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Professor Hindu, the corpse-reviving sorcerer who was once Fela Kuti’s ‘spiritual advisor’
06.30.2017
09:08 am
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DJ Jumbo Vanrenen’s flyer from Professor Hindu’s London show, via thisisafrica.me
 
A few years ago, Suzanne Moore devoted a column in the New Statesman to her memories of a special event Fela Kuti once hosted in London. Inside a small club in Belsize Park, Fela’s favorite sorcerer, Professor Hindu, was slicing out his own tongue; out front, men were digging a grave. “Some poor guy had volunteered to be killed and resurrected,” she writes. After doing some card tricks, Professor Hindu slit the volunteer’s throat and buried him in the cold, cold ground.

Moore didn’t return for the Lazarus routine two days later, but she heard about it from wonderful Vivien Goldman (who published her own account in NME) long after the fact:

Not only had she been there, but she’d gone back to see the dead man raised. He’d jumped out of the grave in a suit all covered in earth and propositioned her. “Being buried alive makes you horny,” he exclaimed. That makes sense, when you think about it.

Fela’s death and resurrection show made its debut at his Lagos club, the Shrine, in May of ‘81. According to Michael E. Veal’s Fela: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon, during Professor Hindu’s first engagement at the Shrine, the magician “reportedly hacked open one man’s throat and fatally shot another.” In both instances, the victims were revived after apparently spending days and nights buried in the ground.

Continues after the jump…

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Posted by Oliver Hall
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06.30.2017
09:08 am
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Fela Kuti’s jazzy, pre-Afrobeat party music
04.13.2016
09:15 am
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Before the completion of his political radicalization, the great Nigerian creator of Afrobeat music Fela Kuti was a purveyor of another acutely African music called Highlife. Highlife was, at the time, a dance music that married African percussion and Western-style horn and guitar sections, creating a specifically Nigerian/Ghanan jazz sound. Around the 1930s, the style spread through the continent, and a modernized version remains popular today. From The Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora:

In 1930, Sibo, a Kru man, established a brass band in Ghana that played both African and European music; in Nigeria about the same time, the Calabar Brass Band moved to Lagos. Bothe events established the roots of highlife music in the two countries. Generally, as the music and its accompanying highlife dance spread across West Africa, each region maintained its ethnic specificity by composing songs in the local language, and some bands, especially the multinational ones, created compositions in English or pidgin English. Typical highlife songs covered topics ranging from love to social, philosophical, and the occasional political commentary.

Several factors contributed to the decline of highlife music. One major factor was the wave of independence sweeping through colonial Africa in the 1960s and 1970s. As countries attained independence, they lost vital connections they once shared through the British colonial system. Each new nation turned inward, focusing on developing independently. Closely related to this were the political unrest in Ghana and Nigeria. The 1965 coup d’etat that swept President Nkrumah from power also stifled his favored projects, including the state patronage of highlife music. The Nigerian Civil War (1969-1971) had an even more devastating impact because many of its prominent musicians were located in Biafra where the war raged the most. Finally, there was the widely, internationally popular soul music with its strong appeal to the younger generation, and West African youths proved to be no exception. Suddenly, highlife was no longer hip; it slipped into the memory lane of the middle-aged.

 

 

 
Photos circa 1966, give or take.

During the 1960s, after returning to Nigeria from his formal music studies in London, Fela led a Highlife band called Koola Lobitos. The band, like the music itself, was a mix of Africans and Westerners, and Kuti experienced success in the form. He was plentifully recorded, but little of that documentation made it to the west (an insanely thorough discography of those years can be seen at this link, revealing a massive trove of tantalizingly rare Fela records). The best record we’ve had of those years was The ‘69 Los Angeles Sessions. The tracks were recorded, like it says on the box, in 1969, in Los Angeles, under time duress as the band had been reported to the INS as being in the country without work permits!

