In an effort to become searchable, I will be placing most of my Livejournal posts here (no, I couldn't get any search engines to find my Livejournal; yes, I asked for help; no, "help" said the problem was with Google et al. and not with Livejournal). So if this blog doesn't work, then I have no hope in cyberspace, where everyone (supposedly) can hear you scream.
Thursday, June 2nd, 2005
A Fela a day keeps the stockpiling away (I hope)
So I've been sitting on MCA's 25 Fela reissues, most featuring two albums on one disc, pretty much since they were released in 2000 and 2001. A few of them made it into my beloved System 9 iMac (which I still keep given how much my System 10 iMacs have acted like PCs, i.e. horribly). But mostly, they sat scrunched together out of alphabetical order near my difficult-to-get-to reference shelves. Until now, the summer between the first and second years of my PhD program. Not even two weeks in and I'm getting all Howard Hughes-like. Fela, pull me out of it (since you're probably never gunna get a chance again). So June is Fela month, kiddies! Each day, I will review one reissue after having heard it no less than two times (but usually three or more). Hopefully, this will give me the sense that I've actually DONE something with the fuckers which is only apt since my husband drove them 24 hours in a U-Haul teetering with my gross accumulation. I'm ashamed; this is my meager, meager penance.
Fela Kuti: Expensive Shit/He Miss Road (MCA 2000)
My bedtime reading last night was A Whore Just Like The Rest by one R. Meltzer, the inventor of dada rock criticism (and perhaps the genre's sole practitioner although a lot of Scott Seward's stuff unintentionally comes close for most people, I imagine). After cackling for the nth time at those genius San Diego Reader blurbs (his Seattle Weekly ones aren't up to such hilarious par), I drifted into a tension dream about how lil ole pop concision me was going to tackle all that Afrobeat changing same. Somehow my dreamworld got the idea that Meltzer was all about process not end result which is a crappier way of saying that I think he has nothing to say (slightly less than another nothing-to-say avatar whose name I won't mention...yet) but he says that nothing so brilliantly. Fine ok - it's the ultimate in geekdom to dream about such things. But you see, I wasn't all the way under yet. My conscious mind was trying to con my unconscious into writing tomorrow's Fela review for me (or "me" or whatever) just like I dreamt of T.S. Monk's "Bon Bon Vie" before I ever heard it (it came out like Chic playing "Looking for the Perfect Beat" which turns out to be a damn good description). So thanx uncon - I'll run with that.
I'd never claim that Fela had nothing to say. But his music is indeed largely process. Sure, there are climaxes and twists and turns to the stories. But too much funky expanse separates those peaks and valleys for them to register with any significant dramatic oomph, at least to western ears although I'm not sure drama is even the point here. Still, you read the liner notes here and it tells this insane, well, story about Nigerian Nazis searching Fela's shit (not his possessions, his actual feces) for traces of marijuana. Then you go back to "Expensive Shit," the song "commemorating" the event, and the narrative thrust just isn't there. Neither is a certain sardonic charge I get from other Fela tracks. The "ha ha fuck you" I see on the cover (Fela and many wives black powerin' behind the barbed wire surrounding his Kalakuta Republic compound) is what I just can't hear in the song. Or maybe he just wanted to get "ha ha" across. In the end, it comes off only marginally more enervated than the "lighthearted" "He Miss Road" which latter is a tad too slight to be extracting for some impossible Afrobeat mix tape. "Monday Morning In Lagos" rides atop triplet rhythms supposedly indigenous to West African although no music I've ever heard from the region has such a crippled lumber. The effect is like your little GTO being stuck behind one of those hetero horse carriages. Go be romantic somewhere else! Off the streets, fuckers! Really a draaaaag.
My favorite track is paradoxically the longest, "It's No Possible." It's the one that intermittently calls me back (ya know, like tv is supposed to do). Starts with funky guitar but soon the organ riffs over it and eventually burbles into damn near "Rated X" territory. But some "oh my turn now?" drumming lays down the beat for one dreary minute (Tony Allen "bombs" all right but not in the way the liner notes suggest) until the percussion gets all middle part of "Whole Lotta Love." Morse code bass, then funky guitar, then less Milesish organ then finally horns make the sound progressively less feverish. Isn't the gradual introduction of instruments supposed to cause a fever? By the time Fela's voice jumps on board eleven minutes in, we've been listening to jazz for too long. The thing ends on some psychedelic reverb I wish was exploited more. If Bill Laswell was my roomie, we could edit the fucker down and beef up the beats. But as Fela says, it's no possible.
Btw, I listened to this disc at least six times. Performance anxiety, I guess.
Current Mood: agitated
Current Music: Sequal: "Tell The Truth" (FINALLY!)
Friday, June 3rd, 2005
A Fela A Day 2
Fela Kuti: Shakara/London Scene (MCA 2000)
In 1998 (apparently - just checked on the slowly-superseding-allmusic.com discogs.com to make sure), I picked up a 12" sound unheard (well, I was at the great but chaotic Gramophone Records in Chicago and I didn't want to waste any time previewing anything) by Afro Elements called "Lagos Jump" on the Ibadan label. Turns out to be a slight houseification (really "quantization" for you jockey types out there) of Fela's "Shakara" courtesy of Kerri Chandler and friend who prudently excised the man's vocals. A mite scandalous, I know. I guess they can (sorta) get away with it because both sides are dubs (but of what, Miss Chandler? of WHAT?). In any event, whenever DJs want to throw some Afrobeat into their set, they now (or then - 1998 still feels pretty moderne to me) have only themselves to blame (rather than the fallibility of Fela's crew) if the beats don't match up. Chandler & Co. have even provided an intro before the itchy sax/guitar hook/groove kicks in.
