Koola Lobitos

Fela, by Brett Cook-Dizney

Lester Bowie
African Children
Horo : 1978

LB, trumpet; Arthur Blythe, alto sax; Amina Claudine Myers, organ; Malachi Favors, bass; Phillip Wilson, drums.

Fela Kuti & Africa 70
No Agreement
Decca Afrodisia : 1977
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Trumpet solo: LB.

In 1977, after the Art Ensemble of Chicago tours Europe, trumpeter and fun-seeker Lester Bowie buys a one-way ticket to Nigeria, satisfying a long-time desire to see Africa. He arrives in Lagos with around $100, no contacts, and “no idea about anything.” He is told by the hotel “what you need to do is go see Fela.” And so he does, not even knowing who Fela is. He arrives at The Crossroads Hotel, where Afrobeat progenitor Fela Anikulapo Kuti has taken up residence following the destruction of his compound by Nigerian troops. What results is a six-month sit-in with Fela’s legendary Africa 70 band — talk about finding the party.

The tribute track above was recorded the next year in Italy. This is the Fifth Power quintet, really stretching out. The first ten minutes or so offer a Chicagoan/AACM take on Fela’s Afrobeat sound, with a slinky groove and loose pocket. The second ten minutes provide something else entirely, as Lester pushes the group out into some very open pastures.

As a bonus, we’ve provided the opening eight minutes of “No Agreement,” one of the Lester/Fela tracks from Bowie’s stint with the Africa 70 band. Lester’s solo sounds like a recapitulation of his arrival on the scene: a quiet entry, the American checking out the locals, finding he likes what he sees, and establishing a common language and rapport. According to the notes to the MCA reissue of No Agreement, by Fela biographer Michael Veal, Bowie’s playing during this period left an impression, influencing the subsequent trumpet playing in the Africa 70 band. And, given the track above, clearly the feeling was mutual.

& & & & &

DESTINATION: OUT Guide to Fela Kuti

We’re longtime fans of Fela Kuti and his mix of hard funk, afro chants and polyrhythms, and jazz arrangements. “The James Brown of Africa” has been well-served by generous reissues, but he still left behind a dizzying discography that can be difficult to navigate. For starters, we recommend sticking with his Africa 70 period and avoiding the later and less potent Egypt 80 ensemble. Here are some failsafe entry points for newcomers:

No gentleman, no!

The best place to start, hands down. Fela’s two best albums on one CD. “Confusion” is an epic track that features his most out playing, kicking off with a distorted organ solo reminiscent of Sun Ra! Gentleman offers some of his catchiest, most concise, and powerful Afrobeat tunes.

Early sides from Fela and his band that find them with something to prove. They sharpen their sound to a knife’s edge, delivering lean and urgent songs whose rhythms flex and jab.

Recorded in 1974, these albums find the group firing on all cylinders and attacking Nigeria’s military regime and corrupt judicial system, exacting revenge for the unfair arrests of Fela and his band. It was the beginning of a public feud that would eventually culminate in the government bulldozing Fela’s compound, tossing his mother out of a window (she incurred fatal injuries), beating him within an inch of his life, and imprisoning him for years. Upon his release, Fela continued to call out government corruption in biting terms.

These albums are often overlooked for showier sides, but Open & Close in particular offers some of Fela’s most enjoyable and elastic funk, a more light-hearted dance record teaching listeners how to get down with the Afrobeat sound. Also: Brian Eno’s favorite Fela album.

We’re not generally big on greatest hits packages, but this 2-CD comp gets it right. It’s a  good way to pick up such essential tracks as “Zombie,” “Water No Get Enemy,” “Shakara,” and the mournful “Sorrow Tears & Blood.”

Discussion9 Comments Category Fela Kuti, Lester Bowie Tags , , , , , , , ,

9 Responses to Koola Lobitos

  1. i very much like this post. don’t think i’d ever heard that bowie played with fela before – sounds like an interesting chunk of history!

  2. Thanks! No Agreement is one of my fave Fela tracks ever.

  3. I am get in 404 error on the Fela track. I was just thinking about digging through my old vinyl thinking I had some Fela at some point.

  4. Sorry, all. Bad url on the Fela. Try now.
    Thanks for the tip, Gary.

  5. The AEC also did a killer version of Zombie from one of the Dreaming of the Masters recordings. That was the tune that got me turned on to Fela. He was the O.G. and he didn’t fuck around. Check out Willard Jenkins intv.s with Randy Weston on Open Sky Jazz for more on Fela.

  6. Thanks, JL. Excellent recommendation. Also, here’s the link for Randy Weston’s Fela memory: http://www.openskyjazz.com/blog/?p=102

  7. I saw Fela at the Universal Amphitheatre in L.A. in the summer of ’90. I think he might have played three or four songs in 90-120 minutes. Ran into Flea (of the Red Hot Chili Peppers) in the audience. There’s a great box, Music is the Weapon, that includes the two-CD best-of you cited above, plus a DVD with a documentary filmed in ’82 or ’83 at his Shrine compound. There’s two versions of the film on the disc, because the English-language and French-language versions each contain footage not in the other. Weird.

  8. It’s always good to hear Lester Bowie, and Phillip Wilson, too. Thanks for posting these.

    There’s a brief interview with Bowie, with more about his experience playing with Fela Kuti, here:

  9. Great post.

    Glad someone mentioned Zombie. By far my favorite Fela record.

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