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KNITTING FACTORY

"Army Arrangement" comes from 1985 and is co-produced by Bill Laswell (Material) with the likes of Bernie Worrell (P-Funk) and Sly Dunbar guesting, giving the tracks an extra electronic edge. The LP is a critique of Nigeria's attempt at democracy. Mired as the army-led government was in political corruption, it came as no surprise that this LP cemented Fela's reputation as an anti-government subversive and continued the spiral of arrests, beatings and imprisonments that marred his life.

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‘No Agreement’ is sometimes overlooked among Fela’s 1977 releases, eclipsed by albums such as ‘Johnny Just Drop (J.J.D.)’ and ‘Sorrow Tears and Blood’, yet it is among his best albums of the period. It includes an outstanding Afrika 70 instrumental, ‘Dog Eat Dog’. The track includes a solo by the American trumpeter Lester Bowie of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, who was then staying with Fela in Lagos.

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LP includes MP3 Download Code.

Fela Kuti

V.I.P. (Vagabonds In Power)

‘V.I.P.’ (Vagabonds In Power) was recorded live at the Berlin Jazz Festival in Autumn 1978 and released the following year. It is a ferocious and lyrically exalted attack on the abuse of state power. The festival straddled the cusp of the break-up of Afrika 70 and the formation of Egypt 80 in Spring 1979 and ‘V.I.P.’ was the last album Fela made with the drummer Tony Allen, who had been with him since 1964 and acted as Afrika 70’s bandleader.

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LP includes MP3 Download Code.

‘Yellow Fever’ was originally released in 1976, during Fela’s extraordinarily prolific 1975-77 purple period, when he released 24 albums in Nigeria alone. The title track is one of Fela’s defining masterpieces. Sung in Broken English, the language he adopted in order to make his words understood beyond Yoruba speakers, the lyrics rail against the fashion for skin-whitening creams.

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LP includes MP3 Download Code.

Fela Kuti

Johnny Just Drop (J.J.D.)

Originally released in 1977, ‘Johnny Just Drop (J.J.D.)’ features Fela lampooning Nigeria’s ‘beentos’, people who had been to Europe or America to work or study and then returned (dropped) home with European social pretensions and an inferiority complex about African culture. The reissue features original album artwork designed by Lemi Ghariokwu, who created the cover art for around half of Fela’s albums.

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By the time of these recordings Fela Kuti was HIV positive, drug addicted and had been brutalised by continual imprisonments and beatings at the hands of the Nigerian authorities. Over a fifteen year period he had sung about injustice, persecution, the downtrodden and the poor. He championed everyman's right to a decent life, decent education and freedom from intolerance. He had his all too obvious faults but his music remains a testimony to a performer justifiably known as the 'King of Afro-beat'. The last album of newly recorded material to be released during Fela’s lifetime, 1992’s ‘Underground System’ is an outstanding swansong. While Fela’s recorded output slowed up as the 1980s progressed - largely as a result of ongoing arrests, beatings and jailings - his final years of recording produced some of his strongest work, notably ‘Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense’ (1986), ‘Beasts Of No Nation’ (1989), ‘Overtake Don Overtake Overtake’ (1990) and ‘Underground System’.

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LP includes MP3 Download Code.

‘Music Of Many Colours’ is a joint album between Roy Ayers and Fela Kuti, recorded after a three week tour of Nigeria’s major cities in 1979, during which Roy Ayers performed as the opening act for Fela’s band. The two artists decided to record the album as a round-up to the tour.

Roy Ayers described the experience saying, “I met Fela Kuti in Nigeria in 1979, and we fell into a great relationship, good personal and music vibes, and we recorded that album together. Fela also came to USA in the Eighties and we performed at NYC’s Madison Square Garden. Amazingly energetic, Fela Kuti had a very original concept that was called Afro Beat - a genre with a very unique identity and exceptional music. One of Fela Kuti’s most impressive qualities was that he was undeniably a brilliant show man, as a musician and as a huge dancer as well. His African concept was truly original… The tour was about two black men together coming together, one from Africa and other from USA, a very exciting collaboration.”

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LP includes MP3 Download Code.

The title track, ‘Gentleman’, has often been hailed as Fela’s masterpiece. The politically scathing song opposes Westernization and those who imitate Western ways. Fela had many Ghanaian friends (and Ghanaian wives and Ghanaian girlfriends) and ‘Fefe Naa Efe’ is sung as a tribute to Ghana. ‘Igbe’ again shows Fela breaking cultural taboos by singing literally and figuratively about ‘sh*t’. He sings the word in a several Nigerian languages so there is no misunderstanding. 

The collection of songs on ‘Afrodisiac’ were songs Fela and the Nigeria 70 (Later Africa 70) re-recorded at Abbey Road in London in 1971. Originally recorded and released in Nigeria on 45rpm, they were Fela’s first successive hits in the Nigerian music charts. The best known song on 1973’s ‘Afrodisiac’ is ‘Jeun Ko Ku’, a satire about gluttony and Fela’s first major hit in West Africa. In Broken English the title means ‘chop and quench’, which, in turn, means ‘eat and die’ in Standard English.