Of course, the original "Shakara" here starts with that itchiness from the git, rendering the track damn near roach-infested for at least two minutes. One of my fave Felas, it gives up even more itchiness (relegated to the three-note, bugged-out guitar figures this time) before moving into all that damn soloing, always a deafspot with me and Fela. If I can't figure out what Lester Young is doing his saxophone, I'm certainly never gunna know just what exactly Fela or Igo Chico or whoever are doing (or not doing) with theirs. Still, a fine intro to the disc along with a lesser classic, "Lady," the sexual politics of which I'll reserve commentary on until a more (or do I mean less?) enlightened moment.
The second album wedged in here is actually called Fela's London Scene, to be precise. Recorded at Abbey Road in 1971, these were the first songs to be released after Fela and Nigeria 70's nine-month stay in Los Angeles (on expired temporary visas!) in 1970, "performing regular gigs at a local club while deeply immersing themselves in the African-American counter-culture." I need some more education on that, e.g. who the hell HEARD them at this time? And that ain't all: "If the slow, languorous tempos of 'J'ehin J'ehin' and 'Egbe Mi O' carried the strong scent of ganja, they also deconstructed nearly everything Fela had done during the 1960s, when he was playing in his frantic 'highlife-jazz' style." Now I'm no fool - I knew 25 CDs didn't exhaust the man's oeuvre. But a whole 'nother mode before all this? Jack Smith, grant me the wisdom and serenity and O I forget the rest.
Liner noter Michael E. Veal neglects to mention that ganja urges long-windedness too. A song with slow, languorous tempos need not chomp on for fourteen minutes. Just ask Tricky. Or David Foster. Veal claims that the rhythm shift in "J'ehin J'ehin" "must have had the dancers scurrying." I'd say their rump shakes were probably only mildly more insistent. And speaking of mild, "Egbe Mi O" is all about keeping it mild on the dancefloor with such lines (supposedly sung in English although I can't hear it) as "all your pants got torn at the bottom of your ass" and "you dance too much/your hat dropped/and it got stolen" and (in Yoruba) "you dance too much/you almost died." How many songs in the western tradition express such a sentiment? There's no parking, baby, no parking on our dancefloors. Or even idling, really. But I think the problem with so much African music for western ears and butts is how ferocious it's not. It rarely makes you feel mighty real. More like mighty relaxed. Fela is more ass-kickin' than most and thus an excellent entry point into the music of the continent. But this is the first song I've heard that epitomizes the mild/wild, African/western dancefloor distinctions.
Still, we got the same "story" problems here. "Egbe Mi O" caps off its initial phrases with five portentous horn blats. And what do they portend? More and more disco. More and more soloing. At about ten minutes, Fela implores "everybody outside of this record" to "all sing together this beautiful African tune." The high-pitched chorus on "Laaaaa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la, la-la-la" sounds suspiciously like the ones you might hear on an Esquivel record. But they build to a, well, ferocity the space age bachelor would have found too vulgar for the Holiday Inn set. And then those same horn blats end the song, portending nothing at all this time. I guess, then, that the story (or do I mean moral?) is of a dancer keeping it mild, building the intensity, but building it too high so that nothing but danger is received in the end. Insofar as the song is non-narrative, I guess one would have to call it avant-garde. But it's avant-garde in the way that TLC's "No Scrubs" is with contradictory elements rubbing up against one another.
"Who're You" is easier to swallow (it's faster, for one) but no less nutty and thus my fave of this lot. A horny phrase piles on enough goodies to bear two minutes of repetition. Fela plays "an African folk tune" on electric piano with Monk-like clusters. Or accidents. Doesn't matter. It dances great.
Veal kinda brushes off "Buy Africa" and "Fight To Finish" so I will too. I'm beat.
Saturday, June 4th, 2005
A Fela A Day 3
Fela Kuti: Coffin For Head Of State/Unknown Soldier (MCA 2000)
Part 2 of the former song/track/album/groove is on Best Best, the better part. And "Shuffering and Shmiling" is a more scandalous dump on religion. Most of the power in "Unknown Soldier" rests on the chorus. Fela just gives forth with recitatives (though dig his sickened chortle at 25:20 right before he explains the song's title). But the chorus plays the army advancing on Fela's Kalakuta compound, an eerie device made all the more unsettling by the detached professionalism of their singing. When the bastards start marauding, the lyric sheet says that the chorus merely repeats "Yes." But it actually sounds like baby talk. Someone please advise because I have the creeps. And, of course, by this point, Fela's done reciting for the moment, crying "them kill my mama" over and over. Two questions: Fela says Stevie Wonder was present during the attack. True? Or some poetics I'm missing? Also: sounds like Fela says "I'm finished mother" at the end. True? Finally, peep this liner note nugget from the man himself: "I can't stand all that short music. We dance long distance here, so no three-minute music for me." He said it.
