Where to even begin with this magnificent album? 1971, collaboration with Cream drummer Ginger Baker, which Fela pronounces most wonderfully. Fela Kuti has a rule that he would never play songs in his albums during live shows, which frustrated fans to no end but is a remarkable badge of consistency and integrity for the artist. Consequently we have an album of the month comprised of four original songs which were never to be performed again.
The first tune is called O l’oun t’awa se n’yara Je k’abere which means ‘let’s start what we have come into the room to do’
From the first this is a piece of astonishing energy. It bursts out of the gate like a prize horse. The James Brown esque bass underpins the majority of the opening floury. The sensational synth work in the bridge is reminiscent of the work of Francis Bebey in African Electronic Music – perhaps Kuti inspired him.
Who knew cow bells could add so much to a tune? The driving consistent energy of this track is very exciting to me. This is Afrobeats at its best, driven, harmonious, spontaneous and intrinsically rhythmical. the way it picks up at the back end of the song, pauses and launches back into the opening refrain is astonishing. A sense of completion washes over the listener.
Black Man’s Cry
Fela sang most of his songs in Nigerian Pigdin English but some are in the Yorumba language. I believe Black MAn’s Cry is one such song.
Again, the opening moments are so effortlessly excellent. I can’t imagine this in Western pop. The combination of that magnificent bass guitar, the relentless drums of Ginger Baker and the trumpets is so exciting. I am finding it hard not to tear myself away from the keyboard and dance along.
The production of the album and the quality of the recording really shine through here. Despite being 1971 the recording is crystal clear. And it’s live!
I think the Black Man’s Cry refers to one of joy. I certainly feel boundless happiness listening to Fela. The saxophone at 3 minutes in!
The Manzerek-esque keyboard is superlative also and goes with the central recurring motif established in the opening moments of this track. The way he screams the cry at the end of the long and ad libs the rest of the track is just fabulous. He is lost in the abandon of making music. What a crescendo in the last minute!
Ye Ye Di Smell
Ginger doesn’t smell, really he takes his bath
Another 10 minute + track of unsurpassed brilliance. Ye Ye Di Smell talks about “it is a friendly thing, when your friend does not do the things they are supposed to do, then they smell”.
The understated guitar of the opening of track is swiftly brought to standard by the incredible drumming and keyboard going on. The Doors would be proud. I bet Jim Morrison was in the audience. The call and response between Fela and the band is incredible. His mumblings form the basis of his orchestrating the band to follow. It is surreal, natural, intrinsic. Fela is the music here. He and the music are in symbiosis.
The crescendo bridge in the fourth minute is the stuff of goosebumps. The false end at 4.35 followed by a redoubled keyboard section is awesome. One gets so carried away with the rhythm, it feels like it will never end, and thankfully there are 7 minutes left of the track.
Fela is known for staggering introductions followed by crushing lyrics. Listen to the below for an example. This is the first track he released after a trip to the West where he was able to access incredible resources and literature. He read up on colonialism, the Empire and the past of Nigeria and Africa and came back a changed man. The lyrics are incredible.
Following his 1969 tour of the United States, where he was influenced by the politics of Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and other militants, Kuti’s music became increasingly politicized. He exhorted social change in such songs as “Zombie,” “Monkey Banana,” “Beasts of No Nation,” and “Upside Down.” Britannica
Man alive the drum solo at 8 minutes is bonkers. Rejoined by the keyboard handing the track throughout. The keyboard which has been almost stalking the other instruments and chasing them along. Superb.
And the final minute floury of action is hard to believe. It just keeps going up and up and up, drums more frantic. Big trumpet finish. Breathtaking.
Egbe Mi O (Carry Me)
It means carry me, I want to die
I believe this is the last track on the official track listing before a spontaneous drum sesh.
Listen to those drums and trumpets at the beginning! Notice how Fela envelops you with the main theme at the start of each track? Oh and the James Brown bass is great. The first half of the long goes by too quickly. It washes past you. The second half picks up with more lyrics.
“Egbe Me” in Yoruba language means: Carry me. In this song, Fela is singing about the different kinds of things that happen to you while you dance. How could you go into trance while dancing? How in a state of musical trance, the traditional beads women wear under their skirts break without the woman noticing. How a man’s hat would fall off his head while dancing without him noticing. All kinds of things happen to you doing the dance — but you are not alone! ‘…be ke iwo nikan ko’. Fela ends this track with a general chorus calling everybody together with the band: Egbe Mi O! AfrobeatMusic
Three minutes at the end are a superb demonstration of call and response with the audience and parallels that Fela did with the instruments in a previous track. The violence of the drums is very well placed. What an exciting ending!
Drum instrumental with Ginger Baker and Tony Allen
This is a bonus track from the live show in 1978 and includes Tony Allen and Ginger Baker having a sort of drum off against each other. It is 16 minutes so optional to listen to. Nothing like the magnificence before.
Overall I think my key reflection is that I would have loved to have been there. How excellent must it have been to be in the audience for this magnificent triumph of a live show. This is an album which will stay with me for the rest of my life. I cannot encourage you enough to listen to it.