Celebrating the Life and Time of African Legend Fela Kuti

fela-kutiOver a decade after his death, vindication has come to Fela Kuti, Africa’s musical genius. AfroBeat, his gift to the world, is now an international staple on his own uncompromising terms, social content intact.

Throughout his life, Fela contended that AfroBeat was a modern form of danceable, African classical music with an urgent message for the planet’s denizens. Created out of a cross-breeding of Funk, Jazz, Salsa and Calypso with Juju, Highlife and African percussive patterns, it was to him a political weapon.

Fela refused to bow to the music industry’s preference for 3-minute tracks, nor did he buckle under entreaties to moderate his overwhelmingly political lyrics. He went down in 1997 still railing against the consumerist gimmicks that taint pop music, with the aim, he felt, of promoting and imposing homogeneous aesthetic standards worldwide, thereby inducing passivity.

The fact that AfroBeat is today globally winning hearts in its original form – lengthy, ably crafted, earthy compositions laced with explicitly political lyrics – suggests that Fela’s purgatory on earth may have served to awaken a sensibility in people to appreciate authenticity and substance.

THE MESSAGE

Fela’s rise in the early 1970s paralleled the downfall of the hopes Africans pinned on their newly won Independence. As a whole, Africans were again living in incarcerated societies; Nigeria, he said, was a “prison of peoples”. Africa had fallen mostly into the hands of uncaring thieves and scoundrels who were unmindful of wrecking society in order to sustain insolent lifestyles. To reclaim Africa’s stolen dignity became Fela’s obsession.

As many of these new countries turned into terror-drenched, neo-colonial states, Fela summoned his people to return to their senses and principles of old: self-pride, self-reliance, and decency rooted in traditional cultural norms. To achieve these, he prescribed forsaking the corrupting ways of Western society, its capitalist greed, its Communist despotism, the straitjacket moral conventions of Judeo-Christianity and Islam. He saw imperialism, colonialism and racism as scourges to be universally eradicated, and the structures that sustain them dismantled, before humankind could advance.

Fela’s seismic music infused freshness into the reality of rotten politics. In song after song, he summoned revolt, not solely against erstwhile tyrants and exploiters (“Zombie”, “Army Arrangement”, “Coffin for Head of State”) but against self-damaging prejudices and assimilationist alienation (“Yellow Fever”, “Colonial Mentality”, “Teacher, Don’t Teach Me No Nonsense”, “Gentleman”, “Lady”). He chastised the West (“International Thief Thief”, “Underground System”) and the local elites that fronted for multinationals (“Beasts of No Nation”, “Government of Crooks”).

Ordinary Africans embraced songs such as “Shakara”, “Sorrow Tears and Blood”, “Upside Down” and “Why Black Man Dey Suffer” for accurately mirroring their frustrations. They welcomed the graphic words of “Expensive Shit” or “Who No Know Go Know” as down-to-earth explanations for their lowly condition. More importantly, Fela’s music was a clarion proclamation that it was possible to reverse their lot (“Water No Get Enemy”, “Africa Center of the World”).

Groomed and pampered in youth by a pre-independence middle class but morphed by Black Power and pan-Africanist politics into a revolutionary ghetto hero, Fela voiced relentless condemnation of the so-called New Africa, attracting to himself a deluge of repression. His personal life became a harrowing tale of police beatings, victimization by the court system, near-death encounters with the Nigerian military.

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Fela’s casual, uninhibited approach to sexual relations, his affection for nudity, further alarmed the uptight elites. Because of the Judeo-Christian concept of “sin”, he believed, humans were constrained by an “Adam-and-Eve” loathing of their own bodies. Monogamous marriage, individualism and “body-phobia”, he said, were Islamic-Arab or Judeo-Christian importations.

Few aspects of his life caused more affront, and media curiosity, than his marriage to twenty-seven beautiful fellow singers and dancers, aggravated by his impenitent use of marijuana. Though no woman ever claimed to have been coerced into marrying him or remaining at his side, these young, resourceful, intelligent and highly politicized co-wives were considered an insult to “good society”.