Current Mood: wonderin'
Current Music: Armand Van Helden v Jaydee:You Dont Even Know Plastic Dreams
Sunday, June 5th, 2005
A Fela A Day 4
Fela Kuti: V.I.P/Authority Stealing (MCA 2000)
I've been spending waaaay too much time on the albums that fail to make much of an impression on me for fear of forty Fela freaks telling me I didn't give this or that enough of a chance. Well, I heard this one about ten times although I couldn't promise that it always had my undivided attention. "V.I.P." (Vagabonds in Power) comes at us live from Berlin in 1978. Now live recordings often allow an artist to stretch out. But, um, this is Fela we're talking about here. He's already Stretch Armstrong. Granted, the twenty-minute cut offers only about thirteen minutes of music due to an unboogieable opening monologue. And it builds a recognizable tension, more so than the rather slight, non-live "Authority Stealing." But one couldn't quite exactly call the resulting release orgasmic. Instead, several mild climaxes gush forth, first with the chorus, then the keybs, then the horns. Kinda sloppy. Sure, I like getting sloppy now and then. But these eternal unreturns remind me more of the trick you just want to kick out after the mess is made.
I'm sure there's something grotesquely male about my dislike of multiple climaxes. I've always been a tad scandalized by the two (!) cum shots that close the version of New Order's "The Perfect Kiss" on Substance. Trust me - it was orgasmic enough the first time. Anything more would just cheapen the effect. But really, all I can do to offset any potential phallocentrism in the review above is to claim once again that it's the femme chorus that carries most of the track's feverish power.
I'm sure I'll run into someone some day who'll tell me that "Authority Stealing" was unbearably intense for them. Maybe Michael B. Richman of Portland, Maine who's reviewed several of the Fela twofers on Amazon.com, the nut. But even he advises the neophyte to start elsewhere. And I say there's only so far you can stretch a rubber band before it breaks. Or you do.
Current Mood: hazy
Current Music: Mathilde Santing: "Behind A Painted Smile"
Monday, June 6th, 2005
A Fela A Day 5
Fela Kuti: Yellow Fever/Na Poi (MCA 2000)
The twenty-five minute version of the how-to fuck book "Na Poi" pokes holes through all the voodoo - often you hear only one or two instruments for long stretches, leaving a lot of air for you to breathe in. But then I went back to "Yellow Fever" for comparison and it didn't sound all that voodoo to me either. Hmmm. Maybe I shouldn't be listening to all these one after the other. Maybe I need to spin some Paris Sisters in between.
Current Mood: accomplished
Current Music: Sick Bees: The Marina Album
Wednesday, June 8th, 2005
A Fela A Day 6
Fela Kuti: Opposite People/Sorrow Tears and Blood
Just when I thought I was starting to get sick of this crazy project, in trucks "Opposite People." Opening beats somersault forward (did someone sample these or am I just thinking of the machine that kicks off Sly's godlike "Brave & Strong?") and the guitar scurries around comedically, almost Keystone Kop-like. Fast fast too. The sax honks like a hoedown happenin'. Add in a typically ear-catching chorus shouting back to Fela, especially effective on words like "Shakara" (hello again!) and "Katakata" (pidgin for pandemonium), and we have something that sounds awfully similar to classic gospel (why had this never occurred to me before?). "Sorrow Tears and Blood" is his most effective response to the 2/77 Kalakuta raid. The lyrics function like a chaotically edited news spot. "Someone nearly died" (cut) "Some people lost some bread" (cut) "Someone just died." And yet again, the chorus brings the fever: "Hey yeah!" over and over again. Pat your brow.
Ok so we all know why Adé never made it as the next Marley (no lyrics in English; groove not ferocious enough). But Fela was trucking simultaneously with Marley and even outran him. He had plenty of lingua franca lyrics. He was legibly funky. What happened (or didn't)? My guess: lack of widely available edited versions.
Current Mood: rejuvenated
Current Music: Palomar: "Albacore"
Wednesday, June 8th, 2005
A Fela A Day 7
A moment of silence for Anne Bancroft.
Okay, moment's up. Too bad only auteur freaks have seen her greatest performance - as Dr. Cartwright in 7 Women, my very fave John Ford. Also, didjaknow that she was the first choice for...wait for it...Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest? Greatness surrounded this woman. R.I.P.
Fela Kuti: Shuffering And Shmiling/No Agreement (MCA 2000)
"Shuffering And Shmiling" has long been my fave Fela. Maybe it's because the way the bass leads the groove (and leaves the guitar with little to do - nyah! nyah! - always fun to make fun of guitars..and really, it deserves it this time...it's not really even pushing the beat forward) reminds me of New Order. Ok, it sounds Peter Hooky not at all. But the IDEA reminds me of New Order (and actually, they could do a nifty cover of "S&S"). The lyrics catch Fela at his funniest and most acidic. The phrase "quel scandale!" was invented for THIS. The man reduces both Christianity AND Islam to gibberish in the face of their significant contributions to the unequal distribution of wealth. A finer critique of religion in song there is not (not even XTC's "Dear God" or Big Stevie's "Superstition"). "Why not African religion?" the cover asks. Well, why not, I suppose. Where's that song, though? Is it "Perambulator," named on the cover too but not included on the disc (come on - 25 Fela albums are NOT enough)?
Still, bitch I must. My attention sags during the sax solo in this twenty-five minute version. As usual, the version on Best Best will do more than nicely. And speaking of solos, Lester Bowie jizzes all over "No Agreement." Damned if I know what makes it special, if anything. But there's a nice full stop along the way. "Dog Eat Dog" is an, um, instrumental. Say hells no.
