JOVM’s William Ruben Helms celebrates the 85th anniversary of Fela Kuti’s birth.
Fela Kuti (1938-1997) was a pioneering Nigerian multi-instrumentalist, arranger, producer and an eccentric, political radical, outlaw and originator of Afrobeat, whose musical and sociopolitical legacy spans decades and genres — with his work drawing from jazz, pop, rock, funk, soul, traditional Yoruba and Igbo music and Nigerian highlife among others.
While Kuti is a beloved icon in his native Nigeria, he didn’t receive much international attention during his lifetime. However, over the past 10-15 years, there has been a broad resurgence in his popularity and a critical re-evaluation of his life, music and influence.
Back in 2008, the Jay-Z and Will Smith co-produced biographical musical Fela! was a surprise hit off-Broadway and then later on Broadway. Since then, Beyoncé performed Fela’s “Zombie” at Coachella, he has been referred to as influencer by a diverse array of artists from Paul McCartney to Questlove and his work has been sampled by Missy Elliot, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Nas and more. And Vice President Kamala Harris has even used Kuti’s music at her and President Joe Biden’s first joint public event together.
Partisan Records recently announced Box Set #6, the latest installment in an ongoing series of expansive box set reissues of Fela Kuti’s beloved, expansive and influential back catalog. Following on from previous editions curated by Chris Martin, Erykah Badu, Ginger Baker, Brian Eno and Questlove, the sixth edition is curated by actor, producer, DJ, rapper and vocalist Idris Elba, a.k.a. Big Driis, and features 1972’s Open & Close, 1980’s Music of Many Colours, 1977’s Stalemate, 1977’s I Go Shout Plenty!!, 1983’s Live in Amsterdam and 1977’s Opposite People.
Limited to 5,000 copies, the set features artwork for each album meticulously recreated from the original vinyl pressings, alongside vintage vinyl label artwork, a 24-page booklet featuring lyrics, commentaries on each record by noted Afrobeat historian Chris May, never-before-seen photos and an introduced from Elba. And all sets come accompanied by a special 16″ x 24″ poster designed by Remi Ghariokwu, the creative force behind many of Kuti’s seminal album covers.
To celebrate the announcement is the digital release of “Statement (Edit)” drawn from the A-side title track of the album also included in the collection. Built around a laconic yet irresistibly funky groove, the song features Kuti musing on the face-off Nigeria’s military regime and the social groups, who made up the bulk of his audience: students, intellectuals and sufferheads (as he called the urban working class). It’s perfect mid-late 70s Fela Kuti pairing deep groove with urgent sociopolitical messages.
Box Set # 6 is slated for a December 1, 2023 release. Be on the lookout y’all.
Last night, I DJ’ed for the first time at Clem’s. I was a little nervous at first — it was my first public DJ set in which regulars, friends, loved ones and strangers would be hearing what I selected. But it turned out to be a lot of fun.
I’m now sharing the set with y’all. Four + hours of soul, funk, house music and more. Put on your dancing shoes and get on down!
Red Hot has been producing great music to promote diversity and equal access to health care since 1990. The first project was the Cole Porter tribute Red Hot + Blue, quickly followed by Red Hot + Dance, No Alternative, Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool, and Red Hot + Rio. Over the past 15 years Red Hot produced two successful projects with Aaron and Bryce Dessner – Dark Was The Night and Day of the Dead – along with a tribute to Arthur Russell and several other projects.
Yesterday, was World AIDS Day. And to commemorate the occasion, Red Hot reissued their acclaimed Fela Kuti tribute, Red Hot + Riot, which featured contributions from D’Angelo, Questlove, Femi Kuti, Talib Kweli, Sade, the late Tony Allen, Macy Gray, Nile Rodgers, Jorge Ben Jor, Baaba Maal, Meshell Ndegeocello, Dead Prez, Kelis, the late Roy Hargrove, Archie Shepp and many others 20 years after the compilation’s original release. (On a personal note, 20 years ago I was interning at FHM Magazine. I received a press copy of Red Hot + Riot Fela Kuti tribute, and that album was my introduction to both Fela and to Afrobeat.)