Nigeria’s rulers regarded Fela’s “Kalakuta Republic” as a Sodom and Gomorrah to be purged with sulphur and gunfire; this elicited from Fela a response whose trademark extravagance signaled out-and-out defiance. When convenient, he provoked outrage, rode it as if surfing a wave, and used it as political capital.

A life pockmarked by scandal allowed Fela to project himself as indestructibly macho, an image he relished and cultivated. This was as much a manifestation of patriarchal narcissism as an attempt to blunt the fear the Nigerian military’s ferocity had instilled into ordinary citizens.

THE MAN

fhfFela was a Promethean spirit, in a constant face-off with Death. In the solace of intimacy, he was jovial, boisterous and loquacious, but he was mercurial – reflective and wistful at times, irascible and distant at others. His father-brother-lover relationship with his wives was overall affectionate, their love and loyalty for him undeniable. But his angry outbursts at errant household members or defaulting band personnel were intimidating.

Anyone who knew him well was aware that he was a nurturing democrat as much as a charismatic autocrat. Intensely loyal to friends and family and a profoundly generous man, he could be quite dogmatic, inconsistent and arbitrary in views and behavior, reigning unfettered as a benevolent King over his Kalakuta commune.

Much of what Fela said may be questionable, but most of what he actually did is not. Intuitive, and shot-from-the-hip, Fela’s ideology was all his own – disjointed and contradictory, but powerful and original. His sincere commitment to the world’s underdogs is indisputable, as was his passionate love for Africa.

Although his uninhibited life-style openly challenged the nuclear/monogamous marriage structure, paving the way for progressive discussions of multiple forms of partnership, Fela’s take on sexual orientation and identity echoed archaic notions. He recognized the need to renegotiate the social pact between the genders and stood up for the rights of prostitutes as “sexual workers” deserving respect and legal protection. But he exhibited much confusion about homosexuality; faced with such issues, he retreated to the safe ground of established patriarchal/heterosexual socialization.

So, what is it about this quixotic rebel and libertine that fascinates us?

TRANSFORMATIVE INSUBORDINATION

Partly it was his transgressive deviation from conformity; partly, his willingness to pay a heavy price for defending freedom.

Above all, as an artist, he has left us an imperishable music that is indeed classical. His masterly compositions are a sort of people’s dictionary, translating into accessible art the complex ills afflicting society.

AfroBeat is about social, political and cultural literacy. It confronts the geography of world complacency, greed and fear and calls for a trans-formative insubordination.

By Carlos Moore, author of “FELA: This Bitch Of A Life”

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First ever Cell C Teen Fusion Party

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Some of South Africa`s hottest bands are set to take the stage at the first ever Cell C Teen Fusion party. The event will be the biggest for under 18s in Durban`s history, and was designed with the intention of bringing South African teenagers together through entertainment. This will be safe environment for the youth of SA to enjoy a South African musical experience second to none.

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Interview with Vick Lavender

vickVick Lavender was member of Glenn Underground’s Strictly Jaz Unit but it was as part of Mr. A.L.I. (with Jere McAllister) that he strongly dived in a large number of hearts. Currently, Vick runs his own label Sophisticado Recordings that is responsible for some of the best house records that come out in the past few years.

 

 

