Leeroy ‘Leeroy Presents : Fela is The Future’ LP/CD (BMG France) 3/5

This is in fact a collaborative project with the Institut Français in Nigeria which played a key role in the projects. The underlying idea was to redefine the legacy of Fela Ransome Kuti for a different and younger audience, and one accustomed to a culture of dance remixes and re-edits. The versions of classic Fela compositions here are significantly reduced in length, but has a touch of authenticity added with both sons Femi and Seun Kuti participating. It is something of a hit and miss affair when listened to as a whole and is probably of greatest interest to DJ’s who may wish to cherry pick from the songs, whereas casual listeners may wish to experience it in multiple and reduced listening sessions.

The music works best when the emphasis is firmly on the horns and beats, as with ‘Beast Of No Nation’, with the vocals of Seun Kuti offering a fresh perspective on matters. Likewise, the 1970’s retro feel and disco beat to ‘Opposite People’, with Femi Kuti in attendance works a treat. Other vocalists have their own distinctive take such as Noraa, who deploys the kind of vocal gymnastics on ‘Zombie’, that a young Bobby McFerrin might have relished. Where the music becomes more predictable and a tad repetitive to these ears, however, is when handclaps and beat box predominate, with repeated vocal chants that take the place of acoustic instrumentation, and this is where something of the very essence of Fela is sadly lost in translation. All is not lost, though, and the pared down acoustic sound and female vocals of Nneka impress on ‘Look And Laugh’. A previous legacy project by Leeroy focused more generally on West African music remixes, ‘African Trip’, and there has even been a nod to Indian soundtracks on ‘Bollywood Trip’, so there is some previous awareness of how dance music and world roots traditions can blend harmoniously.

Tim Stenhouse