The 20th anniversary reissue is remastered and features two hours of bonus material, including a previously unreleased cover of “Sorrow Tears & Blood” by Bilal, an acoustic version of “Trouble Sleep” with Baaba Maal accompanied by the late and legendary kora player Kaouding Cissoko, and an extended version of Sade’s “By Your Side” by Stuart Matthewman. The original release had to be heavily edited to fit the time limit of a physical CD, and the reissue also features a wealth of bonus material, including extended versions of many album tracks, along with early mixes, acapallas, instrumentals, and much more.
And lastly, the folks at Red Hot have released the album on digital streaming platforms for the first time ever.
Just to refresh your memories a bit: Fela Kuti was — and still is — one of the most important African musicians, bandleaders and activists of his time. Sadly, Kuti died at age 58 in 1997 of causes related to HIV/AIDS, two years before Red Hot began the project.
The idea for the Red Hot Fela tribute came from Questlove during sessions for Red Hot’s Gershwin tribute compilation, which featured a collaboration between The Roots and the late and legendary Bobby Womack. Questlove suggested that Red Hot do a cover of Sly Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin On but they couldn’t secure the rights.
The ongoing HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa, along with a love of Fela Kuti’s work transformed the project into what we now know. Red Hot secured the rights to Fela’s music, as well as his master recordings, which allowed for both covers and sampling. Questlove kicked things off with a superstar session at Electric Lady Studios covering “Water Get No Enemy,” with a band led by D’Angelo and Fela’s son Femi Kuti, along with members of the Soultronics — James Posner, Pino Pallodino and the aforementioned D’Angelo and Questlove — and Femi’s backing band Positive Force. Nile Rodgers, Macy Gray and Erykah Badu joined the session, although Badu’s vocal didn’t make the final mix. Red Hot producer Beco Dranoff brought in legendary Brazilian artist Jorge Ben Jor to the session a bit too late to join in, but he recorded the basic track of what would become “Shuffering and Shmiling” in another room at Electric Lady overseen by producer Andres Levin.
Red Hot spent the the next two years recording material around the world and at the Fun Machine studio that Andres Levin built in the SoHo office of Funny Garbage, the digital design company co-founded and run by Red Hot’s co-founder and creative director John Carlin. Coincidentally, the Baaba Maal session for Trouble Sleep,” the first session at Fun Machine was on September 10, 2001. 24 hours later, the World Trade Center, which could be seen from the studio windows was attacked. It was a tragic and tumultuous time, but the recordings continued and by the end of the year, there was a joyous celebration of Fela’s music and life about to be released.
The 20th anniversary of Red Hot + Riot is a cause for celebration, but also a sober reflection on the continued devastation of HIV/AIDS, particularly as Sub-Saharan Africa is disproportionately affected by the HIV epidemic: Sub-Saharan Africa currently accounts for 71% of people living with HIV, a devastating reality where 75% of global HIV-related deaths and 65% of new infections occur. I think these numbers will give you a better sense of HIVs impact on Sub-Saharan Africa: Of the 38.3 million people living with HIV worldwide, 27.3 million are in Sub-Saharan Africa. 7.8 million of the 27.3 million infected people are in South Africa, including 6,.3 million young adults and children. 11% of the global population is in Africa but it accounts for over 71% of the global impact in terms of infections and mortality.
The stigma around men who have sex with other men, women’s lack of resources and agency and the vilification of sex workers and drug addicts halt all progress that can be made to aid the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Frequently, ignorance is used to distance the culture from undesirable and uncomfortable topics like intimate partner violence, sex education, the LGBQT+ community and women’s lack of agency and access to proper care.
Tragically, young women and girls bear the brunt of the impact from cultural silence and their pain and misfortune is passed onto future generations. The HIV/AIDS epidemic’s root is the intersection of structural and cultural setbacks in awareness, acceptance, understanding and treatment.
Red Hot celebrates the 20th anniversary reissue by sharing the expanded album’s first single, “Sorrow Tears and Blood,” off the bonus material, a joyous yet righteous, pan-African Diasporic take on the original that sees its talented crew of collaborators — Bilal, Zap Mama and Common — seamlessly meshing elements of jazz, neo-soul, hip-hop and Afrobeat. As Black folk — hell, as people — we need to be concerned with what’s going on in the Motherland, the very cradle of all of us.
