Sunday, April 09, 2006

Fela's legacy

Anyone who still mourns Afro-beat pioneer and truly world music man Fela Kuti can find some solace from the good people at Daptone Records. Not only have they put out a reissue of the Daktaris' 1998 Soul Explosion album, but they've also recently put out the Budos Band's self-titled album, both of which are wonderful tributes to the spirit of Kuti. You get the rumbling current of percussion, the elephant-screaming horns and the chugging groove that were the staple of many Kuti albums. Add in Antibalas and you have a makings of a stateside Afro-beat revival, thanks in to the same people who brought us the soulful Sharon Jones.

Much as I enjoyed dancing to Antibalas at the steps of Columbia University's library a year or two ago, I also realized that there's still something missing from these bands- obvious as it may seem, it's Fela himself. You could make all the stupid arguments that you want that the guy wasn't a singer at the same level of Youssou N'Dour or sax player to vie with say Manu Dibango and that his politics were mostly about himself (very debatable). But you cannot deny how much spirit the man had. It came through on all of his albums- he was that much of a presence. He was so sure of himself that you compelled to follow him through side long journeys on his albums. Which isn't to say that Budos or Daktaris or Antibalas don't put out enjoyable records but somehow, you keep waiting for Fela to inject his philosophy, rantings, demands but it doesn't come (though Antibalas have been known to inject righteous anti-war propaganda).

For anyone interested in a good tome, another fitting Fela tribute is Trevor Schoonmaker's 2003 anthology From West Africa to West Broadway where everything from Fela's politics to his album artwork is dissected.

Now all I'm wondering is when someone is going to do a Fela bio-film. You don't get figures much more larger than life than Mr. Kuti and if you want dramatic conflict, this guy butted heads (taunted even) the Nigerian government many times. You could already have the three bands above provide a soundtrack along with his son Femi and his still active drummer Tony Allen. What the hell are the studios waiting for?

(As a side note, as much as I love for providing such a great ease-of-use tool as this, they've lately been piss-poor when it comes to photo uploads, which is why you initially didn't see any album covers or pictures with this post. I had to give up after several tries of including a picture here and finally got one here after trying again the next day. C'mon guys- get your act together and let us provide pretty pictures for the blog faithful.)


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