Kuti, Fela and Afrika 70 – “Opposite People/Sorrow, Tears and Blood” – [Knitting Factory Records]
There’s a challenge, sometimes, when listening to a musical artist who has put out an enormous amount of recordings. The challenge is, especially to the uninitiated listener, to not think it all sounds alike. Such is the case with the recordings of Fela Kuti. A very definite pattern emerges when listening to his music: a short intro of some guitar or organ or maybe the single beat setting maraca/shaker starting off its 4/4 command. Guitars come in, organ, the horn section takes over, then maybe halfway in to the song, if it has not already happened, Fela’s dominant vocals pour in. Next his chorus will do a call and response with the horns. There may be a synth/organ solo with rhythm section keeping the beat. About half way through, or sooner to those that know, the figuring out of the pattern falls by the way side and the beat takes the listener over. It’s time to dance and listen. This is AfroBeat. That is a Fela album, with lyrics filled with political innuendo or straight out attack.
But it is not repetitive in a bad way. This is music and ideas that build on each other, that use the success of past recording to add to and extend to the current project.
Such is the case with Knitting Factory Records rerelease of Fela Kuti and Afrika 70’s 1976 album release “Opposite People” and 1977’s album “Sorrow, Tears and Blood”. These two recordings come out at the beginning and at the end of a Nigerian army’s deadly attack on Fela’s Kalakuta Republic, his attempt to create his own living situation within Nigeria. A complex story, one too long to describe here, but it did drive the feeling and content of these albums. The musical style is as described above. The political lyrics are pure Fela. “Opposite People” is a bit more subdued in it’s content, using a symbolism of pants and underwear to represent the commonality of all people. It’s great. “Sorrow, Tears and Blood” pulls no punches. It’s a direct hit aimed at the South African government and their betrayal of it’s people as well as a blatant, in your face protest against the Nigerian government and army for the take over of his home. Besides a whole lot of other stuff. No one does the political and social protest song with such a beat. Put Fela on the altar with Pete Seeger. The revolution is in your body. Just shake it!!!!!