Part 9 - Fela Kuti Live In Berlin 1978
This terrific three-disc compilation on the British label Wrasse offers a gold standard selection of Fela Kuti's recordings from the latter half of the 1970s. The 11 tracks featured on the two audio discs include eight landmark album tracks, and a 90-minute DVD contains four more pieces performed at the 1978 Berlin Jazz Festival. The video footage has not previously been released in its entirety.
The first CD covers the period 1975-76, when Kuti and the band were riding high with a stream of uniformly brilliant albums which expanded their following beyond Nigeria to throughout West Africa. The second CD takes up the story with the title track from 1976's Zombie (Phonogram), and takes it through to 1980 with "Africa Centre Of The World," from Kuti's collaboration with American vibraphonist Roy Ayers, Music Of Many Colours (Phonodisk). Three of the tracks"Kalakuta Show," "Ikoyi Blindness" and "Zombie"were reviewed in Part 2 of The Afrobeat Diaries.
Of the tracks not yet covered in the Diaries, three are of particular note. "Expensive Shit," from 1975, features one of Kuti's funniest, and certainly most scatological, Broken English lyrics. In some detail, he tells how, following a bust for marijuana possession, which he frustrated by swallowing the evidence, he was held in jail for nature to take its course and the evidence reemerge. A fellow prisoner came to Kuti's aid by exchanging waste buckets, a lab test proved negative, and the police were frustrated once again. Humor is combined with withering ridicule of police stupidity.
The Ayers collaboration, Music Of Many Colours, consisted of two side-long tracks, "2000 Blacks Got To Be Free" and "Africa Centre Of The World." The first is generic 1970s funk/disco; the second, included on Anthology 2, straight-ahead, mid-tempo Afrobeat and more enduring. Ayers' vibraphone sits well with the band and he turns in an attractive solo. It's a minor regret that Kuti didn't feature guest artists of this caliber more frequently.
"Coffin For Head Of State," from 1980, commemorates one of Kuti's many courageous acts of defiance against state power. When his Kalakuta Republic residence was sacked by the police and army in 1977, one of the outrages involved the throwing of Kuti's ageing mother out of a first floor window. She survived, with a broken leg, but Kuti believed that the incident was responsible for her death early the following year. In late September 1979, a few days before the Nigerian head of state, General Obasanjo, was due to hand over power to a civilian administration, Kuti and a group of friends and family members deposited a symbolic coffin outside Obasanjo's home at the army's Dodan Barracks. As they were leaving, they were severely beaten. In the lyric, Kuti also protests at the presence of Islam and Christianity in Nigeria, which he regarded, equally, as malign and divisive forces. It's a subject he touches on in the video clip below. (The 13:19 version of "Coffin" here doesn't include the opening, instrumental section of the track. It's the only such edit on Anthology 2).
The DVD, Fela Live In Berlin 1978, includes four lengthy tunes. The staging and lighting are unsympathetic, the recording quality and sound mix seriously wantingthough no worse than most live TV recordings of the eraand this wasn't one of Kuti's greatest performances. To Afrobeat fans, none of this matters. The film is a valuable archive document, with Kuti leading a 13-piece band augmented by six backing vocalists and six dancers. It's not a complete documentation of the performance. During another number, "Mistake," whose audio recording was a bonus track on Wrasse's reissue of Zombie, a group in the audience engaged in prolonged booing of Kuti for his perceived oppression of women. Musically, it was one of concert's strongest performances (see Part 2 of the Diaries), and it should have been included here.
Tracks: CD1: Expensive Shit; He Miss Road; Everything Scatter; Ikoyi Blindness; Kalakuta Show; Na Poi. CD2: Colonial Mentality; Zombie; Unknown Soldier (Part 2); Coffin For Head Of State (Part 2); Africa Centre Of The World. DVD: V.I.P. (Vagabonds In Power); Power Show; Pansa Pansa; Cross Examination.
Collective Personnel: Fela Kuti: vocals, electric piano, tenor saxophone; Igo Chico: tenor saxophone; Lekan Animashaun: baritone saxophone; Tunde Williams: trumpet; Eddie Faychum: trumpet; Tony Njoku: trumpet; Segun Edo: tenor guitar; Ohiri Akiobe: tenor guitar; Tutu Shoronmu: rhythm guitar; Peter Animashaun: rhythm guitar; Tommy James: bass guitar; Maurice Ekpo: bass guitar; Henry Koffi: conga; Friday Jumbo: conga; Akwesi Korranting: conga; Daniel Koranteg: conga; Tony Abayoni: sticks; Isaac Olaleye: shekere, maraccas; Tony Allen: drums; Roy Ayers: vibraphone; others.