JOVM’s William Ruben Helms celebrates the 84th anniversary of Fela Kuti’s birth.
33-year-old, Francis “Ofili” Adetokunbo is an emerging Lagos-born, Athens-based singer/songwriter and producer. And if you’re as big of a sports fan as I am, the last name may be dimly familiar for a reason: Adetokumbo is the oldest brother of Milwaukee Bucks‘ superstar forward/center Giannis Antetokounmpo (né Adetokunbo) and his three other professional basketball player brothers, Thanasis, Kostas and Alex.
Perhaps best known as a professional soccer player back in Nigeria — and as a semi-professional basketball player, Adetokunbo has spent the past decade creating original music that draws from Afrobeats, hip-hop and trap. Although he had been creating music for some time, Francis, who performs as Ofili, the name of his beloved grandfather, released his first official single a few years ago, after relocating to Athens.
Since his arrival in Athens, Adetokunbo has been busy releasing a series of singles including 2020’s “Shekosi,” which was released through Def Jam Greece; and last year’s “Like Giannis” with Moose and Negros Tou Moria, which was released through Sky Vector Music. Through the Athens-based imprint, he released “Count On U” and “On My Level” and the Rise EP, which features the title track “Rise” theme song to the Disney+ movie on his four younger, basketball player brothers, Rise.
Speaking of Rise — both the EP and the movie — the title track “Rise” is an infectious, hook-driven, genre-smashing bop featuring elements of Afrobeats, electro pop and dancehall that to my ears brings Nigerian superstar Burna Boy to mind. While being club and lounge friendly, “Rise” is centered around a powerful message of hope, resilience, dedication and familial love.
Led by frontperson Amai Kuda, the rising Toronto-based collective Amai Kuda Et Les Bois has honed and developed a reputation for crafting genre-defying music about healing — ourselves, our society and Mother Earth — with an interwoven spiritual element throughout: Their live shows and recording sessions always begin with the pouring of libations and the invocation of the ancestors.
The Canadian collective’s full-length debut, Sand from the Sea was released to praise from Nicholas Jennings, Canada’s foremost music journalist, who named the album “one of the year’s most exciting discoveries.” Since then, the members of Amai Kuda et Les Bois have been extremely busy: they’ve collaborated with Dead Prez’s M1 on “We Can Do It,” a conscious, call-to-action song.
Adding to a growing profile in Canada and elsewhere, the genre-defying outfit has opened for Joel Plaskett, Kellylee Evans, and Sarah Slean. They’ve been featured in NOW Magazine and CBC’s Canada Live and Big City Small World. 2019’s “Holding Back” with Version Xcursion premiered on Strombo Show. They’ve also received nominations for Best Song and Best Folk/Roots Awards at the Toronto Independent Music Awards — with a win for Best Folk/Roots.
They’ve played shows at some of the Toronto’s best known venues including the Oakville Centre for Performing Arts, Jane Mallett Theatre, Harbourfront, The Rivoli, as well as festivals like Luminato, Kultrun, and Small World. And lastly, they’ve toured and played shows on four of the world’s seven continents.
The Toronto-based collective’s newest album, the Jimmy Kiddo co-produced EmUrgency is slated for release this fall. Recorded, mixed and mastered at Quantum Vox Music, EmUrgency draws from — and reflects — Kuda’s eclectic and vast influences both musically and personally including Afro-House, Motown, alt-rock, hip-hop and downtempo electronica. as well as her Trinidadian heritage and Toronto upbringing.
Thematically, the album is rooted in and speaks the struggles, joys and hard-fought wisdom of Kuda’s life journey: In particular, being guided by the ancestors and Orishas, and staying true to her calling as a mother, healer, warrior and artist — despite the countless obstacles facing Black, queer women in both the music industry and society. The album’s material also digs deep into African Indigenous spiritual traditions — through connecting with the gods and deities of Yoruba cosmology, as well as the anti-colonial war for survival, unconditional love, honoring the elders, as well as caring for and preserving your inner child in times of struggle. If that doesn’t sound necessary and restorative, nothing is in my book.
