Fela Kuti Box Set #3 (curated by Brian Eno) now avail as individual LPs


WATCH: Brian Eno talking about his love of Fela via YouTube

LISTEN: Fela Kuti's "Lady" off Shakara via Soundcloud

PURCHASE: Individual Vinyls from Fela Box Set #3, curated by Brian Eno, viaKnitting Factory Records

Since 2011, Knitting Factory Records has released three limited edition Fela Kuti Box Sets curated by musicians who are long-time admirers of Nigerian icon and Afrobeat originator Fela Anikulapo Kuti. The first by Questlove, second by Ginger Baker and the most recent by Brian Eno. 

On October 14th, seven individual vinyl reissues from the Brian Eno-curated Fela Kuti Box Set (#3) will be available via Knitting Factory Records. Eno's album selections span the ten years in which Fela's afrobeat progressed from its formative stage to a rich maturation of the form. It begins with 1971's Shakara and ends with 1980's I.T.T.(International Thief Thief). It also includes London Scene (1972), AfrodisiacGentleman (both 1973) and Upside Down (1976). The ultimate selection is 1976's Zombie, which was a huge hit in Nigeria. All of the albums are pressed on 180 gram vinyl.

On discovering Fela Kuti, Eno says: "Before about mid-September 1973 I didn't have much interest in polyrhythmic music. I didn't really get it. That all changed one autumn day when I walked into Stern's Record Shop off Tottenham Court Road. For reasons I've long forgotten, I left the store with an album that was to change my life dramatically. It was Afrodisiac by Fela Ransome-Kuti (as he was then known) and his band The Africa 70. I remember the first time I listened and how dazzled I was by the groove and the rhythmic complexity, and by the raw, harsh sounds of the brass, like Mack trucks hurtling across highways with their horns blaring. Everything I thought I knew about music at that point was up in the air again. The sheer force and drive of this wild Nigerian stuff blew my mind. My friend Robert Wyatt called it 'Jazz from another planet' - and suddenly I thought I understood the point of jazz, until then an almost alien music to me."

October also marks Felabration month. Felabrations are the annual celebrations that commemorate the life and music of the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti. The first Felabration, the brainchild of Fela's eldest child Femi Kuti and his sister Yeni, was created nearly a decade ago. It was a week-long series of events held at the atmospheric 2,500 capacity New Afrika Shrine in Lagos, Nigeria. Felabrations have now expanded all over the world-- last year there were over 20 held across the United States, Europe, and Africa as well as Indonesia and Japan. Afrobeat fans and artists (both big and small) have joined the parties, including Damon Albarn, Flea, Third World, Ziggy and Rita Marley.
This year the official London Felabration will take place at the Electric Ballroom on Friday, October 7th with the Kuti family blessing. A full list of more confirmed Felabrations coming soon!

 - Original year of release: 1971
Shakara is one of a clutch of early 1970s albums, on which Fela's Afrobeat transitioned from foetal stage to something approaching full-grown form. Shakara (1971) includes three of mature Afrobeat's signature ingredients. There are two guitarists, rhythm guitarist Tutu Shoronmu and tenor guitarist Segun Edo. The pair's repetitive, interlocking riffs - part melody, part rhythm - play a similar role to the rhythm and mi-solo guitars used in contemporary Congolese rumba. Fela's Broken English lyrics extend his music's audience beyond Yoruba speakers and make his words understandable across Anglophone Africa. And female backing vocalists echo Fela's lead vocals in what was to become Afrobeat's trademark call-and-response pattern. In "Lady," Fela highlights the adoption of European social habits to the detriment of African culture. "Shakara" is a mainly instrumental track, with a brief lyric, sung in Yoruba, warning against boasters and braggarts. Up-tempo, with a suitably turbulent horn arrangement, it includes strong solos from Fela on keyboards and the fearsome Igo Chico on tenor saxophone. --Chris May

Shakara Tracklisting:
1. Lady
2. Shakara (Oloje)

London Scene - Original year of release: 1972
Fela's London Scene, released in 1972, is a top-notch affair, made with a smaller band but one that punches above its weight. There is no tenor guitarist and no call-and-response choir, though sing-along vocals are a feature of  "Egbe Mi O" ("please carry me"). Throughout, Fela's electric piano is gym-ripped and razor sharp, and Igo Chico turns in three stirring tenor solos.  "Buy Africa," written in 1970, was one of Fela's first politically-informed songs. The lyric was written in support of a government campaign to encourage local industry.  "J'Ehin J'Ehin" ("eat teeth eat teeth") is along similar lyric lines as "Shakara." This time Fela is lampooning people who are so greedy that they eat their own teeth. In "Who're You," Fela channels James Brown's vocal style over an angular funk groove. "Fight To Finish" draws on Yoruba folklore to offer advice: once you have started something, be prepared to finish it. --Chris May

London Scene Tracklisting:
1. J'Ehin J'Ehin (Chop Teeth - Chop Teeth)
2. Egbe Mio (Carry Me)
3. Who're You
4. Buy Africa
5. Fight To Finish

