19 October, 2002@12:00 am
While Fela Kuti may not have had the sweeping sampled influence on rap music that artists like James Brown, George Clinton, Roy Ayers, or David Axelrod have had, he’s definitely made his mark, by influencing hip-hop’s conscious elite, whether they’ve chosen to sample him, or if they simply overheard his devastating Afro-Beat rhythms in their parents households while growing up.
And while Fela may not be the easiest name to put a face to for the average hip-hop listener, “The Music and Spirit Of Fela Kuti” is a wonderful tribute to that name that’s mostly overheard, but seldom experienced. But one look at the album’s roster will have any Okay Player drooling, ready to see what’s so special about Fela.
And that’s really all it takes. While Mixmaster Mike immediately reels the listener in with his intro and the energetic “Fela Kuti Show”, starring perhaps the only emcees that can keep up with Fela’s rhythms (Gift Of Gab & Lateef, who else?). Attention is kept front and center on “Shuffering + Shmiling”, as Talib Kweli and Dead Prez re-animate some of Fela’s views of religion. It then follows into the celebratory “Water Get No Enemy”, as Fela and Roy Hargrove compete with horns a plenty, with back up from both Macy Gray & D’Angelo, not to mention drums and organs from ?uestlove and James Poysner. And if listeners weren’t completely spoiled at this point, perhaps some insight shortly thereafter from Common on “Tears & Sorrow” might do the trick. And that’s just the first half.
Other shining moments on the album include wonderful salutes from Kelis (“So Be It”) and Sade (“By Your Side”), but it remains consistent throughout, even during some of the more obscure collaborations. More importantly what makes this project so relevant is its purpose. As the words “AIDS Is Killing Africans” line the sidebar of the jewel case, one flip through the CD booklet and it becomes more clear how unfortunate it is that we lost Fela to this epidemic. Even scarier is that by the time one takes to listen to this album in full, 150 Africans will be infected with the disease. It makes you want to do something about it.
But that’s precisely the point of this project, and Fela’s catalog as a whole. It’s the self-awareness of what is going on in the world around us, and a music that is powerful enough to inspire us to act. Admirably, it lets the younger listeners who weren’t there to experience Fela in the 1970′s hear his sound today. Fusing his rhythms with the artists of today make this the perfect jumping on point for this generation; one that by no means disrespects his music, but pays beautiful tribute to it. If only he were here to share it with us.
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