But entirely legal or not, it was during his US visits that Kuti encountered the Black Power movement and books like Black Man of the Nile, which sped his already growing politicization, transforming him into the active revolutionary, wildly innovative and prolific musician, and controversial figure (he was also a prolific polygamist) who became famous in the ‘70s for the captivating, hypnotic chimera of Highlife, funk and free jazz he called Afrobeat.

Kuti’s Afrobeat phase was long and amply documented, lasting the rest of Kuti’s life (he passed in 1997 of AIDS-related Kaposi’s sarcoma)—in fact, all of his Western releases are legitimately streaming for free, if you’ve got any curiosity to sate—but new compilation from Knitting Factory of his Koola Lobitos years aims to fill in the gaps in Westerners’ knowledge of his early years. Highlife-Jazz and Afro-Soul (1963-1969) was released last week, and while the collection contains appears to some overlap with the 1969 sessions release, it’s mostly unheard in the West.

More after the jump…

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Posted by Ron Kretsch
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04.13.2016
09:15 am
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‘Music is the Weapon’: The must-see Fela Kuti documentary from 1982
02.02.2015
09:42 am
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Fela Kuti Art
 
Musical visionary, street preacher, incendiary political activist, and Afro-beat progenitor, Fela Anikulapo Kuti is chronicled in Fela Kuti – Music is the Weapon, a compelling 1982 documentary directed by Stéphane Tchal-Gadjieff and Jean Jacques Flori. The film documents all-night politically charged performances at Fela’s Shrine nightclub, intimate takes from inside his Kalakuta Republic compound, and scenes of street culture in Lagos, Nigeria. It’s not a complete picture by any means, but it’s a singular and important historical record capturing Kuti in stage and home milieus that were vital to his life and work. If you had any doubt that Fela Kuti was anything short of an otherworldly human being, this film and these performances will dispel that belief quickly. As he did often in his music, Fela speaks out repeatedly against the Nigerian government throughout the film while discussing his political and musical ambitions.

Kuti’s attitude is defiant from the get-go. He takes command in the very first on-screen moment, saying “When you are the king of African music, you are the king. ‘Cause music is the king of all professions.”
 
Fela Kuti Sax
 
Almost immediately it becomes apparent upon watching the film that life can be unforgiving in the place where Fela and crew choose to make their home base. Lagos, Nigeria is depicted as being the most dangerous and violent city in the country and, by extension, the world. Street scenes portraying the chaos, desperation and the day-to-day existence of citizens in and around the former Nigerian capital are beautifully shot. Scenes of poverty, humor and violence along with shipwrecks and scrapyards of decaying cars and motorcycles are interspersed with vibrant local markets. One chilling scene shows the body of a man washed up on a popular beach, a regular occurrence according to the film’s narrator.

In these surroundings Fela Kuti arrives nightly around midnight to his famous Shrine to unleash a combination of music, spiritual ritual, and personal political testimony. The performances captured in Music is the Weapon are magical things, encompassing dance, classic Afrobeat call-and-response and charismatic displays from Kuti himself who plays baritone sax and keys and often performs in nothing but his briefs. The vibrancy of Kuti’s work is obvious through his myriad recordings but it’s even more potent when you can see it radiating from what was ground zero for Kuti’s entire transcendent enterprise.
 
Inside the shrine
Inside The Shrine
 
Some of the most illuminating scenes take place off the stage. One notable sequence begins early in the morning, when “day breaks and the music stops,” and Fela and crew leave in a beat-up van and a rickety VW Beetle and The Shrine is left empty for the day. The band, looking like they could play for a few more hours if they felt so inclined, return to a ramshackle Kalakuta Republic compound where Fela lived with his controversial bevvy of “queens” and fellow musicians. At the time of the filming, Fela had been there for several years despite repeated attempts by the Nigerian government to intimidate him with shows of force, one of which tragically led to the death of his mother years earlier. One such incident actually takes place in 1981during the filming of Music is the Weapon and is documented with still photographs taken by the camera crew who didn’t have time to set up their movie cameras. Nigerian soldiers surround the compound, fire tear gas and brutally beat the occupants.  Kuti finds himself in prison on trumped up charges but is soon released and is right back at it on stage within days at The Shrine, despite the fact that it was supposedly closed by Nigerian officials. 
 
