There are a handful of artists whose work has been so influential and so important that it reverberates and speaks to generations of musicians and listeners. How can one think of modern music without the likes of the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, the Velvet Underground, Run DMC, Public Enemy, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong. James Brown, Parliament Funkadelic, the Clash Fela Kuti, and countless others. In this particular instance, the music and life of Fela Kuti has been quite the inspiration for those who love funk and soul but in the almost 16 years since his death, the political and social messages in Kuti’s work now seem remarkably prescient – in fact, his work managed to speak of things on a larger, global (and more universal) scale: the impact of colonialism, imperialism, governmental oppression and corruption and crippling poverty on people’s basic decency and dignity. And in the Western world, we may see some similarities in light of consumerism and globalization.
Last June, Superhuman Happiness along with special guests, M1 of Dead Prez; Tony Allen, Fela Kuti’s drummer and musical director; Kalmia Traver and Alex Toth of Rubblebucket;, Sahr Ngaujah, the star of Fela!, the Broadway music based on Kuti’s live; the Kronos Quartet and countless others were part of an incredible night paying tribute to Kuti’s live and music, as part of Lincoln Center’s Out of Doors concert series. Naturally, Superhuman Happiness and the members Rubblebucket played some of their material during the show – after all, their material is deeply indebted to Fela. You’ll hear Rubblebucket’s “Came Out of a Lady,” off Omega La La, and Superhuman Happiness’s “Half Step Grind” and “Elevator Elation” off Hands but the rest of the night focuses on Fela, and the unique interpretations of his work that come up on the tribute album Red Hot & Fela released last year.
Obviously, there’s some great concert footage and some great music but you also get some of the musicians thoughts on what Fela, his life and his music meant to them; their thoughts on performing and recording with the legendary Tony Allen, and of course, much more. It’s fascinating stuff, really.