Fela Anikulapo Kuti
(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )

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Nigerian saxophonist, pianist and vocalist Fela Anikulapo Kuti started out with the Koola Lobitos in 1961 in London. Returning to Nigeria in 1963, he coined a new style of music (Afro-beat) by combining James Brown's funk music, highlife and jazz. In 1966 he joined the Highlife Jazz Band. In 1968, after visiting the USA and being influenced by the "black power" movement, he also added sociopolitical lyrics. Persecuted by the Nigerian government, he became the voice of the oppressed. At his best, Kuti concocts lengthy improvised jams of bebop saxophone lines, Frank Zappa-esque horn fanfares, call-and-response vocals, and wild polyrhythms led by Tony Allen's spectacular drumming. Unfortunately, the quality of his (very many) recordings is often quite low. They include: London Scene (1970), one of his most propulsive and exuberant albums, despite being very derivative of James Brown, Blackman's Cry (1970), Viva Africa (1970), Lady (1970), White Man to Suffer (1970), Wayo (1970), Open and Close (1971), Na Poi (1971), Ikoyi Blindness (1971), Yellow Fever (1971), Who Are You (1971), Shenshema (1971), Why Black Man Dey Suffer (1971), Alijon-Jon-Ki-Jon (1971), Roforofo Fight (1972), Shakara (1972), beginning to develop a personal language via two 13-minute jams, Afrodisiak (1973), Gentleman (1973), one of his most popular albums, containing three sermons, Alagbon Close (1974), devoted to his arrest following the establishment of a hippie commune, He Miss Road (1975), Expensive Shit (1975), one of his most accessible, Noise for Vendor Mouth (1975), Everything Scatter (1975), Again Excuse-O (1975), the EP Confusion (1975), one of his most challenging tracks (25 minutes), Before I Jump like Monkey Give Me Banana (1976), Upside Down (1976), with two radio-friendly jams, No Bread (1976), Zombie (1977), perhaps the most popular of the era, containing four jams Zombie, Mister Follow Follow, Observation Is No Crime, Mistake), No Agreement (1977), with two jams blessed by trumpet player Lester Bowie, Sorrow Tears and Blood (1977), intense and uncompromising, dedicated to yet another police raid that ended him in jail, the EP Shuffering and Shmiling (1977), with the funk-jazz workout of the title-track, Opposite People (1977), four energetic tracks, Stalemate (1977), Fear Not for Man (1977), Why Black Man Dey Suffer (1977), Observation No Crime (1977), I Go Shout Plenty (1977), Unknown Soldier (1979), International Thief Thief (1980), Authority Stealing (1980), 2,000 Black (1980), Music of Many Colors (1980), a collaboration with with Roy Ayers, Black President (1981), that packages together Sorrow Tears and Blood and International Thief Thief, Coffin for Head of State (1981), also two suites but less invigorating, Original Sufferhead (1982), with the colossal title-track and a general magic of interplay, Parambulator (1983), Army Arrangement (1985), heavily produced by Bill Laswell, Mr Follow Follow (1986), Volume One and Two (1987), Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense (1987), that contains two of his best instrumental jams (and two corresponding songs), perhaps his definitive statement in terms of extended pieces, Beasts of No Nation (1989), Overtake Don Overtake Overtake (1990), the best of the last phase, with the 31-minute Overtake Don Overtake Overtake and the 29-minute Confusion Break Bones, Just Like That (1990), Undergrand System (1992). Alas, most of these are repetitive, to say the least. The albums on which the music prevails on the message, the songs are long enough to justify the album, and the structure of the song justifies its length are not many: Gentleman (1973), Zombie (1977), Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense (1987), Overtake Don Overtake Overtake (1990). Then there are albums marred by either short length, inferior material or excessive repetition: London Scene (1970), Yellow Fever (1971), Confusion (1975), No Agreement (1977), Sorrow Tears and Blood (1977), Shuffering and Shmiling (1977), Original Sufferhead (1982). The rest rank from merely sufficient to ridiculous. The founding father of Afro-beat music, Fela Anikulapo Kuti died in 1997 of AIDS.

The Underground Spiritual Game (Quannum Projects, 2004) is a dj mix of Fela Kuti's music.

