father, while also opening his music to a wider array of collaborators from the West.

Here's Traitors of Africa, and here's Mos Def on Do Your Best; both off of Fight to Win.

Tony Allen drummed with Fela for most of his career, and he's still making vital music. 2005's Lagos No Shaking was outstanding, and he's just released a new album.

Here's Morose from Lagos, and Crazy Afrobeat from Home Cooking, 2007.

More Afro-beat goodness:

Lafayette Afro Rock Band with Darkest Light

Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, with Beaten Metal

Finally, the Red, Hot series caught up to Fela with the "+ Riot" edition, here's Water No Get Enemy by Femi Kuti with D'Angelo, Macy Gray, and Ahmir '?uestlove' Thompson.

Fela Project
Interesting Guardian article
Talking Drum profile
Always the Wikipedia
And Red, Hot & Riot info here.


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