» Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]


 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]


 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Fela Kuti
The Best of the Black President
Knitting Factory

Rating: 10/10 ?

January 27, 2010
Consider for a second if Green Day's American Idiot had succeeded in railing against the Bush presidency so popularly that Bush sent soldiers to ransack Billie Joe Armstrong's house, burn down his entire living community and throw his mother out the window to her death. Now you have a better idea of the consequences of hit protest records in Nigeria in 1977 -- that's just what happened to Fela Ransome Kuti after the release of the monumental, anti-soldier diatribe Zombie with his legendary Afrika 70 band. And of course he responded the way any rock 'n roller would: marched right up to the ordering general's quarters with his mother's coffin and changed his middle name to "Anikulapo," meaning "he who carries death in his pouch." That astonishing chain of events led to the furious composition "Coffin for Head of State" shortly after. Ouch.

I used Green Day as an example to point out just how insane the distance was then and there between the government and pop culture, and the distance here and now between the government and pop culture. George Bush couldn't possibly bothered with acknowledging the 9/11 Commission much less Green Day, whereas
it's nearly inconceivable to believe that such bravery could exist in such a time of war-controlled communes so as to march right up to the general's office who called a hit on your mother (and nearly himself, he was beaten to a pulp) and shove her coffin in his office. The audacity of Fela's music, rhythmically, politically and lengthily absolutely pales in the face of such human spirit, and that's saying something because this is some of the best music ever played on the face of the earth.

"Zombie" and "Coffin for Head of State" are both included on The Best of the Black President, along with eleven other tracks culled from the strongest points of Kuti's 45-album-strong career before his tragic death in 1997 from AIDS-related complications. One of the rare cases of a best-of being an artist's definitive statement, it's not hard to explain that Fela's other albums simply couldn't have fit enough of them to qualify. His "albums" were essentially one-, two- or three-song affairs where the Afrika 70 (later renamed the Egypt 80) would jam, vamp or loop for up to half an hour per song, always tightly controlled and in the pocket yet loose as the zils on a tambourine, with the star's impassioned, blues-derived sing-speech over top. The influential groove, termed Afrobeat, synthesized pan-African musical styles like no artist before since James Brown, heating a funk and blues bottom with rock repetition and variegation with jazz horns and swing cutting it into impassioned ribbons. The sound is instantly recognizable to anyone who's ever heard it and also anyone who hasn't. The call-response vocals of Fela's broad congregation of backup singers create a whole other dimensions for his impassioned pleas, most notably on mid-80s favorite "Shuffering & Shmiling," which like the rest here has been broken into a more sizable 10-20 minute chunk than a full-length album from build to crest. Purists may scoff at this "sampler" of his most well-known but who could complain about say, a 17-minute-plus "edit" of "Army Arrangement" lacking anything but the sheer breadth of the original? With plenty of room for solos, digressions, ceaseless waves of impossibly connected lockstep intact, The Best of the Black President adds one more crucial component to the Fela discography - variety. And with that Best sets out to do exactly what a best-of is supposed to; if 17 minutes of "Army Arrangement" has whet your appetite, go ahead and seek out the full 30-minute one.

Reviewed by Dan Weiss
Dan Weiss is the music editor for LAS. Formerly an editorial intern at CMJ and creator of the now defunct What was It Anyway?, his work has appeared in Village Voice, Pitchfork, Philadelphia Inquirer, Stylus and Crawdaddy among others. He resides in Brooklyn where he enjoys questionable lifestyle choices and loud guitars.

See other reviews by Dan Weiss



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