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Moving Music: The Memoirs Of Rikki Stein


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Moving Music: The Memoirs Of Rikki Stein
Rikki Stein
304 Pages
ISBN: 9781739103095
Wordville Press

The autobiography of Rikki Stein—longtime friend and manager of Afrobeat creator Fela Kuti, and a key player in the historic meeting between Ornette Coleman and the Master Musicians of Joujouka, among much, much more—is a roller coaster trip up some of the summits of music, and occasionally down into its bleakest depths, from the mid 1960s until the present day. It is a thrilling page-turner packed with hundreds of stories, vividly told, recounting a life so epic, and one populated by so many extraordinary actors, that a review can only skim across its surface.

Aside from Kuti and the Master Musicians, other leading players in Moving Music include the Algerian singer and activist Rachid Taha, revolutionary Guinea's Les Ballets Africains, the remarkable dance troupe which Stein toured internationally from 1986 to 1992, Bobi Wine, the courageous Ugandan singer and activist, a Kuti-esque figure for whom Stein has campaigned since 2018, and the philosophers Jiddu Krishnamurti and Brion Gysin, who, first hand, along with the Master Musicians, helped Stein refine his cosmology. There are cameo roles for Jimi Hendrix, the Dalai Lama and Erykah Badu among a host of other characters.

During his whirlwind of a life, Stein has travelled hundreds of thousands of miles in the pursuit and service of music, some of them in the company of his wife, born Dodzi Ahadzi, a statuesque Ghanaian who can, as Stein writes, reduce a noisy airport departure lounge to awed silence simply by walking through it.

With such a cast, few storytellers could go wrong, and Stein is a gifted storyteller. He was born in an east London suburb in 1942. His grandparents arrived in England just before the First World War to escape persecution as Jews in Poland and Russia; when Stein took his grandmother to see the movie Fiddler On The Roof, he jokes that she thought she was watching a documentary. After a few years organising jazz venues and illegal pop-up gambling clubs, Stein got caught up in the excitement that was the British beat boom of the mid 1960s. It was then, he writes, that he knew music was his calling.

As Moving Music progresses it becomes clear that Stein's relationship with music is unusually deep. Personal financial gain did not, and does not, motivate him. For Stein music is more than entertainment or even art; along with family and friends, it is instead the stuff of life, one of the pillars of wisdom. He shares with the New York-based tenor saxophone Jedi, Oded Tzur, the realisation that music is the best form of collective meditation available to us, perhaps the only one. Combine this belief with a great pair of ears and the fact that Stein is "a compulsive manager. I can't help myself," light the blue touch paper (and a blunt, if that is your inclination), move closer and feel the sparks fly.

After serving his apprenticeship in the 1960s tour-managing rock acts across Europe, including Jimi Hendrix's first such venture in 1966, Stein spent most of 1969-70 in the US, where he narrowly failed to sign the unknown Randy Crawford (a lovely story) and experienced the joy and optimism of Woodstock (wandering into the Grateful Dead's tour bus, he took a bigger slice of chocolate cake than he was meant to, consuming the equivalent of around ten acid tabs and subsequently flying for four days). He was also a witness to the tragedy that was Altamont, for which he attributes much of the blame to the arrogance and egomania of Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones.

"I stumbled out of there, traumatized, sad, angry and feeling like a bit player in Dante's Inferno," writes Stein. "I wandered along the freeway. A limousine approached and I held up my hand. It stopped. I ran to the open door and entered, hardly believing what I found in the warm interior. The Incredible String Band, on their way back from a gig. I'd seen the British folk-rock band at Woodstock and here they were to lovingly remind me that the hell I'd just left behind was not the summation of life on this planet."

A generous man who eschews negativity and does not bear grudges—despite acknowledging that he has a few times been "royally screwed" by associates (and naming names)—Stein nonetheless hints at some satisfaction when, a few years later, he successfully got the Stones to pay the Master Musicians of Joujouka for the album Brian Jones recorded of them in their village, and was told by one of Jagger's assistants that "I had ruined Mick's day."

In 1971, after helping mount the legendary free concert the Grateful Dead put on at the Château d'Hérouville in France, Stein moved to Morocco, where he spent much of 1971-73 living with the Master Musicians in Joujouka in the Rif mountains. It was through being in Morocco that he first got to know Brion Gysin, with whom he later formed a closer friendship back in London. In 1980 Stein organized the first of several international tours by the Master Musicians, including a five-night residency at London's late lamented Commonwealth Institute. He last presented them in London in 2023 (a review can be read here).

In 1981, Stein met Fela Kuti—whose life story is as eventful as Stein's, a rare achievement—beginning a personal and professional relationship which lasted until Kuti passed in 1997. Moving Music is packed with insights and information about Afrobeat's creator. Later a key player in the creation and success of Fela! The Musical, and the annual Felabration celebrations, now gone international, initiated by Kuti's daughter Yeni to mark her father's birthday, Stein continues to amplify Kuti's legacy, including securing the reissue of all his recorded work (with more initiatives, currently under wraps, to come shortly).

All this, as noted above, is just to skim across the surface of Moving Music and to omit many of the people and events encountered within it.

In his introduction, Stein describes the book as a sequence of "triumphs and calamities, comedies, tragedies and cautionary tales... much of which you'll find is concerned with Africa. This stems from the love affair I've enjoyed with that continent, commencing on the very first day, in 1971, when I first set foot on African soil." Talking of nights at the Shrine with Fela Kuti back in the day, and more recently at the New Afrika Shrine with Kuti's sons Femi and Seun, Stein says "this is the quality of music I've always been attracted to: life-enhancing, socially relevant, transcendental. The kind of stimulating music that gladdens the heart. It is a passion that has led me through a life full of challenging, uplifting adventures. These are my stories."

He tells them very well.

P.S. The cover art design of Moving Music is by Stein's daughter Chantal Azari, and the tour bus illustration is by Lemi Ghariokwu, who created the artwork for some of Fela Kuti's most memorable album covers. The book contains many previously unpublished and historically important photographs.



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