After finishing school at London’s Trinity College School Of Music, Fela returned to Nigeria and his band Koola Lobitios. He began fusing the sounds of jazz and funk with the traditional African music he had been raised on. EMI, his label at the time, saw the true power of his musical creation, which he termed ‘afro-beat’ and brought Fela and his band back to London. The result was ‘London Scene’, Fela’s first release, recorded at Abbey Road. Cream drummer Ginger Baker plays un-credited on the track ‘Egbe Mio’.

Fela Kuti

Shakara

    ‘Shakara’ is a two-track release of 13-minute songs that showcase Fela’s satirical side. ‘Lady’, perhaps one of Fela’s most popular tracks, criticizes Westernized African women who he felt had been corrupted by their embrace of the new feminist movement of the time. ‘Shakara’ is a mainly instrumental track with a brief lyric sung in Yoruba, warning against boasters and braggarts. Uptempo, with a suitably turbulent horn arrangement, it includes strong solos from Fela on keyboards and the fearsome Igo Chico on tenor saxophone.


    ‘Upside Down’ and ‘Zombie’, both released in 1976, were made at the midpoint of an extraordinary three-year purple period during which Fela recorded 24 albums of new material. ‘Upside Down’ was written by Fela to portray a worldly travelled African who searches the dictionary and finds the definition of upside down - a perfect description of the African situation. ‘Upside Down’ is unusual in that it includes a second lead vocalist, Fela’s American friend Sandra Izsadore. Izsadore was a black rights activist and introduced him to the writings of revolutionary thinkers such as Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Rap Brown, Stokely Carmichael, Huey Newton and more who inspired Fela’s philosophy of Blackism.


    Fela Kuti lives on. Since his death in 1997, the Nigerian icon and Afrobeat originator has been transformed from musician’s musician with a cult-like following to a worldwide musical icon. Now Red Hot, the AIDS awareness organisation, has partnered with Knitting Factory Records to release a colourful collection of Fela Kuti compositions performed by cross-genre collaborators representing rock, hip hop, Americana, and classical.

    The release includes classic Fela anthems like ‘Lady’, recorded by tUnE-yArDs, ?uestlove (The Roots), Angelique Kidjo and Akua Naru, ‘Zombie’ recorded by Spoek Mathambo, Cerebral Cortex and Frown, and ‘Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am’ recorded by My Morning Jacket, Merrill Garbus (from tUnE-yArDs), and Brittany Howard (from Alabama Shakes) and ‘Sorrow, Tears & Blood’ reworked by the Kronos Quartet along with TV On The Radio’s Kyp Malone and Tunde Adembimpe.

    Fela Kuti

    Coffin For The Head Of State / Unknown Soldier

      These masterpieces were pivotal accomplishments for Kuti, as they solidified his rise from mere social commentator to fiercely determined cultural leader. Recorded after the brutal raid of his Kalaluta compound and the consequent death of his mother, they comprise two of the most personal statements Kuti ever made. "Coffin for Head of State" denounces the corrosive effect of Christian and Muslim influence on African life and takes to task the leaders that perpetuate the "Bad bad bad things/Through Jesus Christ our Lord." It takes its name from a protest in which Kuti and a group of supporters laid a coffin on the steps of Christian leader Olusegun Obasanjo's Dodan Barracks, the headquarters of the military government. An epic 31-minute tribute to his fallen mother, "Unknown Soldier" is one of the most ambitious recordings of Kuti's career which describes in frightening detail the events that transpired on the eve of the Kalakuta raid, including the rape of several women, beatings, mutilation, and the throwing of his mother ("the Mother of Nigeria") out of a window. The official police report after the raid blamed the attack on "unknown soldiers," and in response to this fantastic cover-up, Kuti gives a tortured, powerful performance of some of his most vivid and incendiary music

      Fela Kuti

      Opposite People / Sorrow Tears And Blood

        The two albums included on "Opposite People" / "Sorrow Tears And Blood" book-ended the Nigerian army's deadly raid of the Kalakuta Republic, Fela Kuti's self-appointed independent state domicile, and Kuti's hostile feelings toward upper-class Nigeria are prominent on both sessions. "Opposite People", recorded between 1976 and 1977, is brave and brassy, beaming with an almost joyful defiance on the title track. This album isn't particularly outspoken, focusing on the celebration of freethinking. "Sorrow Tears And Blood", the first recording released after the Kalakuta's capture, is fiercer; the band's sound almost seeming to drip blood. Slower and more persistent, the ominous grooves here no longer bother with metaphor, crying out bluntly, 'some people lost some bread, someone just died...them leave sorrow, tears, and blood'. "Sorrow Tears and Blood" boils over with Fela's singing and the frantic call-response of horns and chorus; the scattering sounds of people fleeing a police-and-army attack. And "Colonial Mentality" calls for a united Africa to stand up against its widespread leftovers of imperialism. The entire collection is chock-full of Kuti's distinctive polyrhythmic orchestra-funk in top form.

