Monday, 8 September 2014
100 LPs Shortlist #41: Fela Kuti: "Fela Ransome-Kuti and the Africa '70 Live with Ginger Baker"
Lists (and their subsequent books) like "1001 Albums you Must Hear Before You Die" are pointless, contentious and needlessly divisive by their very nature. What they leave out is almost as infuriating as what has been kept in.
And yet, lists like this amuse the hell out of me. Not least because they try their hardest to convince me that records I can't stand are worth listening to, but also because they illuminate things to me that I hadn't noticed before.
Based on an entry in the aforementioned book, I went and discovered the mighty Fela Kuti and this live album. Nowhere in the pages of this book was there a caveat emptor for listeners to be wary: One jolt of the surging power of this record and there's no going back. Lives will be changed. Attitudes will be re-shaped. Non-dancers will dance as though no one is watching, and no one will care because anyone within the same building will probably be doing likewise.
Oppressive, militaristic third-world governments fear the contents within the sleeve of this record, and the effects they have on the people listening to it. Tables and horizontal surfaces the world over dread this album, for fear that any human listening will drum so hard on them that they will be reduced to woodchip and hardware.
Fela Kuti knew that music can not only move the hips and the feet, but also touch the heart and soul of a person. If you can do that, you can also impact the mind. The Nigerian government of the time liked to control its people by fear and threats of death by machine gun. Fela Kuti, through music, was opening the eyes of the people. The government saw him as an insurgent as a result, and he paid the price dearly. He was arrested over 100 times in his lifetime, jailed on trumped up charges, bashed and beaten regularly, his home and master tapes destroyed by fire - all punishments maliciously handed out by a government threatened by his message.
This is why the music he created was so insistent - he needed to make a strong message felt as powerfully and as deeply as he could.
This album was recorded live in Abbey Road Studios in London late in 1970 with Cream drummer Ginger Baker guesting on drums. With Fela's percussion troupe and Baker all playing away like a fury, the polyrhythm count is huge. The urge to bang on a desk with your fingers in time to these tunes is irresistable.
You just don't listen to this album. Your life will be transformed by it. You have been warned.
NOTE: The version of the album below is the new remaster and for some reason it is in mono, with part of the band, which in stereo would have been panned to the right speaker (or left, I'm not sure), is now buried deep in the mix. Sadly, all reissues on CD, digital and vinyl all carry this erroneous mix, and the original stereo mix on the 1971 vinyl issue is seemingly nowhere to be found.
Having said that, the music is so powerful that such quibbles are rendered inconsequential.