Current Mood: cleansed
Current Music: Sleater-Kinney: The Woods (blame Jessica)
Friday, June 10th, 2005
A Fela A Day 8
Fela Kuti: Original Suffer Head/I.T.T. (MCA 2000)
I'm sure Byrne and Co. heard Fela before dropping the first side of Remain in Light in 1980. But is it possible that Fela heard them right back in 1982 with "Original Suffer Head?" Very "Crosseyed and Painless," that one. Maybe even in a little of Candido's "Jingo" in there too. And just like "Jingo," it looks forward to house (the opening organ bit could almost be kicking off Moonshine's long lost U.K. Dance Hits comp from 1994). Drums goofy and hyper, scattering every which way, with the bass making nerve-wracked suggestions, Shaggy to the percussionists' Scooby. Guitars stiff, almost new wavey. Horns doing little to calm everyone down. All very staccato. It holds up for twenty-one minutes too, esp. since the lyrics are such a read. Fela excoriates the First and Second Worlds for sucking up resources as he methodically runs through the depletion of water, light, food, and house (as in shelter, dummy..no, not the club Shelter either). Takes a bit of time, as one might imagine. Lyric of the day: "Suffer-Head must go/Je'fa-Head must come" (Je'fa is Yoruba for "Free-of-charge").
And then there's "Power Show." Shit goddamn - I think I have a new fave Fela! In an oblique way, it reminds me of the one of the first songs I can recall hearing as a wee young goat - Steely Dan's "Reelin' in the Years." That song always scared the shit out of me and, of course, I now know why. The Dans bumrushed the pop charts and succeeded in getting the world to chirp along with whatever sick, nihilistic shit was mucking up their minds. Even before pubes, I could somehow sense this twisted plan of attack, a feeling of sour (bitter? salty? certainly not sweet unless it's sickeningly sweet like those awful marshmallow Peeps) resignation washing over me. I get the same sense with "Power Show." On the surface, it's oh so smoooooth, kinda like classic Spinners (aha! - "I'll Be Around" was another song that always made me feel confusingly sad...eventually figured that one too, natch - you just know the probably way too nice dude singing wants the gal he's being around for and doesn't stand a chance of getting her). The solos are played for comfort and even pure melodic delight as is Fela's singing. Witness how he runs up and down the staff on "show-ow-ow-ow-ow." Soon, you're talking long walks on the beach. You're enjoying nights by the fireplace. You're eating sushi. But of all of sudden, you remember something you have to get done by the end of the week. Or you're overcome with thoughts about how old you've suddenly become, how little you think you've accomplished in life. No rage, no despair. But worry. Exhaustion. Quiet desperation.
Fitting, I suppose. The song's about how various officials showboat, abuse their power. Fela first targets an immigration officer which really hit home with me given my many shitty encounters with said Nazis. See, this is how the song works. It doesn't SOUND like it's about an immigration officer. But there he is, giving you the run around and even taking a shit (I'm not kidding here) while you wait for his verdict ("no go cross" in Fela's case). And talk about depletion. It all really wears Fela out. Fatigue - the best rock 'n' disco subject. David Toop should have placed this at the end of Sugar and Poison instead of Chic's "At Last I Am Free" (the latter fits perfectly, of course, but a bit TOO perfectly).
As for "I.T.T.," great song but two words: Best Best.
(One quick side note. The other song I can remember scaring me as a child was Chicago's "Saturday in the Park." But that's only because it sucked. Such a rock critic back then.)
Current Mood: bloated
Current Music: 100 Flowers: "California's Falling Into The Ocean"
Saturday, June 11th, 2005
A Fela A Day 9
Fela Kuti: Stalemate/Fear Not For Man (MCA 2000)
Michael E. Veal calls these "fairly skeletal in their development" which he blames on Fela's preoccupations after the raid on Kalakuta. Fine. But then: "These two albums must go down as two of the funkiest albums to come out of Africa during the 1970s." Wha??? Skeletal and funky are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Take Dirty Mind-era Prince, for instance. But I don't hear a "Head" here. What I do hear is too much of Fela "rapping" (really just talking), not enough chorus, one instrumental, one almost instrumental, and scant, tossed-off musical information all throughout. The dullest of the lot so far. And I listened to the fuckers five times.
Current Mood: restless
Current Music: Prince: "Head"
Monday, June 13th, 2005
A Fela A Day 10
Fela Kuti: Confusion/Gentleman (MCA 2000)
The appropriately entitled "Confusion" makes for Fela's trippiest track. The opening five-minute keyb/drum conversation never reeks of the long-winded pretension we usually receive with solos, particularly of the drum variety. Fela and Tony Allen bang ever-intensifying shivers out of their instruments before a polite groove kicks in. Only for two minutes, though. At which point Allen - he don't stop, he don't stop, hitting like a faster, more herky-jerky Ziggy Modeliste. Keybs and guitar add more confusion and then get set for some very On the Cornerish trumpet (no?). Fela sings of the confusion of currencies and languages in Nigeria and eventually the ends of his phrases get sucked up into psychedelic reverb that could have stepped right off of Nuggets Vol. 3. The weed musta been choice that day.
"Gentleman" is better better on Best Best. On "Fefe Naa Efe," Fela makes his electric piano sound like soukous guitar pointillism. "Igbe" is recommended to those who think African music never gets out of gentle sway mode. I no longer have my BPM counter but trust me - the first minute especially is probably too fast (and nervous) for you to dance to. Fast and nervous - hmmm. Decidedly not qualities one associates with African music. And yet, here they are again. There's a paper in there somewhere. And kudos to congaist Henry Kofi for going nutso.
