Fela Kuti Title: Live! with Ginger Baker (50th Anniversary Edition) (Pre-Order)
Fela Kuti Title: Live! with Ginger Baker (50th Anniversary Edition) (P
British drummer Ginger Baker moved to Nigeria in the early 1970s looking for both a change of scenery and some rest and recreation following five years of punishing touring and heroic excess with his bands Cream, Blind Faith, and Ginger Baker’s Air Force. While there, he spent much of his time hanging out with Fela.
“It was a fantastic experience,” Baker told Chris May in 2012. “I’d hang out at Fela’s compound, and we’d smoke lots and lots of NNG (Nigerian natural grass). Laughter was very much a major part of Nigerian life in Lagos in the ‘70s. Live! is one of my favorite records. It was a blast to do and was made when Fela and I were closest.”
Fela and Baker had first met in London in 1960. At the time, Fela was studying at Trinity College of Music by day and leading Fela Ransome Kuti and His Highlife Rakers by night. “Fela used to come to sit in at the all-nighters in the Flamingo,” Baker said in 2012. “He was playing trumpet then and he was good.”
During his years in Nigeria, Baker played on several Africa 70 recordings, notably Live! and Why Black Man Dey Suffer (both originally released in 1971), and he produced He Miss Road (originally released in 1975). Baker also substituted for Tony Allen on a couple of Nigerian tours when Allen was ill. “The people loved seeing an Englishman in the band,” said Baker. “They couldn’t believe it at first. Oyinbo [white man] drummer! They would come up and press money on my forehead. It was a mark of approval.” Their musical collaboration was also a two-way street: Fela sang and played keyboards on Baker’s critically acclaimed album, Stratavarious (1972).
Live! is notable for the maturation of several signature characteristics of Afrobeat that had only been present in foetal form on Fela’s earlier albums. “Black Man’s Cry” is an explicit expression of the philosophy Fela would later call Blackism; and his interaction with the Africa 70 horn section on “Ye Ye De Smell,” where the horns repeat his sung phrases, and his sing-along passages with the band on “Egbe Mi O,” are precursors of the call-and-response vocals that would become a key feature of Afrobeat.
“Black Man’s Cry” has a lyric that reflects the political awakening Fela had while in the US in 1969, when he spent ten months touring and scuffling with Koola Lobitos. One other positive outcome of that visit was Fela’s relationship with Sandra Izsadore. Izsadore, a Black-rights activist, introduced Fela to the writings of Malcolm X, Angela Davis, the Last Poets, Stokeley Carmichael and Eldridge Cleaver. “Black Man’s Cry” is among the first explicitly anti-establishment, pan-Africanist songs Fela recorded. Fela always credited Izsadore as being one of the two people who did the most to raise his political consciousness (the other was his mother, the women’s rights and anti-colonial campaigner Funmilayo Anikulapo Kuti). With Izsadore, Fela also began smoking weed on a regular basis for the first time.
In contrast to the politically charged lyrics of “Black Man’s Cry,” album opener “Let’s Start” has urgent, carnal lyrics along the lines of Fela’s better known “Na Poi” (1972) or Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” (1973). Igo Chico’s tenor saxophone solo is appropriately priapic.
On “Ye Ye De Smell,” Baker turns in one of his best ever drum solos. In the lyrics, Fela warns anyone who goes around creating literal or metaphorical stinks for other people, not to be surprised if they get the same treatment in return.
The album closes with the lighthearted “Egbe Mi O,” which is about things that may happen when you forget yourself while dancing: you may not notice, for instance, if your clothing becomes disarrayed. “Satide nyo labe Sunday,” sings Fela: “Saturday is showing under Sunday,” by which he means your underclothing is on view when it should not be.
All tracks written by Fela Anikulapo Kuti
All tracks published by Sony / ATV
Licensed to Knitting Factory Records by the Fela Anikulapo Kuti Estate
Side C: Mastered from the original tape and vinyl masters cut by Miles Showell at Abbey Road Studios
Liner notes from Chris May commentary for Live!, London Scene, V.I.P.
Design and layout by Zach Jaeger
Photos by Bernard Matussière