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The Complete Fela Catalog To Be Reissued for the First Time in North America

Great news for Afrobeat fans – to coincide with the new musical FELA! opening on Broadway at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre on November 23, Knitting Factory Records will not only be reissuing the entire Fela catalog on cd in digipacks with reduced images of the original artwork, they’ll also be reissuing the albums on vinyl as well over the next eighteen months. What’s more, they’ll also be reissuing the entire extant catalog of Koola Lobitos, Fela’s 1960s high-life band.

The first of the releases is the greatest-hits compilation The Best of the Black President, originally compiled in 1999 (you can hear the whole thing on last.fm). While it makes a fine introduction to the iconic Nigerian freedom fighter/bandleader, it’s necessarily flawed by the constraints of trying to cram as much essential Fela as possible into one package. It simply isn’t possible. Fela Kuti’s genius was to package revolution as sexually charged thirty-minute dance vamps – for Fela, a short song clocked in at about eight or nine minutes, so the concept of editing these frequently album-long jams down to something approximating their essence is simply a lost cause. While The Best of the Black President does contain full-length versions of the iconic Zombie and Sorrow Tears and Blood, the edited or truncated segments from most of the other revolutionary anthems here – including his signature song Coffin for Head of State – work as dance grooves and little more. To resonate at full power, these numbers need to be heard – and under ideal circumstances – danced to in their entirety. Which makes the pending reissue of the full Fela catalog something to salivate over: fans will be able to pick and choose from the original releases.

It may also come as a shock to discover that the Fela musical actually seems as if it might be worth seeing: a listen to some of the original cast recordings reveals that the musicians (that’s right, a real Afrobeat band, not just a synthesizer and a cd with live vocals) and the actors seem up to the challenge: they’ve actually taken their subject seriously. This isn’t the same guys who played in the pit (or on the soundtrack) for the Abba musical shifting gears and trying their hand at psychedelic Nigerian funk. It looks like they’re trying to be the real deal.

November 8, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment