Anthology Vol 2 CD+DVD, Explicit Lyrics
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Fela Kuti was, in many people's opinion, the greatest African musician of all time, whose influence has spread not just throughout African Music, but has also influenced many of the greatest Western musicians, from the Beatles and Stevie Wonder to James Brown. This is the second in the series of Anthologies commemorating Fela’s musical legacy. Anthology Volume 2 is a beautifully packaged 3 disc set, concentrating on his most prolific period 1975–1980 and including a DVD featuring a concert recorded in Berlin in 1978, which has never been released before and is exclusive to this set.
Fela Kuti died back in 1997, and since then his popularity and reputation have grown as a new generation discovers the music of this extraordinary Nigerian musician, bandleader, composer and rebel politician. Quite right, too, for Fela was the originator of Afrobeat, the fusion of funk, jazz and Yoruba influences that continues to inspire musicians worldwide. And his life was so extraordinary and extreme that it’s no surprise that it became the subject of a hit Broadway musical.
But during his lifetime it was all rather different. He had a devoted following in the West, for sure, but when African styles first began to win an international following in the 1980s, he was never as commercially successful as fellow Nigerian King Sunny Adé. His lengthy songs were too adventurous for audiences that didn’t understand his furious political messages, and the fact that he was at times unable to tour because he was jailed by the Nigerian authorities clearly didn’t help his career. Now, at last, the West has caught up, and this thrilling set, the second part of the excellent Fela Anthology, is a rousing introduction to his work.
The best place to hear Fela’s blend of musical invention and firebrand politics was at his Lagos club, the Shrine, where he would arrive at two or three in the morning, invariably puffing on a joint as he launched into furious attacks on Nigeria’s military governments. The authorities hated him, especially when he declared the area around the club to be an independent state, the Kalakuta Republic, and in 1977 the military launched a full-scale assault on his ‘republic’ during which Fela said his singers and dancers were raped, and his mother killed by being thrown from a window. These horrific events led to the classic Fela songs on this set, which covers the period from 1975-80. They include the furious Unknown Soldier, dealing with the attack, to the more thoughtful Coffin for Head of State, telling how Fela presented the soldiers with a replica of his mother’s coffin (getting himself beaten yet again in the process).
Other great songs here include Kalakuta Show, dealing with an earlier attack on his club, along with Zombie, on which Fela shows off his keyboard work, and Africa Centre of the World, featuring Fela’s fine saxophone duets with vibraphone star Roy Ayers. This set also includes a DVD of Fela playing in Berlin in 1978, and excellent sleeve notes by his daughter Yeni. It’s crucial listening for any African music enthusiast. --Robin Denselow
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Around the turn of the millennia Afrobeat seemed to have become a marginal style in world music. Its founder had died three years earlier and we all knew his son was making music, but so was Damian Marley. Ten years later however, Afrobeat is back in the spotlight. A musical about Fela Kuti's life won 4 Tony Awards, books about his life are being reissued and published, a film is being made about his life and countless bands are playing the Afrobeat style of music worldwide. The release of the Anthology of Fela's music fits in nicely with this global reawakening. Each CD covers a certain period in Fela's development and lets you put the finger on its specifics. This box set comes with a booklet with information and lyrics.
Disc 1: Fela & Africa 70 (1975-1976)
This period is characterized by subtle political commentaries and the subtle drumming of master musician Tony Allen. High points are Everything Scatter with its ultra catchy sax line and vocal response. He Miss Road is an unusually cheerful song with a Calypso feel to it. Kalakuta Show is a total horns orgy. The 1975 version of Na Poi has one of the best intro's in the Fela Kuti catalogue.
Disc 2: Fela & Africa 70 (1977-1980)
In this period we find Fela's last corroborations with Tony Allen (he left Africa 70 in 1978). One of Fela's most important songs is featured, Zombie, which led to a military attack of his compound in 1977. Fela's mother died because of injuries sustained in the attack. In Coffin for Head of State, his most emotional song, he bemoans his mother's death and points the finger at the Nigerian government. Africa Center of the World is a long and hypnotic piece with great vibraphone solo's by Jazz giant Roy Ayers.
Disc 3: Live at the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1978 (DVD)
The DVD features the opening act of the prestigious Berlin Jazz Festival of 1978. It was broadcasted both on German television as well as live on Nigerian television. This is a transfer from old television material to DVD. That being said, I think it's the best live footage of Fela Kuti on DVD I've ever seen (and I've seen it all). You get an excellent view of the musicians and back-up singers as well as of Fela. The sound quality is everything you could ask for of a transfer to DVD.
This is a seated gig and the band is completely surrounded by public. The festival is kicked off by a man giving an introduction in German with no subtitling provided. Then Quincy Joppes introduces all members of the Africa 70 band including a youngish looking Tony Allen and Lekan Animashuan (still playing in Egypt 80 today!). After a Black Power salute the band plays four songs, lasting almost 90 minutes in total. If you want to keep the ending a surprise, hit the "purchase now" button above or jump to my conclusion further down.
We all know Afrobeat is a male dominated music style. But the true gem of this DVD are Fela's Dancing Queens who appear during the last song. Seeing these traditionally clad African ladies move their bodies to Fela's sax solo's and Tony Allen's drum solo's is going to blow your mind, as it has blown mine. Every one of the seven dancers featured has her own unique style of dancing and some of them make such sexual movements that I'm surprised the footage wasn't censored by the German television! The only con of the dvd is that the credits appearing at the end and obscure the dancers for about a minute or so. So yes, the ladies steal the show!
I would have gladly paid the price of this box set for the bonus DVD. Knowing that you get more than 2,5 hours of killer music with it makes this an absolutely essential purchase for any Fela Kuti fan. If you own Anthology 1, you will surely want to buy this one as well. If you don't, I don't see much point in starting with Anthology 1, choose the one that most appeals to you. This box set, Anthology 1 or the Best of the Black President compilation are all excellent starting points if you want to be ahead of the pack before Afrobeat is going to explode, as it surely will when the biopic about Fela's life hits the theaters.
Julio Punch (Webmaster of The Shrine: The Unofficial Website for Fela Kuti and Afrobeat Music)
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