Political activist, outspoken radical and inventor of "Afro-Beat", Fela Anikulapo ("he-who-carries-death-in-his-pouch") Kuti left behind him an incomparable legacy of music when he died in 1997. His struggles against the Nigerian state became the stuff of legend in his home country, his denunciations of world leaders such as Reagan and Thatcher gained him notoriety abroad. But his music remains as his supreme achievement over and above the details of his amazingly courageous life, even if many (most) of his lyrics are angry condemnations of politicians. His vast output of recordings can hardly be distilled onto two discs, but Black President
(named after a classic 1981 album) is nevertheless a good introduction to this extraordinary man and his music. The album lacks any personnel details and fails to indicate the origins of each track, but it scarcely matters: Fela's band, Africa 70, was a large and always flexible group (it rarely actually boasted 70 members), with the only constant presence being his 30 backing singers, most of whom were also his wives! Throughout, the beats are solid, the solos are never overpowering and the rhythm--the powerful, hypnotic rhythm--is always preeminent. If, in the end, it's impossible to divorce Fela Kuti's music from his life, it is at least a real pleasure just to play this album and let his grooves possess your spirit. --Mark Walker
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