        Fela Kuti

        Roforofo Fight / The Fela Singles

        This is essentially a CD reissue of Fela Kuti's 1972 album "Roforofo Fight", with the addition of two previously unreleased tracks from the same era. It's true that Kuti's early-70s records tend to blur together with their similar groupings of four lengthy Afro-funk jazz cuts. Each of the four songs on "Roforofo Fight" clocks in at 12 to 17 minutes, and there's a slight slide toward more 70s-sounding rhythms in the happy-feet beats of the title track, and the varied, yet rock-solid drums in "Go Slow". There's just a hint of reggae in "Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am", in the pace, vocal delivery, ethereal keyboards, and lilting yet dramatic minor melodic lines. The James Brown influence is strongly heard in the lean, nervous guitar strums of "Question Jam Answer". The two bonus tracks - "Shenshema" (from 1972) and "Ariya" (from 1973) - comprised the segment of the CD titled "The Fela Singles" a curious phrase given that they were previously unreleased. "Shenshema" is a nine-minute cut that is heavy on go-go-like percussion and cool, responsive chants from the band. The 10-minute "Ariya" is a real discovery, its urgent spy theme-like melody and Kuti's haunting, driven vocals making it a highlight even relative to the generally high quality of his recordings during this period.


        FORMAT INFORMATION

        Ltd CD Info: CD is presented in a deluxe digipack, with booklet including Fela’s biography and track-by-track commentary from Afro-beat historian Chris May.

        Fela Kuti

        Expensive Shit / He Miss Road

          Knitting Factory continues its excellent Fela Kuti reissue series with the release of this disc containing two of Kuti's finest from the 1970s. For He Miss Road and Expensive Shit, Fela still carried his original last name - Ransome-Kuti (which changed to his more radical moniker Anikulapo-Kuti later), but he had grown since his early 1970s albums in two important ways. First, Fela had been radicalized beyond his introduction to US-style black power and had been framed by Nigerian authorities, who placed marijuana in his possession. He promptly ate the dope, after which authorities arrested him and waited for him to defecate so they could test the dung for drugs. Not a sexy scheme, and not even a workable scheme, but it did give Fela fodder - specifically the tune (and album title) "Expensive Shit." His second advance came in the form of using the studio as a virtual instrument, one that makes He Miss Road a trippy, stuttery, reverb-laden intersection of lean Afro-beat and 70s astro-funk. Ginger Baker was at the controls for Road, and Fela shone through the weird studio ambience. Africa 70 was a band given to leaning back into the percussion weave the drummers - led by Tony Allen - laid down. Their inherently languid pacing was enhanced by Baker's studio play, and the results are outstanding.

          FORMAT INFORMATION

          CD Info: CD is presented in a deluxe digipack, with booklet including Fela’s biography and track-by-track commentary from Afro-beat historian Chris May.

          Fela Kuti

          Shakara / London Scene

            Fela's London Scene was one of the first recordings made by Fela and his newly named Nigeria 70, with recordings at Abbey Road and gigs scheduled around the album by Cream's Ginger Baker (who is said to have some uncredited time on the album). It is some of the earliest notions of Afro-beat. Fela is shaking off the highlife forms that he had been entertaining and moving to a deeper, more simmering groove. It also marks the beginning of a bit of his social commentary. He exhorts his fellow Africans to purchase African goods in "Buy Africa" and puts out a call to the Pan-African counterculture in "J'EHIN J'EHIN" and "Egbe Mi O." What one notices in this section of the album is a stripped-down groove that simmers until Fela finally breaks it out into a fully grown work of funk. In the Shakara section (with some 50 bare-breasted women on the cover helping sell the album), one finds fun (and perhaps shame) pointed at the westernizing African woman in "Lady" (espousing feminism, she believes herself equal to men, and espousing westernism, she takes on a delicate/weak form as a lady). In the title track the fun is poked instead at braggarts who don't back up their bravado. The main focus of this album, though, is to provide a good, danceable groove. This is exactly what Fela does. Pick it up as a landmark and a dance album together, but more importantly as a fan of Fela.

            FORMAT INFORMATION

            Ltd CD Info: CD is presented in a deluxe digipack, with booklet including Fela’s biography and track-by-track commentary from Afro-beat historian Chris May.

            'He Miss Road' combines the sound of James Brown-style 70s funk with a stripped down Afro-beat performance. Ginger Baker produced this ethereal, nearly psychedelic album with Tony Allen on drums, backed by Fela’s Africa 70 band. The title track refers to the ways in which people have lost their way - and the ensuing chaos it causes. Through call-and-response lyrics, Fela illustrates a few ways in which someone has “missed the road”, including a gorilla who runs out of the jungles and into Lagos, and a musician who sings only for the deaf. This last example is a caustic personal attack on a fellow Lagosian musician who had stolen one of Fela’s girlfriends - the attack extends even onto the original album cover, where this point is literally illustrated.

            FORMAT INFORMATION

            LP includes MP3 Download Code.


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