Current Mood: sluggish
Current Music: Nils Petter Molvaer: "Axis of Ignorance"
Tuesday, June 14th, 2005
A Fela A Day 11
Fela Kuti: Everything Scatter/Noise For Vendor Mouth (MCA 2001)
Whew! Done with the first batch. "Everything Scatter" (1975 - forgot to include original dates) is the keeper here. After a briefly intense organ (electric piano?) soak, horns bring the fever. But whereas I would've kept them blaring non-stop until the next act, Fela separates them with two and a half measures of sax solos. At first, the coitus interruptus annoyed me. But the on-again, off-again feel started to sound like coitus anyway. And someone please advise - what does Tony Allen hit to make that clipped, stuttering sound that juts out at you? Is he merely hitting higher-pitched drums (sound like across between a tom and a snare to me)? Towards the beginning of the song, he sets things off with a more recognizable bassier thwomp. The sound I'm talking about starts right after the introduction of the great irritating guiars lines at 1:36. I can also hear it on Mixmaster Mike + Lateef and The Gift of Gab's noise-bringing version of "Kalakuta Show." it kinda piddles on the surface of the beat and yet is paradoxically responsible for moving everyone forward. Everything scatters so nicely that Fela and chorus fail to impress this time out. No lyrics reprinted so I'll probably never get to wax brilliant on that aspect ever again. But Mabinuori Kayode Idowu provides precis. Wonder what Ugandans thought of Fela's call here to heed Idi Amin's advice.
The other three tracks are tired (as am I). But at least one of them fades out, something you rarely hear with Fela and indeed most African music. Probably because its sustained oases already embrace the illusion of eternity.
Current Mood: Garlicly rejuvenated
Current Music: The New Pornographers: "Twin Cinema"
Wednesday, June 15th, 2005
A Fela A Day 12
Fela Kuti: Monkey Banana/Excuse O (MCA 2001)
A title like "Mr. Grammarticalogylisationalism is the Boss" (1975) promises scintillating funkadelics. But this motor booty affair has flat tires with massive blood loss on the highways. For missiles targeting the deliberately shoddy nature of third world education, I'll take Mighty Sparrow's "Dan is the Man (in the Van)." And "Boss" is the best cut here. Fela simply sounds tired throughout. I guess that's what happens when you've released twelve albums in three years (or is that one year?). Or maybe there were some pitch control problems in the mastering. "Excuse O" (1975), in particular, warbles noticeably.
Current Mood: Second windy
Current Music: !!!: Louden Up Now
Thursday, June 16th, 2005
A Fela A Day 13
Fela Kuti: Roforofo Fight/The Fela Singles (MCA 2001)
"Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake AM" goes slower than "Go Slow" (both 1972). Fela and chorus definitely sound like they're having trouble sleeping, lumbering all zombie-like towards who-knows-what sorts of dangers. Ah! but this song has nothing to do with sleepwalking. Trouble itself is sleeping here and Provocation (yanga) wakes "him" up. So it's actually about people who are already at their wit's ends getting fucked with by cops or landlords. But while the title translates as "toying with a loaded gun," the principals here are less on the verge of going postal than really fagged-out by all the button-pushing. Very 1972. That word the chorus moans is apparently "Palaver!"
"Shenshema," confusingly deemed one of The Fela Singles even though it's previously unreleased, is pretty good too. The drummer (Tony Allen, I imagine) motors most Modelistely with cowbells that go-go. The music thins out under the singing. But then comes the grungiest electric piano I've ever heard. Kinda punky overall. "Ariya" (1973) will prove indispensable for the Nigerian version of Austin Powers. "Question Jam Answer" moves pretty fast but puts out just before orgasm. So slow Fela wins out over fast this time. Novel.
"Roforofo Fight" is on Best Best in its entirety.
Current Mood: dazed
Current Music: Brooks: "Man-Size"
Friday, June 17th, 2005
A Fela A Day 14
Fela: Fela With Ginger Baker Live! (MCA 2001)
This 1971 show turned out much better than I anticipated. Thought the live setting would prove an invitation to wank. But really, how much longer can the man wank? It's not a double CD, after all (gawd, there's a scary thought). Still, the studio versions will do fine as usual (especially since a drum solo disfigures "Ye Ye De Smell"). And for wank, you get the 1978 extravaganza "Ginger Baker & Tony Allen Drum Solo," all 16:22 of which I actually listened to while working out. Pretty loud too. Only once, though. Drum solos are inherently pointless, no?
You can tell MCA was scraping the barrel bottom with this second batch of releases. No lyrics which leaves Idowu to explain them (and nothing else). What I want to know is who at MCA knew Fela's oeuvre well enough to shoot his best shots during round one.
P.S. My G5 hates these reissues and this CD in particular. After three tries, it still wouldn't give the disc back. On the fourth, it ejaculated it out with a force one would would expect from an Electric Dreams-style comedy. Sorrrreeee!!
Current Mood: sore
Current Music: Frankie Valli & The 4 Seasons: "Lucky Ladybug"
Saturday, June 18th, 2005
A Fela A Day 15
Fela: Open & Close/Afrodisiac (MCA 2001)
Frustrating. This is probably the most consistent of the second (or even first) batch. But its consistency stems from averaging out high points against low rather than non-stop listenability. Every track kicks ass here at some point. And every track fizzles out in almost equal dollops. Take "Alu Jon Jonki Jon," (1972-1973) for instance, which pulls out of the lot with Fela's most visceral hello. Staccato horns shout back and forth for over a minute, each imploring the other to yank it out of the quicksand. Fela comes to their aid at 1:18 with the chorus, freeing the horns to toot together. But at 2:06, we're already back to the introductory fever. The process repeats for another two minutes or so until you think Fela will ride the beast into the spheres (only fitting for a Yoruban myth about animals sacrificing their mothers in a community cooking pot). Alas, everything pares back way too much to give room for Fela singing and more goddamned solos. The battle has raged on elsewhere and all that's left on the field is gunsmoke and the stench of rotting flesh, maybe a lucky vulture or two. Very little life left. And don't try to tell me Fela's only building up tension towards orgasm. At 9:51, he goes absolutely fuckin' Rated X psycho on his electric piano for almost a solid minute...then a full stop and back to the lifeless boogie! The man teases but never lets us cum.
Can it be, then, that what Fela requires here is...MORE REPETITION?!?! Well, yes. Keep those horns hollerin' at one another for the full 12:41. You can still have your solos too. Only now you have to compete with this brass-beat THING charging forward. Someone PLEASE do a remix to these specifications.
So "Open & Close" (1971) closes down too often. "Gbagada Gbagada Gbogodo Gbogodo" (1971) should be more onomatopoeic. "Eko Ile," (1972-1973) a veritable choo-choo train with hooting keybs, loses steam (at 6:41, no less). And the horns in "Je'nwi Temi (Don't Gag Me)" and especially " Jeun Ko Ku (Chop'n Quench)" (both (1972-1973) are a tad too Austin Powers/Herb Alpert urbane to appease any gods.
Current Mood: New Orderly
Current Music: Wide Right: "Royanne"
Monday, June 20th, 2005
A Fela A Day 16
Fela: Koola Lobitos 1964-1968/The '69 L.A. Sessions (MCA 2001)
Truly abysmal liner notes this time. Idowu doesn't even let us know that Koola Lobitos was the name of Fela's band at the time. Maybe it's the translation. Or a crappy editor.
The first half is Fela in highlife mode, hornier and faster than the highlife I've heard. Picks to click include "Omuti Tide" and "Laise Lairo."
And then there's these peculiar L.A. sessions which sound very London, like they just stepped off the set of Blowup. Supposedly influenced by James Brown but seriously deficient in chicken scratch. Or more precisely, the chicken scratch never identifies the one and the three as the staff of Ra. And horny! Barely a moment goes by without someone blowing this or that brass. Doesn't help that they blow more blood, sweat & tears than sorrow, tears, and blood (check out the start of "Witchcraft"). And do I hear a little Bobby Bland in it all? I'm thinking "Don't Cry No More" and "Turn On Your Love Light," no? Though the big difference would be that Bland's singing songs whereas Fela cannot wait to break out of song-like lengths. So his funky horns race forward until they slam into the four-minute mark. As a bridge towards whatever Fela thought Afrobeat would be, this is fascinating stuff. But it gets wearying rather quickly. And when everything slows down, it slips right off the edge of consciousness.
Current Mood: postal
Current Music: Simply Red: Money's Too Tight To Mention
Tuesday, June 21st, 2005
A Fela A Day 17
Fela: Army Arrangement (MCA 2001)
I still haven't heard Bill Laswell's remix and edit of the original 30:01 title cut. But I have full faith in my powers of prediction that it will smoke this version, especially since a superior edited version is already on Best Best. The other track is the previously unreleased 29:15 original version of "Government Chicken Boy." Didn't Laswell remix (or at least edit) this one too? Anyway, it's the hands down winner on this particular release. A ten-second horn intro promises something lively and spirited. Instead, we get damn near funereal drums that sound like a "ooga-chaka" parody of what most Westerners think African music sounds like. The more sluggish rhythms might be due to the passing down of sticks from Tony Allen to Egypt 80 drummer Francis Foster (what's with all the Western names for drummers?). In any event, the beat stays sluggish for the rest of the twenty-nine minutes! Various themes are stated before a totally handleable sax solo, handleable because the horns keep reinstating a theme around it. But also because of the retarded tempos. No one has any energy to really show off here. It takes until 13:39 for any voices to come in and it's mostly Fela making chicken noises. Fela & Co. rip on "establishment boys" for a while and then a deliciously unvirtuosic organ (electric piano? which the hell is it?!?) solo drags its ass in at 21:46. Fela decides to sing a "traditional African song" at 25:11. I'd claim that the remainder resembles a demented "Tusk" if "Tusk" weren't already demented. But where "Tusk" was coked-up, "Government Chicken Boy" is weeded-down. It's as if Fleetwood Mac forced their marching band to play for twenty-four hours before recording. (Hey, it works! Orson Welles kept Joseph Cotten up for a day before shooting his drunk scene in Citizen Kane and just listen how hilariously Cotten slurs the word "criticism." Even Welles is smirking.) At the very end, we get that perky horn intro and the song just sputters out. Why did Fela see fit to place this kind of music to lyrics lambasting chickenshit public officials? A deeply, deeply strange one.
Current Mood: no longer insomniac!
Current Music: OK GO: OH NO
Wednesday, June 22nd, 2005
A Fela A Day 18
Fela: Live in Amsterdam (MCA 2001)
"Unlike most titles in the MCA reissue series, this one is not two albums on one CD," claims ole reliable Michael B Richman of Amazon/Fela fame. But actually, it is. Capitol released it as a double album in 1984. Not that I feel overjoyed to pull out that factoid. Despite again winding up better than anticipated, this live date captured by Dennis Bovell in late 1983 still jogs annoyingly in place. The thin recording renders "You Gimme Shit I Give You Shit" more full of shit than threatening. And "Custom Check Point" gets my vote as the Fela track that most sounds like a record needle stuck in a groove, albeit a mildly funky one. Too bad - it's about disrespecting the colonialist borders of Africa. As for "M.O.P. (Movement of the People) Political Statement Number 1," not one of its 37:04 offended. But we shall never meet again.
