Thursday, September 13, 2018

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70 - 1974 - Alagbon Close

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70
Alagbon Close

01. Alagbon Close 16:50
02. I No Get Eye For Back 11:23

Tenor Saxophone, Alto Saxophone, Electric Piano, Vocals – Fela Ransome Kuti
Baritone Saxophone – Lekan Animashaun
Congas – Daniel Koranteg, Henry Koffi
Drums – Tony Allen
Electric Bass – Franco Aboddy
Guitar – Segun Edo
Maracas – Isaac Olaleye
Percussion – James Abayomi, Nicholas Addo
Rhythm Guitar – Tutu Shoronmu
Tenor Saxophone – Christopher Uwaifor
Trumpet, Soloist [Trumpet] – Tunde Williams

Fela wrote the track Alagabon Close to lampoon the police after he was detained at the police station which, not coincidentally, is located in a cul de sac of the same name. In this deeply anti-establishment song, Fela describes the harsh tactics that the police employ to control society, detailing their favoritism of the wealthy elite and their mistreatment of the poor. In Alagbon Close, Fela tells us, you can be detained indefinitely, you will be brutalized, you will be treated as an animal — the police have no respect for human beings. The song represents one of the first times anyone had directly taken on the Nigerian authorities in such a brash manner. “I No Get Eye For Back”, a song emanating from a lyric in “Alagbon Close”, is a more melodic, instrumentally focused piece, with Fela musing in both pidgin and Yoruba.

Released in the middle of Fela's peak, Alagbon Close is a little less structurally daring than either Gentleman or Afrodisiac, with Fela mostly riding a single groove all the way through both tracks. No matter, though - there was no one, maybe ever, writing funkier rhythms than Fela, and the fiery chanting and soloing that are the man's trademarks are in full effect. Not an essential Fela release like most of the records that surround it, but a rewarding listen nonetheless.

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70 - 1974 - Confusion

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70 

01. Confusion Pt. I
02. Confusion Pt. II

Tenor Saxophone, Piano, Vocals – Fela Ransome-Kuti
Baritone Saxophone – Lekan Animashaun
Bass Guitar – George Mark Bruce
Congas – Daniel Koranteg, Henry Koffi
Drums – Tony Allen
Guitar [Tenor] – Segun Edo
Maracas – Isaac Olaleye
Percussion [Sticks] – James Abayomi
Rhythm Guitar – Tutu Shoronmu
Trumpet – Tony Njoku

This Afrobeat epic contains just one eponymous track clocking in at just over 25 minutes in length, and beginning with a mysterious and psychedelic musical interplay between Fela on organ and Tony Allen on drums. As the song takes on a righteously funky groove, Fela evokes the chaos of Lagos — the multitude of regional dialects, the gnarly traffic jams, the absence of a policeman to take charge — as a metaphor for the larger problems of post-colonial Nigeria.

4 mins of really awesome freeform jazz. 

A slow buildup: first bass, then electric guitar and tenor guitar (about the same time), and before you know it, the groove has started. 

Over this (by now extremely intense) groove, you hear a few improvised solos (2 sax solos and a trumpet solo). 

The (really intense) groove continues for a few minutes, then it calms down, and Fela starts humming, then starts singing. Call and response chorus comes, his backing singers doing the response. Continues for about 5-6 mins. 

After the singing, the groove having built up throughout, it is back at full intensity, and there is another solo or 2. Then the song gradually stops, then there is another minute of freeform jazz, and the song ends with all the instruments playing a chord each (and the percussionists hitting their instruments a few times). 

25 and a half minutes of the absolute best african funk music (not to mention the awesome freeform jazz). Essential for any fan of african music, freeform jazz, funk, or any fan of good music. 

What is there to say about Confusion? It's Fela's most epic composition, beginning with dark, minimalist funk before slowly expanding into one of his fullest and most lively Afrobeat jams. The piece is backed by the greatest production Fela would ever get, emphasizing the psychedelic qualities of his sustained tones and group vocals. It features potentially his greatest lyric sheet, a scathing indictment of colonial politics and the amorphous identity it imposed upon Nigerian people and culture. On top of that, Fela also composed maybe his funkiest guitar lines and organ riffs for this piece, locked them into a single, nearly 26-minute track, and gave his band free reign to improvise within his groove.

"Confusion" is the gold standard of long-form funk, and easily the most essential Africa '70 album. A watershed moment for music, and an album that will change the way you look at the world. A must-hear.

