Various ‘Red, Hot and Fela’ CD/2LP/Digital (Knitting Factory) 3/5

RedHotFelaPaying homage to Nigerian Afro-Beat legend Fela Ransome Kuti and raising awareness of Aids, the illness Kuti is reputed to have succumbed to, is the rasion d’être of this compilation and it is a mixed affair that works best when the focus is firmly on inventive re-interpretations of the classic grooves. A plethora of invited artists including the worlds of hip-hop, world roots and even western classical make this as diverse a set of selections as one could wish for, but some work better than others. Where the tribute is most creative is on the African-flavoured reworkings such as ‘Buy Africa’ which features Baloji and l’Orchestre de la Katuba with French language vocals from rapper Kuku. A throbbing Afro-Beat rhythm is retained, but with the wonderful addition of melodic Congolese guitar riffs and this might be how a Fela-Franco collaboration might have sounded had they teamed up. It is a strong opener to the album. In a somewhat lighter feel, but with a nonetheless organic Afro-Beat feel, ‘Lady’ features the excellent vocals of Angelique Kidjo and members of the Roots. For a more radical departure from the original, a pared down and mainly instrumental version of ‘Sorrow, Tears and Blood’ includes the Kroons Quartet who are renowned for breaking down musical boundaries and their plucked strings in tandem with the background whistling makes for an alternative take that Fela would surely have approved of. Combining disparate, yet related musical styles has been a characteristic of world roots fusion and here ‘Afrodiscobeat 2013’ brings together an Afro-Beat undercurrent, the deployment of dub effects and French rap into one with former Fela band drummer Tony Allen and Baloji the main practitioners.

Where this compilation falls down, though, is in some of the electro and house-oriented offerings that simply lose sight of the essence of Fela’s music. It is a pity that some of the nu-soul singers could not have been invited on board. How would Erykah Badu or Raphael Saadiq have gone about the task of tackling the repertoire? Excellent in parts, then, and a missed opportunity in others. Tim Stenhouse

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