Box Set #3 (curated by Brian Eno)
Knitting Factory Records
It’s undeniable that Fela Kuti’s influence continues to spear across the world long after his untimely passing in 1997. During his lifetime, Fela battled a music industry that would homogenize and sanitize music: to make music a commodity rather than an art form. Fela was a major political force in his native Nigeria. His music openly attacked political corruption, prejudice, and postcolonial economic exploitation. He was a dreamer, an activist, an eccentric and an all together larger than life character. I highly recommend checking out the documentary, Finding Fela.
Fela Kuti’s influence continues to inspire bands like Antibalas, Afro Zuma, the Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra and many more. Fela’s son, Femi Kuti carries on the family tradition, continuing the evolution of Afrobeat.
Knitting Factory Records is fueling this revival with a series of vinyl box sets. The first box set was curated by the Roots drummer, ?uestlove, the second set was put together by Cream drummer and sometimes Fela associate, Ginger Baker, while the third installment is organized by producer and electronic music pioneer, Brian Eno.
Fela’s music has been a major influence of Brian Eno as a musician and producer. Eno first encountered Fela’s music through the 1973 release, Afrodisiac. In the liner notes to Box Set #3, Eno admits that at first he didn’t really get the polyrhythmic music Fela was making. He credits Soft Machine drummer, Robert Wyatt’s analogy of the music as “Jazz from another planet” with making both Fela and jazz make sense. Since then, Eno has been a major advocate for Fela’s music. He shared his passion with David Byrne, which became a major influence on the Talking Heads remarkable album, Remain In Light and of course the Byrne and Eno collaboration, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.
Box Set #3 collects seven albums with a focus on his 1970’s work. The albums in the set include, Shakara (1971), Fela’s London Scene (1972), AfrodisiacM (1973), Gentleman (1973), Zombie (1976), Upside Down (1976), and I.T.T. (1980). This is a tremendous amount of material to digest. If I were to try to discuss each album in detail, this review would reach ridiculous length. Instead, let me say that listening to these discs in order of original release provides insight into the evolution of Fela Kuti’s music. The earliest works show a pronounced jazz and soul influences. As you listen to the tracks on these seven discs, you’ll ride through tacks that get progressively longer, more ambitious and more distinctly Fela. By the time we get to I.T.T, the entire album is one long groove.
If a seven album box set is more than you care to take on at once (or is more than you can afford), Knitting Factory is also releasing the component discs as stand-alone records. You wont go wrong diving into the complete set or starting with just one album. If you can only spring for one record, I’d suggest Zombie, which was a huge hit in Nigeria when it was released.