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70 - 1973 - Gentleman

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70

01. Gentleman
02. Igbe (Na Shit)
03. Fe Fe Ne Eye Fe

Tenor Saxophone, Alto Saxophone, Electric Piano, Vocals – Fela Ransome Kuti
Tenor Saxophone – Igo Chico (tracks: B1, B2)
Trumpet – Tunde Williams

The title track of this excellent album has often been hailed as Fela’s masterpiece. Musically innovative, melodically addictive, Fela got it all right in this politically scathing song in which he opposes Westernization and those who imitate Western ways. “I no be gentleman at all,” Fela sings, and then goes on to detail the ways in which he’s a “true African original”, and therefore superior to those who wear three-piece suits and hold tight to their colonial mentality. 

Fela follows this track with Fefe Na Efe, which derives its name from an Ashanti proverb describing the beauty of a woman holding her breasts as she runs. Fela, who had many Ghanaian fans (and more than a few Ghanaian wives and girlfriends), sings this lush track as a tribute to Ghana, a country he loved. 

Finally, “Igbe” again shows the artist breaking cultural taboos by singing literally and figuratively about “shit”, as the word translates to, describing those friends who may betray you.

The title song takes me back to a moment in time that was very important for me. It was when I began to go out to the clubs. Since the early and mid-seventies were a harvest time for black music, I naturally gravitated towards the clubs that played black music. It was also a time when a lot of young Africans came to Germany to study or to flee from the revolutionary turmoil that had been going on in many countries there. I was in my puberty, and hanging out in those clubs was an act of initiation. I remember I became friends with some guys from Cameroon who I used to go out with, or I'd visit them at their shared apartments. Those guys eventually took me to the club where I would soon start to DJ myself. There they played Gentleman, too, and also lots of Fela other records.

Whenever I listen to the title song of this LP, it takes me back to those days. I start moving immediately. I see the dim-lit clubs, the packed dance floor with people from all over the world, half of them stoned, everybody moving to the hypnotic groove. I always thought Gentleman is one of Fela's best tracks. That's because of the ingenious beat, that fat bass line and really the entire band, and the fact that most of its 14+ minutes is instrumental, and the solos are also great.

Gentleman is one of his absolute best songs, and dare I say, has the best horn hook of any Fela song. Like many other Fela songs, it has an extended intro and then the bass comes in and you're hit with an unstoppable groove. The second half of the song has some of Fela's best call-and-response and some clever lyrics on colonialism in Africa. Let a KKK member listen to this song and I guarantee you he'd be singing along "I be Africa man original" by the end of it.

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70 - 1972 - Afrodisiac

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70

01. Alu Jon Jonki Jon
02. Chop And Quench
03. Eko Ile
04. Je'Nwi Temi (Don't Gag Me)

Baritone Saxophone – Lekan Animashaun
Bass Guitar – Maurice Ekpo
Vocals, Sax, Trumpet, Piano – Fela Ransome-Kuti
Congas – Akwesi Korranting, Friday Jumbo, Henry Koffi
Drums – Tony Allen
Percussion [Shekere] – Isaac Olaleye
Percussion [Sticks] – Tony Abayomi
Rhythm Guitar – Peter Animashaun
Tenor Saxophone – Igo Chiko
Trumpet [Solo] – Eddie Faychum, Tunde Williams

The collection of songs making up the album title AFRODISIAC were songs Fela and the Nigeria 70 (Later Africa 70) re-recorded at the EMI studio, Abbey Road London, in 1971. Originally recorded and released in Nigeria on 45rpm, they were Fela’s first successive hits in the Nigerian music charts. 

Alu Jon Jonki Jon: The first song in the collection is a traditional moonlight tale, made into a song. Yoruba mythology makes constant references to inter-reaction between the human and the animal world—a CO-habitation between the two worlds. Once there was a great famine that ravaged the entire world, so goes the tale. To survive this famine, all animals agreed to sacrifice their mothers in the collective cooking-pot. When it came to the turn of the dog, the other animals discovered that he had secretly hidden away his mother in heaven. Alu Jon Jon Ki Jon, the other animals chorused after the dog, treating him as a selfish and dishonest comrade. 

Jeun Ko Ku (Chop’n Quench): This piece was Fela’s first musical success in Nigeria. It paved the way for his eventual popularity throughout Africa. Within six months of its release, this track sold more than two hundred thousand copies—a reason why it remains one of the most exploited(instrumental/vocal versions) of Fela’s repertoires. Jen Ko Ku is about a glutton—who eats himself to death. 

Eko Ile: is about the popular adage: ‘no place like home’. Eko is the traditional name for Lagos City, before the Portuguese renamed it Lagos. 