Kuti Car
A car fit for a king.
 
Despite repeated jail sentences and years of beatings, persecution and all nature of mistreatments leveled upon him, Fela comes across again and again in Music is the Weapon as a not-from-this-world, heavy, unstoppable force attempting to live a life of pure principle where politics, spirituality, music and activism are indivisible. 

Ultimately, Fela Kuti’s legacy is far larger than what could be captured in a short film, but this is an informative introduction to the Pan-African pioneer’s life and work. 

Says the anti-colonialist visionary at one point in the film:

Music is a spiritual thing. You don’t play with music. If you play with music you will die young. See because when the higher forces give you the gift of music, musicianship, it must be well used for the good of humanity. If you use it for your own self by deceiving people… you will die young, you see. And I’ve told people this many times. So, I’m gonna prove them all wrong and prove myself right.  Because now I’m 44, I’m getting younger. Because I’m doing it right. I can play music for ten hours and never tire. I’m getting younger because the spiritual life of music that I’ve led, RIGHTLY, is helping me now.

Kuti was the subject of a Toni Award winning Broadway production called Fela! from 2008 and of a recent 2014 documentary called Finding Fela

You can watch all of Fela Kuti – Music is the Weapon below. It’s also streaming on Hulu Plus.
 

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Dozens of Fela Kuti albums available for free streaming
Fela Kuti live at Glastonbury Festival 1984

Posted by Jason Schafer
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02.02.2015
09:42 am
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Dozens of Fela Kuti albums available for free streaming
02.10.2014
07:33 am
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A Metafilter user going by the wonderful handle “flapjax at midnite” has alerted the world to the existence of a Bandcamp page full of complete Fela Kuti LPs. 48 of them, in fact, which I don’t believe is even his complete discography.

If you’re unfamiliar, good lord take this opportunity! Fela (1938-1997) was an inestimably important African artist who began making music in the late ‘50s, and in the ‘60s pioneered a compelling fusion of psych-rock, funk, jazz, and traditional Nigerian music that he dubbed “Afrobeat.” His music dealt with themes of social justice, which, as he was a Pan-African and a Socialist, got him in major and repeated deep shit in the repressive milieu of Nigeria. The mid ’70s album Zombie, for example, was a blistering attack on the Nigerian military, whose response to the insult included fatally defenestrating his mother in a brutal raid on the Lagos commune in which he, his family, and his band lived. The 1989 release Beasts of No Nation—the recording that served as my introduction to his work—was a lengthy and stunning piece he wrote after being freed from a stint in prison on a politically motivated and trumped up currency smuggling charge.
 

 

 
Now, as heroic as his political struggles were, the man was not unproblematic. It’d be plain wrong to lionize him for his musical innovations and political engagement while leaving out that he was a polygamist who could be disturbingly misogynistic.

There are plenty of good entry points into Fela’s work, but among my favorites is the absolutely KILLER Live With Ginger Baker. The Cream drummer’s African sojurn is a story unto itself, and had no small impact on the development of that continent’s rock music in the ’70s.
 

 
Lastly, here’s some great footage from Catalonian television in the ‘80s, mixing interview material with a live concert, a combination which imparts a good sense of the man and his work.
 

Posted by Ron Kretsch
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02.10.2014
07:33 am
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Fela Kuti live at Glastonbury Festival 1984
08.31.2011
10:28 am
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Shed your midweek blues with this excellent full length film of African funk magus Fela Kuti and band performing live at the Glastonbury Festival in 1984. The 70 minute film also features a candid interview where Fela talks about discovering his African identity in post-colonial, racist England and how this eventually led to his involvement in Nigerian politics. He also talks about how ideas of “democracy” inspired the song “Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense”, an incredible, 40 minute-plus version of which closes the show:
 

 
Thanks to P6!

