Uploaded on Oct 7, 2010
Executed by Mista Bright
Fela Kuti was a transformative figure. He redefined the direction of African music with his Afrobeat bands. The broadway musical, which was Executively Produced by Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith, and Jay-Z, is a powerful and moving show. In "I.T.T.", Fela is satirizing "International Telephone and Telegraph", upon whom he launches a scathing attack and whose executive Moshood Abiola also owned Fela's label Decca at the time for their corruption and prodding of Nigerian politics. Use this heartfelt political statement as inspiration when crafting your mix and see what comes through musically.
The musical style performed by Fela Kuti is called Afrobeat, which is a complex fusion of Jazz, Funk (especially the music of James Brown), Ghanaian/Nigerian High-life, psychedelic rock, and traditional West African chants and rhythms. Afrobeat also borrows heavily from the native "tinker pan" African-style percussion that Kuti acquired while studying in Ghana with Hugh Masakela, under the uncanny Hedzoleh Soundz. The importance of the input of Tony Allen (Fela's drummer of twenty years) in the creation of Afrobeat cannot be overstated. Fela once famously stated that, "without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat".
Afrobeat is characterized by a fairly large band with many instruments, vocals, and a musical structure featuring jazzy, funky horn sections. The "endless groove" is used, in which a base rhythm of drums, shekere, muted West African style guitar, and bass guitar melodic riffs are repeated throughout the song. Commonly, interlocking melodic riffs and rhythms are introduced one by one, building the groove bit-by-bit and layer-by-layer to an astonishing melodic and rhythmic complexity. The horn section then becomes prominent, introducing other riffs and main melodic themes.
Fela's band was notable for featuring two baritone saxophones, whereas most groups were using only one of this instrument. This is a common technique in African and African-influenced musical styles, and can be seen in funk and hip hop. Fela's bands at times even performed with two bassists at the same time both playing interlocking melodies and rhythms. There were always two or more guitarists. The electric West African style guitar in Afrobeat bands are paramount, but are used to give basic structure, playing a repeating chordal/melodic statement, riff, or groove.
Some elements often present in Fela's music are the call-and-response within the chorus and figurative but simple lyrics. Fela's songs were also very long, at least 10-15 minutes in length, and many reaching the 20 or even 30 minutes, while some unreleased tracks would last up to 45 minutes when performed live. This was one of many reasons that his music never reached a substantial degree of popularity outside Africa. His LP records frequently had one (30 min.) track per side. Typically there is an instrumental "introduction" jam part of the song, perhaps 10-15 mins. long before Fela starts singing the "main" part.
His songs were mostly sung in Nigerian pidgin, although he also performed a few songs in the Yoruba language. Fela's main instruments were the saxophone and the keyboards, but he also played the trumpet, guitar, and took the occasional drum solo. Fela refused to perform songs again after he had already recorded them, which also hindered his popularity outside Africa.
Fela was known for his showmanship, and his concerts were often quite outlandish and wild. He referred to his stage act as the Underground Spiritual Game. Fela attempted making a movie but lost all the materials to the fire that was set to his house by the military government in power. Kuti thought that art, and thus his own music, should have political meaning.