Erykah Badu curates her favourite Fela records, joining Questlove, Ginger Baker, and Brian Eno, as the fourth artist to expose a new generation to the Black President’s world-quaking AfroBeat. Limited to a run of 3000, the Knitting Factory Records released box set contains seven vinyl, a 16×24 poster by Nigerian artist Lemi Ghariokwu, creative force behind 26 of Fela’s album covers, and track-by-track essays.
The musicians involved in the Fela Vinyl Box Set series have been carefully chosen because of their unique relationships with Fela. Cream drummer Ginger Baker played on the 1971 album Live!, Brian Eno has a continuing, and very healthy, obsession with Fela’s music, whereas Questlove was shunned by Prince whilst playing Zombie during a DJ set, only to discover The Purple One playing the track at a party of his own.
Grammy award-winning singer, actress, activist, reiki master, doula, and wear-what-you-darn-well-feel-like fashion advocate Badu is the perfect person to curate* this never released record collection. Describing her relationship with listening to Fela, during an interview on Viceland, she recalls how, upon first moving in to a white-populated neighbourhood in 1997, one of her only possessions was a set of speakers, turntable, and Coffin For Head Of State, which she played on repeat. The highly charged track turned a lot of heads, and features as the fifth vinyl in the series.
No Agreement and Dog Eat Dog, appearing on the second record, have their own tale. Invited to record as part of Rocket Juice and The Moon, with Damon Albarn, Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Flea, and long-term Fela drummer Tony Allen, she recalls how the project had a ‘a No Agreement kinda funk with a Dog Eat Dog kinda thang.’ The memory doesn’t necessarily evoke happiness however; in a move straight from the playground, Flea, playing trumpet on the record, text Erykah to tell her she wasn’t ‘actually’ in the group, but appearing alongside many other featuring artists. Not that this will give Erykah much solace, perhaps Flea was only in it because his name is an anagram of Fela. Perhaps not.
What is certain is the box set demonstrates how one musician can have a lasting impact on history. Almost twenty years after his passing, his message still echoes through time.
As a white, Middle Class person from the heart of The Midlands, I seem poorly qualified to review such a compilation. But, as must be the case with many people, Fela Kuti was the first African musician to capture myself, and the world by the ears; he’s never really let them go.
*The curator wishes you to enjoy this sonically-ordered, sequentially-pleasing box set with a nice blunt. Whilst this is not condoned, it is a chilled-out affair, and either way you can enjoy a smooth inhalation of the High Life, jazz, and AfroBeat of Fela Kuti, during which you can suck up all the historical knowledge of Chris May and humour of Erykah Badu.