Monday, February 08, 2010

Fela, Remastered

How could I fire off a bunch of African music posts without touching on the great Fela Kuti? Back in November you might remember me mentioning how Knitting Factory Records was planning on re-issuing all of Kuti's catalog over the next year and a half. To start it off they released the compilation teaser The Best of the Black President, and now the first batch of re-issues is here and ready for you.

It's being called the "Chop 'N Quench" batch and it contains nine albums released between 1969 and 1974 and represent the birth, development, and early refinement of his Afrobeat sound. All of them are remastered, packaged in original artwork, and in some cases albums are doubled up on one CD. While many of these albums proudly exclaim Afrobeat in all its brilliance, it's really interesting to listen to some of Kuti's earlier work, especially on Koola Lobitos / The '69 L.A. Sessions, which is one of the doubled up albums and possibly the most distinct of the group.

Koola Lobitos (also the name of his first band) shares unreleased sides recorded between 1964 and 1968 that clearly show the first few steps of his development, and the L.A. Sessions document some of his first output after coming to the United States and becoming aware of the black rights movement. First, and most obviously, the tracks here are different than his later work in that they're short and direct. Secondly, you'll find distinct influences shining through. Whether it's the native Highlife music of Nigeria which I wrote about the other day on songs like Highlife Time (coincidentally also the name of one of the comps I wrote about!) and Omuti Tide, to the jazzy trumpet solos of Laise Lairo and Wayo, to the stirrings of fierce independence on Viva Nigeria, to the slow cooking reggae Lover, to the James Brown induced Funky Horn. All the ingredients are here for what would be forever known as Afrobeat.

I could go on and on about the other albums here, but it's Fela Kuti, you know it's hot. To sweeten the deal a bit Knitting Factory Records has set up a Fela store with all sorts of package deals on all nine of the albums in a few different formats. I would HIGHLY recommend checking it out as the prices are pretty good and you can get your hands on some other goodies as well such as Fela: This Bitch of a Life, the authorized bio of Kuti, and limited edition, numbered Best of the Black President album cover screen prints.

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