Music Reviews
Finding Fela

Finding Fela

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Big Hassle

Finding Fela, a new documentary on Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti, is an attempt to show the man behind the music, which should be fascinating, in that Kuti was a revolutionary both in his music and his political activism.

A fierce anticolonialist, Kuti suffered severe harassment at the hands of Nigerian police for his satirical jibes against the Nigerian government. The harassment, as well as Kuti’s songs, continued throughout most of his life, even after police threw Kuti’s mother out of a window and continually raided his commune/home.

Kuti blended James Brown-like funk with traditional African elements to create a rhythmic, pulsing sound, full of call and response vocals, rising horns, and a hypnotic, beat – one that could take his songs well past the 20 minute mark. This makes it difficult to create a sampler or a soundtrack without producing a box set.

Finding Fela : the Orginal Motion Picture Soundtrack does an admirable job of compiling a two-CD set of Kuti’s music, managing to span his entire career. The earliest song, “Highlife Time” by Koola Lobitos, gives a hint of where Kuti would take his music. The track is highly rhythmic, with a heavy horn presence, reminiscent of Afro-Cuban music. Now take that song, stretch it out, tone down the horns, add some call and response vocals, give it a James Brown-funk workout, and you’ll get close to Fela’s work with Africa 70. The songs here are edits – the original version of “Shuffering and Shmiling” clocks in at over 21 minutes, it is presented here at a relatively concise 12 minutes.

The Egypt 80 material presented here is still highly rhythmic, but a bit more subdued, with Kuti’s keyboard taking a stronger role. Several songs are by the Fela! Band, from the Broadway show, but they merge seamlessly in with the originals.

Finding Fela: the Orginal Motion Picture Soundtrack is a thorough sampler, one that should inspire listeners to seek out the original recordings for the full hypnotic effect of a 20 minute rhythmic lesson on the evils of colonialism and post-colonialism.

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