Current Mood: A good sleepy
Current Music: A Raincoat: "It Came in the Night"
Thursday, June 23rd, 2005
A Fela A Day 19
Fela: J.J.D./Unnecessary Begging (MCA 2001)
"J.J.D. (Johnny Just Drop)" (1977) was recorded live at Kalakuta Republik and catches Fela at his speediest. The opening conga runs faster than "In The Bush" on 78. A little tiring after six plays. But great cover. "Ofersee Hairways" has just dropped a freshly Westernized Johnny down onto Lagos. He sports many new patches, some of which read "I Love USA" and "Jesus Saves." Also "Sex." And something "Boy," perhaps a comment on his manhood. Hmmm.
Fela slows things down for "Unnecessary Begging," thins things out for "No Buredi (No Bread)" (both 1976). Too much in both cases.
Perhaps the overdose effects are starting to show.
Current Mood: horny
Current Music: New Order: "Everyone Everywhere"
Friday, June 24th, 2005
A Fela A Day 20
Fela: Ikoyi Blindness/Kalakuta Show (MCA 2001)
I actually dig the horns in the former (1976). They're riffy for once. No doubt, that's my problem with solos in general. They rarely form repetitions (but not too many now!) that can coagulate into riffs or hooks. Although piano solos rarely seem to bug me. I'm much more attracted to Earl "Fatha" Hines or Art Tatum or Monk than I am, oh, Coleman Hawkins or Lester Young. Must ponder. Also: another great cover painting by Ghariokwu Lemmi.
I'll keep "Kalakuta Show" (1976) around mostly for the memory of how Mixmaster Mike and the Blackalicious boys made it more appropriately chaotic.
Current Mood: eh, ya know
Current Music: The Click Five: "I Think We're Alone Now"
Saturday, June 25th, 2005
A Fela A Day 21
Fela: Zombie (MCA 2001)
"Zombie" (1976-1977) is a classic, arguably the most important Fela song ever given how much needless tragedy it triggered. But it's on Best Best in its entirety. You can hear boos on the prevously unreleased "Mistake (Live At The Berlin Jazz Festival - 1978)." Apparently, Fela wasn't jazz enough for them. "No disco! No Travolta!" shouted the jazzbos although I can't hear it nor can I hear anything Fela might be saying to them. Disco? Well, sure, I suppose. But if he was no Ornette Coleman, he was certainly no Patrick Adams either (much less Travolta - sheesh). Besides, you can hear just as many people cheering in the crowd. Still, like a lot of live Fela, it's pretty DOA. Not sure I'd be booing exactly. But definitely "time to go get a hot dog" worthy. Is this track really supposed to be the Afrobeat equivalent of Dylan's Live 1966?
Check out this review of "Zombie" from Amazon: "My seven year old son who is heavily into monsters etc. is absolutely obsessed with this record. He tells me it's because the big Fela is singing about zombies. What really hooked him in though, is the phat grooves laid down by Afrika '70 on this superb platter." What a freakin' riot!!! I was into monsters well before I was seven. But I couldn't discern phat grooves until I was 19 or so. So how does dude know those are what hooked his son in? Did the little lad cast aside his Dawn of the Dead action kit and start bustin' out with a funky chicken? I should think not!
Current Mood: Studio psych-thirsty
Current Music: The Poppy Family: "There's No Blood In Bone"
Sunday, June 26th, 2005
A Fela A Day 22
Fela: Upside Down/Music of Many Colours (MCA 2001)
"Collection conceived and prepared for CD by Jean-Pierre Haie/Universal Music France." So I guess he gets the glory for the conceptual coup of a Fela disc featuring not one but two (2!) lead vocalists who are NOT Fela! Sandra Akanke Isidore, Fela's stateside hand holder, visited Nigeria in 1976 and laid down "Upside Down" on which she sings (or rather, according to the liner notes, Fela makes her sing) about the disorganization of Africa over tinkly Brownisms. Would make a great mixtape with Sonny/Linda Sharrock's "Black Woman" and The Art Ensemble of Chicago/Fontella Bass' "Theme de Yoyo."
Thank Jack Smith that Fela recorded "2000 Blacks Got To Be Free" (1980) after that jazz concert discussed last time because this is the real disco with boogie bass runs and a metronomic foundation for easy mixing. Still, he couldn't have picked a more jazzy disco conspirator than Roy Ayers (well, maybe Herbie Mann but certainly not Brick of "Dazz! Dazz! Disco Jazz!" fame). Ayers mans (Manns?) his vibraphone and provides some breathy vocals. Would make a rather sad mixtape with Hugh Mundell's "Africa Must Be Free by 1983."
Neither of the above lends Fela a new rabid democrat profile. But what a refreshing surprise! And yet oddly enough, the best track comes from the man himself on the mic. "Africa Centre of the World" shines like prime Adé and sparkles like Disneyland. Fela opens his diary and tells about his time as a student in London where various enlightened Englishmen took him for a primate. Ayers contributes some good vibes (both kinds).
Only low point: another version of "Go Slow."
