OK, now before looking at the songs on this compilation and thinking "I already have a couple of those song, I'll pass out on this one", bear with me in this review.
This CD traces the true Genesis of Afrobeat, the unique musical style that was created as a political instrument, but has a sexual party groove that you won't find elsewhere. First and foremost, more so than any Fela Kuti compilation in existence, this CD holds the roots from which all branches of the Afrobeat tree sprang.
This first part in a three part anthology comes with a little booklet with a reminiscence of her dad by Fela's oldest daughter, Yeni. I'll talk about some of the details of the discs below.
This disc starts out with Fela playing in Koola Lobitas an African influenced Jazz band. Highlife Time is a joyful song with Fela on trumpet (he later switched to saxophone). Omutide Tide has a funny nod to Miles Davis by incorporating a piece of his song When The Saints Come Marching In. On Viva Nigeria we hear the first signs of Fela's emerging political consciousness. Swegbe and Pako is a unique song in that it has an unusual male to male "call and answer" lyrics in Yoruba. This song sounds a lot like Juju music. With Black Man's Cry Afrobeat has emerged. The disc ends with two swinging instrumentals.
This disc features Fela's Africa 70 period. Roforo Fight is a horns orgy. Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am and Monkey Banana are two songs with a slower rhythm and very enjoyable. Gentleman and Water No Get Enemy are probably Fela's two most important anthems of this period and maybe of his entire career.
TEACHER DON'T TEACH ME NONSENSE
Although Music is The Weapon is generally viewed as the definitive documentary on the life and music of Fela Kuti, Teacher don't Teach Me Nonsense is a high quality documentary from 1985 that contains both an up close interview with the creator of Afrobeat and fragments of his legendary gig at the famous Glastonbury festival in the year 1984.
Fela seems calmer and less militant as in Music is The Weapon, but tells us interesting stories about his use of Pidgin (Broken English) for his lyrics, his spiritual awakening through contact with the Black Power movement in the US and the corruption in Africa he so vividly denounced. The film is about half music and half documentary. The documentary is interspersed with fragments from the gig beginning with Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense and then Confusion Break Bone (they were performed at the festival in opposite order). There is English subtitling translating Fela's pidgin. So this DVD is at present our only chance to catch footage on DVD of this gig of Fela and his Egypt 80 at his/their prime. The only known footage of Fela performing percussion, which is still the heart of African music, is included.
SO WHY THE FIVE STARS?
I've been into Afrobeat for 25 years and if a newcomer would ask me to suggest one CD it would be this one. It portrays Fela Kuti's (arguably) best work of his career while master drummer Tony Allen was still playing in his band. I got into Fela in the early 1980's and am a big fan of some of the Egypt 80 stuff, but this CD has really reopened my eyes towards this period. The songs are not that long, this musicians (especially Tony Allen) outstanding and the music has a lighter more swinging feel to it than the more militaristic Egypt 80 stuff. Also, there's a lot more variation between the songs. OK, you've read all the way down, so now you're ready to buy it!
Julio Punch (Webmaster of The Shrine: The Unofficial Website for Fela Kuti and Afrobeat Music)