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile
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08.31.2011
10:28 am
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Fela Kuti: Music is the Weapon
11.26.2010
12:55 pm
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image
 
It didn’t take long after his death in 1997 for the indomitable spirt of Fela Kuti, Afrobeat legend, political revolutionary, musician, composer and performer, to rise again. His singular musical cross-pollination of African drumming, Bitches Brew-influenced jazz rock and James Brown-influenced guitar funk has gained cultural currency in the past decade far beyond what he achieved in his lifetime.

The wildly popular Broadway musical about him, Fela! (directed and choreographed by the great Bill T. Jones, and financed in part by Jay-Z, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith) has been nominated for 11 Tony Awards and was recently visited by First Lady Michelle Obama. The upcoming Beyonce Knowles album is said to be heavily influenced by Kuti’s Afrobeat sound.

Below, a fascinating documentary on Fela Kuti titled Music is the Weapon. This intimate 1982 film was directed by Stéphane Tchal-Gadjieff & Jean Jacques Flori.
 

 
Via Pathway to Unknown Worlds

Posted by Richard Metzger
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11.26.2010
12:55 pm
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Meet Lagbaja, the masked king of Afrobeat music
11.06.2010
02:09 pm
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image
 
Bisade Ologunde isn’t the only masquerading musician out there of course, but the Nigerian sax man and bandleader is definitely one of the most intriguing.

Lagos-born and Manhattan-based musician took the name Lagbaja (meaning “anonymous” or “faceless one” in Yoruba) when he started his career in the early ‘90s. Wearing a variety of masks onstage falls right in line with carnival tradition of his Yoruba tribe, and has enhanced his appeal among Nigerians. Ologunde’s hip-hop-era take on Afrobeat—he’s taken to naming his style “Africano,” after the title of his fourth album—takes in aspects of jazz and modern R&B. And as seen below in this excellently choreographed video, deals with some of the same issues…
 

 
After the jump: a clip from Lagbaja’s intense live show in Ife, near Lagos…
 

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Posted by Ron Nachmann
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11.06.2010
02:09 pm
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Fela Kuti and Love cakes
07.20.2010
11:44 pm
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Love ‘Forever Changes’ lemon buttermilk custard cake
 
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Chocolate cake with vanilla butter. Chocolate image from the back of the Shakara LP
 
Holy awesomeness of cakes! These friggin’ amazing cakes are made by Los Angeles resident straightouttachocolate. I highly suggest visiting her Flickr page to view more unique and tasty treats.

straightouttachocolate

Thanks a-rock!

Posted by Tara McGinley
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07.20.2010
11:44 pm
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The King Meets the President in Africa: Michael Jackson vs. Fela Kuti

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The wonderful Tracii Macgregor at Gargamel Music hepped me to this latest project put together by New York hip-hop DJ/producer/scene-vet Rich Medina. Like any device, the mash-up/remix can yield a good amount of garbage (Gaga vs. Bieber, etc.), unless the sources are well-chosen and assembled.

It hardly gets better than pop king Michael vs. Nigeria’s Afrofunk prez Fela Kuti—much has been made of how Fela and James Brown mutually influenced each other, so the R&B/Afrofunk connection is hardly a surprise. Medina’s put together 10 rounds of it for The King Meets the President in Africa, which is downloadable for free. Unfortunately, the videos below are uncredited—if Rich did these as well, I’d consider him even more of a badman talent than I already do.
 

Thriller vs. Zombie from MJ Fela on Vimeo.

 

Billie Jean is Shakara from MJ Fela on Vimeo.

 

Posted by Ron Nachmann
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06.25.2010
06:19 pm
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