PART I
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Could you tell us how you got into djing / producing and about your early career?
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That’s kind of a long story so I’ll try and keep it short… lol. As far as djing is concerned, I was always very fascinated with the art of it. I mean, playing the music that you absolutely love and getting others to love it just as you do it’s something very magical. I bugged my mom for months and finally she caved and brought me my first pair of 1200’s. I was 16 and that was 1983… My brother, who is 5 years older than me, introduced me to what would later become classic house; at that particular time I was playing a lot of Italo stuff like Telex, Fun Fun, etc.Production…wow, so many memories of the early years! Well, we’ll start at the beginning. I first started getting into production in 1988 with then my best friend Rob Macon. We had the same interest and taste as well. We were both heavily influenced by Larry Heard, Jamie Principle and later on Lil Louis. As producers, we both felt they were doing things other cats from Chicago weren’t doing. Seemed while pretty much a lot of producers were doing goofy lyrics and even goofier songs, these guys made the music serious and for kids such as Rob and myself that meant the world.
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What’s your music background? Which artists have influenced you the most?
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I touched on that a lil earlier but I’m glad I have a chance to further this answer. First has to be Quincy Jones and after Quincy I’m huge fans of Sting, Joe Sample, Bob James, Josh Milan, Pat Metheny, Glenn Underground, Joe Clausell, Trevor Horn, George Duke, Donnie Hathaway, Steely Dan, Eyrikah Badu, Mos Def, Lil Louie Vega… we can go on and on so I’ll stop myself… ha ha ha.
As far as my musical background goes I’m a producer first, I love being on the creative process of making music, which is one of the main reasons I got into production. I’m not a musician but I do most of my arrangements with a lot of help of my band THE V.L.E – Vick Lavender Ensemble. My keyboard players play a major part in the Sophisticado sound – Mike Logan, Vijay Tellis-Nayak and Rick Ghrenbeck. Also we’ve got Lamar Jones and Brian Dougthey on bass, Mike Levin on sax & flute, Chris Green on sax, so as you can see I’m very blessed to have real cats around me to help me the process of making the records.
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You have your own record label, Sophisticado Recordings. What’s the concept behind it? Do you have any specific target?
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The concept was just to make the kind of music I’m in love with, I NEVER go away from that. As far as having a specific target, the only target I have is me, I take a very selfish approach to making music… I may never get rich but I’ll be happy! lol.
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Your trademark organic sound, frequently featuring live instrumentation, is highly admired by an ever-growing number of House heads. How difficult is to put together different musicians working on a same song? Could you tell us a bit about how this process works?
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I’ve been truly blessed, the guys are a true pleasure to work with and were always on the same page; I mean, it’s never a struggle to get my point across. It really helps that I’ve become really good in the lab meaning I know the terminologies, the lingo and that’s often overlooked, it’s difficult to get your sound if you don’t know your around the studio.
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Would you say there’s a big difference between live music and electronic music?
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Well, live is in most cases better to me but there are occasions where I think the electronic aspect works better. The biggest difference to me is the actual movement of a particular instrument, for example a moog bass as oppose to a live fretless bass, some as simple as hearing the fingers drag over the strings is wicked… small things like that make a major difference to me and my approach to producing music.
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You were recently on tour in South Africa and you will return there very soon. Considering the large number of new producers coming from SA, do you think House Music is really getting some new blood?
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Already gotten new blood, that’s more like that! It’s incredible there, the scene is unbelievable and one of the many amazing things about the scene there is media plays a huge part in the success of house music. The youth controls the media and the youth loves house music, all kinds – deep, tech, jazzy, soulful, you name it. They love it, thank god for them loving the deep soulful stuff because that’s what I play! Oh, btw, I’m very selfish with djing as well… lol.
PART II
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If we looked in your cd/mp3 player right now, what kind of music we would see?
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I love Erykah Badu and after her you’ll see Sting, Eric Roberson, Level 42, The Smiths, The Rebirth, Olu, John Mayor, Pat Metheny Group, GU, Joe Clausell and Blaze, just no name a few.
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What is your own favourite track, the one you are most proud of? And remix?
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II really love “Another Girl”, that’s my joint! Although I recorded it in 2009, for some reason I never get tired of that particular record. Concerning remixes, there are two and we just wrapped sessions on the both: “Make You Dance” with Julie Dester and “We can be free” with Pete Simpson. I think those show my growth as a producer, I’m really happy with the effort on those joints.
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If you had the opportunity, with whom would you like to work with?
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Man, there are so many but I’ll give it a shot… Chaka Khan, Maxwell, Eyrikah Badu, Joe Clausell, Eric Roberson and Sting.
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What records are you currently spinning every time you play?
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That’s easy – Anthony Nicholson’s version of “Tell me a bed time story” and “Harmony” by Joe Clausell. I give both of them the treatment everytime and my friends tell me “Vick, please give those two joints a break” but I tell them to SCRAM! lol.
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What can we expect to hear from you in the near future?
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Well, if you follow my music then you already know I work with some REALLY talented vocalist – Carla Prather, Nicole Mitchell, Al Olive, David Glen, so you can expect a lot of serious vocal stuff dropping in the next couple of weeks.

Author : Deepersoul Blogspot

Website : http://deepersoul.blogspot.com/2010/12/interview-with-vick-lavender.html