Gentleman - Original year of release: 1973
1973's Gentleman is the last of Fela's early 1970s transitional albums - it was followed by 1974's Alagbon Close, on which he brought all Afrobeat's signature ingredients together. The title track from can be interpreted literally or as metaphor concerning a wider issue. In this case, Fela's topic is the colonialism-induced inferiority complex which led many in Africa's new governing elites to reject African style, concepts of beauty and modes of behaviour in favour of European imports. Gentleman's other tracks, "Fefe Naa Efe" and "Igbe," have briefer lyrics. On "Fefe Naa Efe," an Ashanti motto from Ghana, Fela tells a woman dumped by her boyfriend that she must get over the heartache and move on. On "Igbe" (shit), Fela declares that anyone who betrays a friend is shit, and that anybody who lacks self-respect is shit - something you want to expel from your body as soon as possible. He sings the word "shit" in a several Nigerian languages, so there is no misunderstanding. --Chris May

Gentleman Tracklisting:
1. Gentleman
2. Fefe - Naa Efe
3. Igbe

Afrodisiac- Original year of release: 1973
Afrodisiac was recorded at EMI's Abbey Road studios in London. 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. Lyrically, the standout track is the closing "Je'Nwi Temi" ("don't gag me"), a critique of the Nigerian political/military establishment and a defence of free speech. Fela vows that he will always tell it like it is, no matter what. This proved to be prophetic stuff, given the police and army assaults, intended to silence him, which were just around the corner. "Alu Jon Jonki Jon" draws on the interaction between animals and humans that is part of Yoruba mythology, in a tale about a dog who betrays his friends. Like many of Fela's lyrics of the period, the lyric employs parable and metaphor to encourage ethical conduct in everyday life. In "Eko Ile," Fela sings that there is no place like home (Eko was the pre-colonial name of Lagos). --Chris May

Afrodisiac Tracklisting:
1. Alu Jon Jonki Jon
2. Jeun Ko Ku (Chop and Quench)
3. Eko Ile
4. Je'Nwi Temi (Don't Gag Me)

Zombie - Original year of release: 1976
On the title track of 1976's Zombie, Fela and the backup singers ridicule the mindset of men in uniform over an urgent, quick-march accompaniment from Afrika 70. "Attention! Quick march! Slow march! Salute!" sings Fela, "Fall in! Fall out! Fall down! Go and kill! Go and die! Go and quench!" Each phrase is followed by the women singers' taunting response, "Zombie!" Just a few months later on 18 February, 1977, around 1,000 soldiers, most of them armed, swooped on the Kalakuta Republic. Fela was badly beaten, sustaining a fractured skull and several broken bones. His mother, then aged 77, was thrown out of a window, fracturing a leg and suffering deep trauma. The army then set fire to the compound and prevented the fire brigade reaching the area. The blaze gutted the premises, destroying six Afrika 70 vehicles, all Fela's master tapes and band equipment, a four-track recording studio, all the residents' belongings and, for good measure, the free medical clinic run by Fela's brother, Dr Beko Ransome Kuti (who was also severely beaten in the attack). The first journalists to arrive on the scene were assaulted by soldiers. Inquisitive passers-by were similarly set upon. The army didn't want any witnesses. --Chris May

Zombie Tracklisting:
1. Zombie
2. Mr. Follow Follow

Upside Down - Original year of release: 1976
Upside Down and Zombie, both released in 1976, were made at the mid-point of an extraordinary three-year purple period during which Fela recorded 24 albums of new material.  Upside Down is unusual in that it includes a second lead vocalist, Fela's American friend Sandra Izsadore, who he'd known since touring the US in 1969. Izsadore, a black rights activist, introduced him to the writings of Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Rap Brown, Stokely Carmichael, Huey Newton and other revolutionary thinkers. Fela later credited Izsadore with helping inspire his philosophy of Blackism.  Izsadore can take credit for something else, too: she affirmed Fela's use of weed. Fela had first smoked in London in 1960 or 1961; during his time with Izsadore, he began to use weed regularly, continuing to do so until the end of his life. "Go Slow" was one of several songs Fela recorded which critiqued the consequences of over-rapid urbanization - in this case, traffic jams - using them as a metaphor to describe deeper social breakdowns. --Chris May

Upside Down Tracklisting:
1. Upside Down
2. Go Slow

I.T.T. (International Thief Thief) - Original year of release: 1980
I.T.T. International Thief Thief (1980) was recorded following Afrika 70's disintegration and the formation of Egypt 80. It is one of a quartet of courageous 1979/80 albums completed by V.I.P. (Vagabonds In Power), Authority Stealing and Coffin For Head Of State.  In "International Thief Thief ," Fela makes highly insulting, personal attacks on former Nigerian president General Obasanjo, and Moshood Abiola, the local chief executive of the multi-national corporations Internal Telephone & Telegraph (ITT) and Decca Records. Obasanjo Fela regarded as a crook, an incompetent and a thug, and held him responsible for the death of his mother following the 1977 sack of Kalakuta. Abiola, he believed, had both cheated him out of royalties and conspired with Decca's London bosses to silence him after the 1977 attack, in order to maintain favourable relations with Obasanjo's regime. Both men, Fela says, are "thieves," "rats" and of "low mentality."   --Chris May

I.T.T. Tracklisting:
1. ITT (Part 1)
2. ITT (Part 2)