Je’nwi Temi (Don’t Gag Me): is the first of Fela’s attacks at the Nigeria ‘powers that be’. A strong message that he is not one to be gagged. Sung in Yoruba language, it says: …’even if you jail me? You cannot shut my mouth! I will open my mouth like basket! You cannot shut my mouth!’. He goes on to stress that the truth is bitter, but it remains what it is – the TRUTH. Hence, he will not stop talking and singing about the truth. 

Afrodisiac has a character to me that seems like the middle ground between Kuti's raw late 60s sound and his more polished post-Roforofo Fight output.  To me, the funkiest track is Eko Ile, the side two opener which also happens to be the shortest track on the album.  The sheer number of tracks make it seem like a tip of the hat to the days of the London scene.  After the Gentleman album, Fela would rely on the one or two song format almost exclusively through his career.  Eko Ile has a bounce to it which I appreciate, but I also dig the overdriven organ sound that Kuti gets by the close of the first track.  All things considered this is another consistent Kuti album that fits along well with the albums that surround it, which are arguably the best of his career

God damn this rocks.  Fela makes indescribably funky music without really sounding anything at all like the American music we traditionally think of as funk, and yet any of the four tracks here could sit comfortably on a mix next to Parliament or Sly Stone.  Absolutely amazing.

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70 - 1972 - Music Of Fela: Roforofo Fight

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70
Music Of Fela: Roforofo Fight

01. Roforofo Fight 15:33
02. Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am 12:00
03. Question Jam Answer 13:45
04. Go Slow 17:21

Baritone Saxophone – Lekan Animashaun
Bass Guitar – George Bruce
Congas [1st] – Henry Kofi
Congas [2nd] – Daniel Koranteg
Drums – Tonny Allen
Guitar [Tenor] – Segun Edo
Maracas – Issac Olaleye
Percussion [Sticks] – James Abayomi
Rhythm Guitar – Tutu Shoronmu
Tenor Saxophone – Christopher Uwaifor
Tenor Saxophone, Alto Saxophone, Vocals – Fela Ransome Kuti
Trumpet – Tunde Williams

Roforofo Fight: Roforofo Fight is about human intolerance towards each other. Issues that could be resolved amicably usually end up in fist fights. Sometimes such fights end up bloody or muddy. Dramatizing the scenario that ensues before a fight, particularly in a muddy place. Fela says it usually starts with words like: ‘You dey craze! I no craze! Get away Who are you?’. These are two people who could quietly resolve their differences, screaming and yelling at each other. Unfortunately for both of them, the area where the argument is taking place is full of mud. Within seconds, they draw the attention of passers-by, turning into a crowd. ‘If you dey among the crowd wey dey look! And your friend dey among the two wey dey yap!…Tell am make him no fight oh!…’. Meaning if you are in the crowd watching, please advise your friend not to fight if he is one of the two arguing. Because human egos, instead of heeding the advise, walk away quietly. Both will feel disrespected and shamed. To settle score, the tow of them chose physical combat in the mud—a muddy fight follows. At the end of the fight, onlookers couldn’t differentiate the one from the other, both of them look like twins. They won’t get any sympathy from the people looking too: ‘…you don tell am before make him no fight! Roforofo dey for there!…’ 

Go Slow: Go slow is about the crawling Lagos traffic jam that symbolizes the confusion that reigns in Nigeria. Fela compares the traffic situation with a person in jail. He says: ‘you have to be a man in life!’. That is a natural instinct in man but when caught in Lagos traffic, all your aspirations and confidence as a man will wither away. You feel suddenly incapacitated, like a man in jail. Or how would you feel driving on a Lagos road and suddenly, in your front there is a lorry to your left a taxi cab, all vehicles in a standstill. Also to your right, a tipper truck and behind you a ‘molues’ passenger bus and above you a helicopter flying. To complete the picture of you imprisoned on the Lagos highway. 
Question Jam Answer: ‘When question drop for mouth! Answer go run after am! When question jam answer for road? Another thing will happen.’ Singing about human nature, Fela says when people pose questions at each other, they definitely get answered back — the result of the answer could result into something we never expect, such as: ‘Why did you step on my leg?’ ‘Didn’t you see my leg on the ground?’, these are questions that need answers. Quickly answer replies: ‘Why did you put your leg in my way? Don’t you see me coming?’. It is a song to those who like to pose questions to always bear in mind that they may not get the answers they expect to their questions. 

Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am: Broken English translation of ‘Trouble Sleep Yanga Am’ literally means: ‘toying with a loaded gun’ or ‘playing with fire’. It is a song talking about the limit to human endurance. Mr. Trouble is lying quietly and Mr. Provocation (yanga) goes to play around him. What else could he be looking for except palaver. A good example of such trouble-shooting is that of a man who has just got out of prison and goes about desperately looking for work in order to avoid what led him to jail. While at it, a police man stops and charges the man for wandering. Fela asks what could the police man be looking for, but trouble. It is like when a cat is asleep and a rat goes to bite its tail. Or a tenant who has just lost his job, sitting quietly thinking of where his next meal will come from. His landlord comes knocking, demanding his rent. Of cause he will get trouble bigger than the rent he came to collect. Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am simply means there is a limit to any human endurance. 

Shenshema: Sung in broken English, this song signifies different things. It could mean a shameful thing if addressed that way, and it could mean out of use or out-of-service if used to describe a problematic machine. A care you have to push to start is Shenshema. For a woman who has thirty-nine men because she feels thirty-six is not enough is regarded as Shenshema. A man who has thirty-three woman and complains he cannot get ninety-nine is regarded as Shenshema. A man or woman who uses chemical products to bleach her skin in order to lighten his or her skin is Shenshema. Same for the man or woman who wears a wig to cover his or her natural hair. 

Ariya: Ariya, in Yoruba language means ‘good times’. Fela, in Ariya, tries to convey the celebration of good times-saying: ‘…we are having a good time! It is no one’s business!’ What we get high on doesn’t concern them. It is a party song for everyone to get together and have good times. 
Waiting for the bass to come in on Roforofo Fight is the longest and most rewarding 1:40 of your life. And after you've heard the horn hook for the first time, you're in a total trance for the next 13 minutes.

I wonder what exactly stung him that got him to write this? I mean, his work prior to this was good, but this is just ridiculous. It's like a brand new man - All the energy and spunk of before cranked up to eleven and polished to mirror shine, and without forgetting to throw some experiments along the way (Trouble Sleep Wake Am remains one of the most singular tracks he ever made). It makes me wonder why he only felt like making sub-30 min albums from here on out, because in this whole hour of call and responses, African chants and fierce horns there is not one second wasted. What's more, every track has its own unique flavor - Take the relentless title track, the beautiful shambling 'Trouble...', the night sky expansiveness of 'Question...' or the sheer march-like strut of 'Go Slow', there's something here for basically anyone.

Pretty much perfect from top to bottom.

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70 - 1972 - Shakara

Fela Ransome-Kuti And The Africa '70 

01. Lady
02. Shakara Oloje

Recorded in Lagos, Nigeria in 1971

Baritone Saxophone – Lekan Animashaun
Bass Guitar – Tommy James
Congas [1st Konga] – Henry Kofi
Congas [2nd Konga] – Daniel Koranteg
Drums [Leader Drummer] – Tonny Allen
Guitar [Tenor Guitar] – Segun Edo
Maracas – Isaac Olaleye
Percussion – James Abayomi
Rhythm Guitar – Tutu Shoronmu
Tenor Saxophone – Igo Chico
Trumpet – Tony Njoku
Vocals, Trumpet, Piano – Fela Ransome Kuti

This is, to my ears, the first Fela masterpiece, with not a moment of un-funky, non-transcendent groove to be found. There would be plenty more, but they all follow this same formula: Fela, in a political rage, channeling his anger through tight grooves, interweaving guitar lines, horn charts, and his own smooth organ playing into a patchwork that fill every second with ecstatic bliss. Roforofo Fight had hinted at this but had too much fat; here, Fela trims it and delivers a totally flawless gem.

Shakara is one of the most upbeat and exciting albums in the Fela catalogue.  The group is in its prime with two fifteen minute cuts that layout the formula for much of his seventies output.  The two tracks are remarkably alike with Fela's trademark riff accompanied by spidery guitar riffs, James Brown influenced grooves and some of the sharpest horn arrangements you are ever likely to hear.  Usually there are groovy sax solos in the instrumental portion of the tune (and more trumpets than usual on Lady) or a keyboard solo that sounds like a mix between an electric piano and a distorted harpsichord.  At approximately the half way point of the tune, the massive vocal chants start.  Lady is a controversial lyric but really one that forms a part of the Fela Kuti philosophy of African unity that is espoused on almost every album.  Even if the thought behind it might seem impossibly regressive, you have to admire an artist who was so singularly committed to his politics.  So... the tune won't win over any of your feminist friends when you crank it at your party, but it will get them dancing.