EmUrgency‘s latest single “Oshun” derives its title from the Yoruba orisha (deity) of sweet water, which includes all rivers, lakes and streams. Centered around African polyrhythm and what sounds like twinkling vibraphone and Kuda’s unique delivery, which alternates between coquettish, plaintive and righteous within a turn of a phrase, “Oshun” is a club banger that’s indebted to the contempoary sounds of the motherland, in particular Afrobeats, Afro-House and Afro-pop. At its core, the song’s narrator pleads to the deity for the good and sweet things in life that have been denied to her — love, sweetness, beauty, money and so on.
“Joy, love, beauty, magic and riches are all her domain. She is also a fearsome warrior,” Amai Kuda explains. “We give thanks to her for all the sweet things and bounty in life, and also call upon her for help in matters of love or money. This praise song for her was born on the shores of her waters and is a gift both from and for her.“
JOVM’s William Ruben Helms celebrates Black History Month — and pays tribute to the godfather of Afrobeat, Fela Kuti.
Rising, London-based Jazztronica production duo Blue Lab Beats — producer NK-OK and multi-instrumentalist Mr, DM — had rather humble origins, as bedroom producers, who remixed tracks by the likes of Dua Lipa, Rag ‘N’ Bone Man and others. The duo’s sound quickly morphed to incorporate jazz, soul and hip-hop influences while staying true to their British/London roots. Since the formation, the London-based duo have quickly exploded into the national and international scenes: they’ve played played Glastonbury — and they’ve opened for the likes of the legendary Roy Ayers and Thundercat. They’ve also contributed a remake of Bobby Henderson‘s Blue Note Records‘ classic “Montara,” which appeared on last year’s Blue Note Re: imagined compilation. And adding to a growing profile, the duo’s work has amassed over 25 million streams to date.
2021 has been a busy year for the rising British production duo: They’ve released a handful of critically applauded singles including “Dat It,” “Blow You Away (Delilah)” and “Sensual Loving,” which have seem them collaborating with the like of Stones Throw Records affiliate Kiefer and Afrobeats star Ghetto Boy. And as you may recall last month,I wrote about “Labels,” which featured a J. Dilla meets The Midnight Hour-like production centered around soaring strings, boom bap beats and a sinuous bass line.
The production serves as a lush and mesmerizing bed for thoughtful and lovelorn verses from London-based emcee Kofi Stone that find him questioning the need for labels to define what his romantic relationship is to others. The song also features a soulful hook by London-based vocalist Tiana Major9.
Those four singles will appear on the duo’s long awaited new album and Blue Note Records full-length debut Motherland Journey. Slated for a February 25, 2022 release, the album is a result of two-and-a-half years of work that celebrates pushing boundaries, taking risks and overcoming adversity. Starting out with over 70 demos, the duo meticulously whittled them down to the final 17-track album.
“This album took us two-and-a-half years to finish, our longest process to make an album, but it was so worth it,”the members of Blue Lab Beats say in press notes. “On this album you’ll hear many fusions of genres and inspirations that we gathered throughout that time frame and especially to work on so many of the songs during the first lockdown it was a test in itself. We had to figure out so many different ways to achieve what we exactly wanted sonically and having Blue Note to help us achieve that was an absolute blessing. Many of the vocal features and instrumentalists on this album are great friends of ours and it’s just so amazing to have family on this album.”
Motherland Journey‘s fifth and latest single, album title track “Motherland Journey” features Ghanian producer KillBeatz and the vocals of the late Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti. Co-written by the duo and Killbeatz in Accra, Ghana, the song was blessed by the estate of Fela Kuti. Featuring a warm, dancehall meets Afrobeat-like production, featuring a looping and shimmering guitar line, skittering beats, regal horns, “Motherland Journey” is an upbeat, club friendly bop. But underneath those dance floor vibes, the song suggests that Africa is the future — and for some, it’ll be an introduction to the legendary Kuti and the sounds of Africa in a crowd-pleaisng fashion.