Current Mood: My arm hurts
Current Music: Spoon live heard from a bar across the street
Tuesday, June 28th, 2005
A Fela A Day 23
Fela: Underground System (MCA 2001)
This was apparently Fela's last album (though not mine) and it's the way I prefer to remember him. Both the title track and "Pansa Pansa" (1992) rush by in their discontentedness. The former contains many viscerally pissed-off moments: the sax squeal at 12:21, the stubborn full-stop at 17:13, the drummer's brief temper tantrum at 23:18, Fela's (I assume) Monky cluster fucks on non-electric piano throughout. On "Pansa Pansa," Fela runs through some of his songs that have pissed off the Nigerian authorities. But even at the end, he's ready to give them pansa pansa (more more). The last ninety seconds of sticky chorus shouts are as chillingly final as any I know. The song may be over but the rage isn't. I doubt anyone would ever use this word to describe such speedy menace but I find both cuts moving. Inspirational even. This is the true sound of restlessness. Here's hoping Fela finally found a little wherever his battered body went in 1997.
Tacked on is "Confusion Break Bones (C.B.B.)," a track from 1990's ODOO album. It would have made a less poetic finale given how battle-worn the thing feels. But ooh is it ever so gorgeously sad! The guitar sways like it's just been hit by a batterram rather than a gentle breeze. The sax is Fela's most bluesy. The horn and chorus arrangements respond with an ever-shifting melody bank, seizing one's ear for the entire 29:10. Everything moves very methodically, very precisely. Not as threatening as the other two cuts. But it's one staunch character.
A keeper all around.
Current Mood: awake
Current Music: Amerie: "1 Thing"
Wednesday, June 29th, 2005
A Fela A Day 24
Fela: Beasts of No Nation/O.D.O.O. (MCA 2001)
My computer really hates the former track/album so I had to reconstruct it in bits and pieces. All I'll say, then, is that it has the feel of a light, tropical vacation to it, a spiritual brother to "Confusion Break Bones" last time out. And yet, the music seems "inappropriate" for a song about how ununited the United Nations are. Does this make Fela a modernist?
"O.D.O.O." seems a tad aimless at 31:53. I don't recall the edit on Best Best at the moment but I'm sure it's more useful.
One more to go!!!!!
Current Mood: Gen Xy
Current Music: The Go-Betweens: Oceans Apart
Friday, July 1st, 2005
A Fela A Day 25
Fela: Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense (MCA 2001)
J'ai fini! Aussi, je suis fini! And yes, I know the difference between the two and mean both.
Milhouse (of Simpsons fame) on Miles Davis: "So, when do they start singing?" I hear ya, kid. Sometimes jazz is like visiting a town with no townsfolk in it. Or the townsfolk refuse to tell you where the location of the nearest necessary room. And the same holds true for Fela. I don't require voices as signposts. But when Fela funks on in lockstep, it helps to find a person to assure you that you haven't entered one of those Twilight Zone kiddie playsets where the train keeps pulling into to the same station. And by "person," I don't mean a person's voice per se. Just a new element.
But usually, it means voices. Fela places a vocal chorus up front on "Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense" (1986) and it softens you up for the solos and the 25:48 long haul. It's a strategy similar to the one some porn opportunist used for the Pamela and Tommy tape whereby a blow job aria was edited out of sequence and inserted towards the beginning so that we didn't have to sit through interminable vacation footage before we got to the creamy stuff. But the track is a bit soft to begin with, like a lot of his music from this era. I'm really digging 1980s Fela for this very reason - there's more resolve to it, more Marquee Moon than Blank Generation. Like a certain sweet softness can foster hard changes. Or at least a new chapter. 1970s Fela was often like watching Fela watch TV. 1980s Fela is like watching Fela watching The Ellen Degeneres Show and wondering out loud how much longer he can refrain from applying the phrase "sell out" to a cultural laborer for the first time in his life and then getting depressed by a news break that interrupts Ellen announcing Sandra Day O'Connor's step down from the Supreme Court and wondering to himself which Nazi Bush will use to stack the deck and then REALLY enjoying a glass of ice water with a huge chunk of lemon in it and being startled by his husband screaming like a girl because a roach fell on him and then figuring out a way to get the thing out of the house without killing it and then throwing up his hands when the little fucker escapes into the dark recesses of his closet upon hearing Sebastian meow. And then. And then. Sounds like narrative is what I'm asking for again. But it's really something more like drift or better, episodes. Anyhoo, I love it, esp. the part where the program is brought to you by the letters "K" and "G."
Fela dropped out for a while in 1981. So disgusted was he with the state of Nigeria that all he could do was "Look and Laugh" (1986). I suppose then that digging this era means digging a resigned if not defeated Fela. Well, at least he created a 30:49 track about his torpor. What did you do with yours? And I bet you can't laugh as musically as he does.
"Just Like That" (1989) is taken from the Beasts of No Nation album. The sax is most Milesy which probably just means some echo was added. The dénouement is feverish. Some of the vocals were piped in from Mars. I'm gunna keep it.
By "keep it," I mean that I intend to create a mp3 CD (that other kind just doesn't work with Fela) to supplement Best Best (and I'm going to revisit Best Best in a few days after all this insanity has subsided a tad). But I'm not sure archiving and Fela go hand in hand. The very fact that the man requires 700 MB of compression rather than 80 minutes of time time suggests that his oeuvre will somehow be perpetually in the process, forever working and moving beyond any attempt to capture it. I suppose one could say this about any artist: "The essentials of BLANK demand three Bear Family boxes minimum." But this "in the process" quality is a property of the music itself in a way that it's not with the music of, oh I don't know, Johnny Cash. So, in a perversely appropriate way, MCA's gross reissue plan accurately reflects the sounds it stockpiles. A Fela a day is still not enough time to catch up with it. But that's Fela - he always needed to strut one step ahead because the state of Nigeria was always trying to hold him back.
Current Mood: hangin'
Current Music: Le Souk Sunday Sessions