The Best Of The Black President (2002) is a double-disc career retrospective.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Andrea Marengo)

Il sassofonista, pianista e cantante Fela Anikulapo Kuti esordì musicalmente con i Koola Lobitos nel 1961 a Londra, coniando un nuovo stile di musica (l'afro-beat) che combinava la musica funk di James Brown, l'highlife e il jazz. Nel 1966 si unì alla Highlife Jazz Band. Nel 1968, dopo aver viaggiato negli USA ed essere stato influenzato dal movimento "black power", iniziò a scrivere anche testi sociopolitici. Perseguitato dal governo nigeriano, divenne la voce degli oppressi. Al suo meglio, Kuti realizzava lunghe jam improvvisate di linee bebop di sassofono, fanfare per corno zappiane, vocalità "call and response", e poliritmi selvaggi musicati dallo spettacolare batterista Tony Allen. Sfortunatamente, la qualità delle sue (moltissime) incisioni è spesso piuttosto bassa. Queste includono: London Scene (1970), uno dei suoi album più propulsivi ed esuberanti, malgrado sia molto derivativo da James Brown, Blackman's Cry (1970), Viva Africa (1970), Lady (1970), White Man To Suffer (1970), Wayo (1970), Open And Close (1971), Na Poi (1971), Ikoyi Blindness (1971), Yellow Fever (1971), Who Are You (1971), Shenshema (1971), Why Black Man Dey Suffer (1971), Alijon-Jon-Ki-Kon (1971), Roforofo Fight (1972), Shakara (1972), che iniziava a sviluppare un personale linguaggio tramite due jam lunghe tredici minuti, Afrodisiak (1973), Gentleman (1973), uno dei suoi album più noti e contenente tre sermoni, Alagbon Close (1974), dedicato al suo arresto seguito alla sua adesione ad una comunita hippie, He Miss Road (1975), Expensive Shit (1975) uno dei suoi album più accessibili, Noise For Vendor Mouth (1975), Everything Scatter (1975), Again Excuse-O (1975), l'EP Confusion (1975), una delle sue tracce più impegnative (venticinque minuti), Before I Jump Like Monkey Give Me Banana (1976), Upside Down (1976), contenente due jam "radiofoniche", No Bread (1976), Zombie (1977), forse il più popolare del periodo, contenente quattro jam (Zombie, Mister Follow Follow, Observation Is No Crime e Mistake), No Agreement (1977), con due jam migliorate dal trombettista Lester Bowie, Sorrow Tears And Blood (1977), album intenso e senza compromessi, dedicato ad un raid poliziesco che ha fatto finire in prigione il musicista, l'EP Shuffering And Shmiling (1977), con l'esercizio funk-jazz della title track, Opposite People (1977), quattro tracce energiche, Stalemate (1977), Fear Not For Man (1977), Why Black Man Dey Suffer (1977), Observation No Crime (1977), I Go Shout Plenty (1977), Unknown Soldier (1979), International Thief Thief (1980), Authority Stealing (1980), 2000 Black (1980) Music Of Many Colours (1980), realizzato con Roy Hayers, Black President (1981), che raccoglie Sorrow Tears And Blood e International Thief Thief, Coffin For Head Of State (1981), sempre due suite benché meno energetiche del solito, Original Sufferhead (1982), con la colossale title track e una generale magia generata dall'interazione fra i musicisti, Parambulator (1983), Army Arrangement (1985), fortemente prodotto da Bill Laswell, Mr Follow Follow (1986), Volume One And Two (1987), Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense (1987), forse la sua affermazione definitiva in termini di brani estesi contenente due delle sue migliori jam strumentali (e due canzoni ad esse corrispondenti), Beasts Of No Nation (1989), Overtake Don Overtake Overtake (1990), il migliore dell'ultimo periodo con i trentuno minuti di Overtake Don Overtake Overtake e i ventinove di Confusion Break Bones, Just Like That (1990) e Undergrand System (1992). Purtroppo, la maggior parte di questi album sono quantomeno ripetitivi. Gli album nei quali prevale la musica sul messaggio, le canzoni abbastanza lunghe da giustificare l'album e la struttura della canzone che giustifica la sua lunghezza non sono molti: Gentleman (1973), Zombie (1977), Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense (1987) e Overtake Don Overtake Overtake (1990). Dopo ci sono album rovinati dalla loro breve durata, da materiale minore o da ripetizioni eccessive: London Scene (1970), Yellow Fever (1971), Confusion (1975), No Agreement (1977), Sorrow Tears And Blood (1977), Shuffering And Shmiling (1977), Original Sufferhead (1982). Il resto si colloca tra l'appena sufficiente e il ridicolo. Il fondatore dell'afro-beat Fela Anikulapo Kuti morì nel 1997 di AIDS.

The Underground Spiritual Game (Quannum Projects, 2004) è un dj mix della musica di Fela Kuti.

The Best Of The Black President (2002) è una doppia retrospettiva di carriera.

(Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
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