Fela Kuti ‘Finding Fela’ 2CD/Dig (Knitting Factory) 4/5

finding-fela-kutiTo coincide with the release in the UK on 1 September of a film documentary devoted to the life of Fela Ransome Kuti and directed by Alex Gibney, comes this double CD compilation of Fela music from the 1970s and 1980s and including as a bonus a tribute track to his father by Femi Kuti accompanied by the Fela Band. Although Fela’s music has never really gone away, such is the aura surrounding the individual, akin to that of Bob Marley (and the two figures are comparable in terms of stature), in 2011 a hit Broadway musical on the musician’s dramatic and, at times, controversial life served to focus attention once more on the glorious musical legacy he left and the musical was eventually performed in the Nigerian city of Lagos. As far as the music is concerned, the edited versions (that do not really detract from the quality of the listening experience) enable the listener to enjoy and sample almost twenty of his more memorable songs. While some of the all-time classics are missing here such as ‘Shakara’ and ‘Roforofo Flight’ which is a pity, those that are presented help to showcase the intensity of Fela’s musical, political and social concerns and are still very much representative of his craft. Roughly speaking, the two CDs divide up chronologically into the classic era of the 1970s on the first and going on into the 1980s on the second. The first contains a few numbers that are less familiar with ‘Viva Nigeria’ and ‘Go Slow’ both interesting pieces while ‘Lover’ hints at a different side to Fela’s repertoire, though with twenty-seven wives it clearly was a pressing issue in his personal life.

As ever with Knitting Factory releases, the double CD is tastefully packaged in gatefold digipak with brief notes, though no recording dates or names of musicians. This latest anthology is in fact part of a far more extensive re-issue programme that never seems to have abated since the late 1990s, but this time round there is significantly a more comprehensive vinyl re-issue series with no less than six albums available as from the beginning of September while a completely separate listing of albums are now available as a third volume vinyl box set. There has never been a better time to stock up on Fela’s back catalogue and even the seasoned listener is likely to find something new of interest.

Tim Stenhouse