Fela Kuti – Box Set #4

Album Review | Knitting Factory | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 4/5

There’s little doubt that Fela Kuti’s popularity grew after his death in 1997.  Re-issues of his albums, under various guises including Koola Lobitos, Nigeria 70, Africa 70 and Egypt 80, have come and gone over the last couple of decades since his untimely death, with each LP release finding new audiences worldwide.  The current trend for music curatorship continues with Erykah Badu’s choice selection of seven LPs from the Afrobeat creator’s back catalogue, the fourth edition joining three previous box sets curated in turn by Questlove, Ginger Baker and Brian Eno respectively.  Bearing in mind that these previously released sets make up a total of nineteen LPs, you might think we’re fast approaching the section marked ‘and the rest’.  We would be wrong though, as this limited edition set includes the brilliant Coffin for Head of State (1980), with it mesmerising guitar riff underpinning some of Fela’s most hard hitting no-nonsense pidgin lyrics.  This, combined with Yellow Fever (1976), No Agreement (1977), J.J.D. (Johnny Just Drop) (1977), V.I.P. (1979), Army Arrangement (1984) and Underground System (1992), marks out yet another bold statement in Fela Kuti’s prolific output.  Characteristically, most of Fela Kuti’s compositions are long, in some cases taking up both sides of an LP, split between parts one and two, whilst in other cases, just one song per side.  This may be one of the reasons why Fela’s work was rarely heard on the radio.  Dressed in their original sleeves, some of which were designed by Lemi Ghariokwu, Fela’s long-serving visual force, the seven LPs provide yet another insight into one of the most charismatic, ambiguous, unusual yet gifted musicians to come out of Africa.