A James Brown concert was the first I ever attended. Nearly in my teens then, I was enthralled by the infectuous music and by Brown’s entertaining antics—his legendary cape toss-offs, his precise splits, and Camel Walk strut. The show registered a 10 on my little Richter Scale of concert excitement. I thought no one rivaled the Godfather of Soul.
Until I witnessed a bikini briefs-clad Fela Kuti and his funky-as-the-Godfather Afrobeat orchestra, accompanied by about a dozen of his dancing and harmonizing wives! (Not shown in this picture of Fela’s stage magic? The remainder of his 27 wives, who I presume had been left at home in Nigeria while he and the others toured the States.)
What can I say? The man was way loved. Not just by his band of women, slamming percusionists, and the JB-esque horn masters also firing up the stage, but by people the world over. Which is why, almost eight years after Fela’s death, another tome about the Nigerian funk king has been published: Arrest the Music!
Clasically trained in London and influenced by Brown, Miles Davis, and Malcolm X, Fela Kuti became a champion for the people. He was arrested more than 200 times and savagely beaten for his political outspokeness. On that rebellious note, here’s a bit about the latest, must-read book deconstructing the world’s best-known troubador and his startling, lady-loving whirl:
Arrest the Music! is a lively study of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, one of Africa’s most popular and controversial musicians. The flamboyant originator of the “Afrobeat” sound and self-proclaimed voice of the voiceless, Fela used music, sharp-tongued lyrics, and derisive humor to challenge the shortcomings of the Nigerian and postcolonial African states.
Looking at the social context, instrumentation, lyrics, visual art, and people through which Fela produced his music, author Tejumola Olaniyan offers a wider, more suggestive perspective on Fela and his impact on listeners in all parts of the world. With Fela front and center, Olaniyan underscores important social issues such as authenticity, racial and cultural identity, the relationship of popular culture to radical politics. Also the meaning of postcolonialism, nationalism, and globalism in contemporary Africa.
About the Author: Tejumola Olaniyan is Professor of English and African Languages and Literatures at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is author of Scars of Conquest/Masks of Resistance: The Invention of Cultural Identities in African, African-American, and Caribbean Drama and co-editor (with John Conteh-Morgan) of African Drama and Performance (Indiana University Press, 2004).”
And please do not sleep on the following CD on which Fela’s musical son, Femi Kuti, is joined by artists ranging from Bilal, Macy Gray, Roy Hargrove, and Me’Shell Ndegeocello to Common, Baaba Maal, Kelis, D’Angelo and Talib Kweli in support of AIDS awareness.