Fela Kuti ‘The Best of Black President 2’ 2CD/Download/Also available as deluxe 2 CD + DVD (Knitting Factory/Kalakuta Sunrise) 4/5

It is now some fifteen years since the passing of Fela Ransome Kuti and there have been various re-issue programmes that have been underway ever since. However, none have been as comprehensive as the latest from Knitting Factory records, the label offshoot of the left-field music venue in New York. This excellent value for money anthology provides a fine overview of Fela’s career, though once you have been hooked by his music you will wish to acquire individual albums. These will be released on a two album per CD set over the forthcoming months from March through September this year. On offer here are full length versions of some of the classic Fela songs which effortlessly combine biting political and social satire with pounding Afro-Beat rhythms and for the uninitiated these are immediately addictive. Thus ‘Sorrow, Tears and Blood’ depicts the toils and tribulations of the Apartheid regime in South Africa while equally compelling and uncompromising are elongated numbers such as ‘Expensive Shit’ and ‘Black Man’s Cry’. From the earlier period in Fela’s career, ‘He miss road’ is a driving number. For long-time fans there are a couple of interesting compositions that are not quite as well known. In particular the laid back number, ‘Trouble sleep yanga wake am’ gives the listener the opportunity to hear the iconic Fela sound at 3/4 pace which makes for a refreshing change and this is largely an instrumental piece weighing in at just over tweleve minutes with some lovely saxophone soloing from Fela. From the end of his career, ‘Underground System (Part 2)’ features some terrific call and response vocals that are a trademark of the Fela sound with an extended rap from the leader in pidgin English. It is often forgotten that Fela Kuti was an accomplished instrumentalist as well as a tireless campaigner for human rights. However, even a 2 CD retrospective could never hope to fully capture the comprehensive picture of just Fela Kuti’s musical career highlights and there are some notable omissions, ‘Roforofo flight’ and ‘Shakara’ being obvious contenders for inclusion. The deluxe edition has as a bonus the live performance of Fela Kuti’s band at the 1984 Glastonbury festival. A fine place to start one’s appreciation of an African musical legend. Tim Stenhouse

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