Music Reviews

Fela Kuti

The Best Best of Fela Kuti

Coffin for Head of State/Unknown Soldier [Reissue]

Confusion/Gentleman [Reissue]

Expensive Shit/He Miss Road [Reissue]

Opposite People/Sorrow Tears and Blood [Reissue]

Original Suffer Head/I.T.T. [Reissue]

Shakara/London Scene [Reissue]

Shuffering And Shmiling/No Agreement [Reissue]

Stalemate/Fear Not for Man [Reissue]

V.I.P./Authority Stealing [Reissue]

Yellow Fever/Na Poi [Reissue]


Fela Kuti was a Nigerian musician who pioneered the style of Afro-Beat, performing from the early 1970s until the 1990s and releasing a mountain of recordings which sold millions of copies. He performed with an ensemble that was up to 80 people and toured the U.S. and Europe. His fresh mergings of jazz and African rhythms were infused with a palpable fire and passion revolving around social and political issues. These topics further exposed him, his family, and followers to increasingly severe harassment and persecution from his oppressive government, which in turn only made the flames of his resistance burn hotter.

Perhaps the most vivid illustration is the raid made on Fela’s compound by a thousand soldiers, partly in response to the peoples’ rallying around the song “Zombie,” a song which was very critical of soldiers for following orders no matter what. People were beaten, raped, and tortured during the attack, and the compound was finally burned, leaving the survivors homeless. Fela’s mother, a noted politician actively fighting for African rights under colonial rule, died as a result of injuries sustained during the attack. Unknown Soldier and Sorrow Tears & Blood both tell the tale of this attack and its aftermath. Despite the adversity throughout his career, Fela refused to move to another country and continued writing inflammatory songs, bringing peoples’ attention to the issues affecting his homeland.

Fela Kuti died in August of 1997, of AIDS-related illnesses, although popular belief held that continued beatings had weakened his system and allowed disease to enter.

When I first got these records it was hard to listen to anything else – what do I follow this with that has such a rich history and such tangible emotion? Other music seemed trivial and unimportant in comparison. You don’t have to listen hard to hear the fire that was at the center of these recordings. The music is vibrant with determination in the face of opposition. It pulses and breathes with a life of its own, beats with the hearts of the people. The blood, sweat, tears, the pain – the soul of the players – it all comes through clearly. It’s apparent that through all their hardships they never lost hope, as evidenced by the fact that they never gave up in spite of all the odds, including repeated beatings and imprisonment. This is remarkable music that represents an important history of caring and trying that’s easy to be inspired and fueled by.

The Best Best of Fela Kuti is a double CD featuring thirteen songs (they’re all rather long) that give a good overview of this period of his music. It also features extended liner notes (much better than my brief synopsis) and a beautiful, very moving obituary. The reissues pair two records from the same time period on one CD, making twenty records reissued on ten discs. The liner notes for these include a brief overview of Fela’s life along with lyrics, pictures, and commentary on the individual songs. Still, even twenty albums reissued is just a mere dent in the complete Fela Kuti discography, but it’s a nice start. This is vital music.

MCA Records, 70 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608;

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