Fela Kuti: The resurrection of a music colossus tipping in his new image

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Music Colossus: Fela Anikulapo Kuti, epitome of African tradition and endowment

The lack of attention by the developed world mainly America and the West to everything that is African before now  contributed immensely to the reason why it has taken long to recognise the talent and several endowments of Fela Anikulapo Kuti. The concept and stereotype have been that nothing good ever comes from Africa  and even with the working of nature through technology which has forced certain bitter truth down the throat of  many across America and the Western World, the misconception has been that all good things must have the touch of the white people before reaching the stage of its glowing.

Take for instance the issue of Sport, especially football.

Until 1990 when Roger Miller dazzled the world with unexpected moves and goals during the World Cup in that year, Africa was still regarded as never- do- wells.

However, in order for history not to judge the coming generations of unfairness to the black race,  certain truths ever since have been put to fore  about the truthfulness of African endowments as the black man as normal human creatures of the Almighty.

When African Footballers were integrated into European Football few years later and are making waves, the success was linked to Foreign coaches flooding African continent.

Little or nothing was given out about the virility and real endowment of Africans as normal genuine and God’s own creature capable of doing all achievable thing same as their white human counterparts if the chance opens.

Until few years back, little attention has been given to African music and lifestyle except in the peripheries and within the community itself  as they are dotted across the world.

It is not an exaggeration that even more recognition was given to the West Indian counterparts.

But nature has been fair in creating a balance of recognition that many are   forced to acknowledge blackness.

Many parts of the world in recent years are now  embracing Africans and even taking cues from their endowments.

This deliberate sidetracking and subdue of truth from the scheme of proper recognition may have caused the reason why Fela Anilulapo’s wealth of  African music art and talents has taken several years after his death to be recognised, applauded and celebrated across the Western Hemisphere.

R. Asmerom, writing in Atlanta Post  draws this fact home on why it has taken so long for the world to celebrate Fela and his wealth of talents the right way until now:

Uniquely classic: Fela Kuti in action

The cream always rises to the top, so they say.

In the music marketplace, where marketing and airplay dictate how artistry is exposed and consumed, the cream’s ascent is a bit more complicated.

 

The popularity of Fela Kuti, the Nigerian artist who created the Afrobeat genre and invigorated the world music scene with his blend of jazz, funk and Yoruba music, exemplifies how a great thing can go relatively unnoticed by a wide audience.

From the late 1960s until his death in 1997, Kuti was slowly building a name for himself not only as a musical innovator but as a political activist.

His critically-praised music often integrated his anti-colonial and anti-corruption ideals. There was a lot to admire about Fela.

But unfortunately, unlike his peer Bob Marley, Kuti’s message and music never really caught on in the United States, until recently that is.

In 2009, the musical Fela! hit Broadway and ignited major interest in the life and music of the man who was known as the “James Brown of Africa.”

“The Broadway show is such a watershed,” said Maurice Bernstein, co-founder and CEO of Giant Step, a marketing and promotion company which has worked on marketing efforts for Kuti’s music for over a decade. He describes his popularity in terms of BC and AD (before the play and after the play).

According to Bernstein, before the play, those who were familiar with Fela’s music were world music fans and deep house fans who were part of the underground dance clubs.

“You had select celebs like Flea who really knew who Fela Kuti was. Outside of that, you said his name, and it would just be a blank,” he said. “You’re talking about one of the greatest musicians and one of the greatest body of works and you’d literally draw a blank from people.”

Ressurecting: Fela on Broadway

Kuti’s 8-minute-plus long songs certainly did not help him get airplay. The length of the songs rendered him unfriendly to radio deejays so his popularity essentially flourished amongst niches of music enthusiasts.

“His music and message have been passed on through word of mouth from friend to friend, brother to sister, teacher to student,” said Manuel Pila, a co-host of world music radio show Global Gumbo.

“Fela has become part of  The Essentials. As such, he has been prominent in that culturally aware crowd for at least a couple of decades. Folks in the know will always know.

The world’s musicians, dancers, artists, activists, writers, and students will always seek out the Great Ones, the Ellas and Billies and, yes, the Felas.”

Alongside the debut of the Broadway play, Knitting Factory Records also announced in 2009 that it would be re-releasing Kuti’s complete catalogue of 45 albums over 12 years.

Bernstein’s company Giant Step organized “Felabrations” across the country to promote the relaunch of his musical catalogue.

Although these re-issues will probably constitute Kuti’s best selling albums in the United States to date, this is not the first time that there was a large reproduction of the prolific artist’s music. Over 10 years ago, MCA (now Universal) re-issued his catalogue.

“The reissue of a lot of his vinyls back in 1999 helped get some of the younger deejay generation into Fela’s music because before that, his records were very hard to come by,” said Bernstein. “That original reissue didn’t set the billboard charts on fire with sales but it got the stuff to more of the next generation of [the] underground.”

By R. Asmerom

 

Source: Atlanta Post