Tag: Fela Kuti

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 + DanceNo AlternativeStolen 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.


New Audio: London’s Blue Lab Beats Teams up with Accra, Ghana’s Killbeatz and Fela Kuti on Dance Floor Friendly “Motherland Journey”

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.