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"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Fela Kuti musical at NT in November

Ages ago I wrote this stuff about Fela the musical:

"In two minds about the news that the Broadway musical hit, Fela!, is coming to London this autumn.

I've loved Fela Kuti's music through four decades (first heard him in the early 70s, when UK rock gods started falling over each other to get a bit of authenticity by visiting Lagos).

Now he's going to be up there on the same billboards with the likes of Freddy Mercury, Abba, and Andrew Lloyd Weber - a curious fate for this tempestous musician and political activist.

Am I just being a snob? I mean, the fear that it won't live up to the reality of his music and stage presence is ridiculous isn't it? I don't like music biopics much (apart from those old Ken Russell BBC films on the likes of Delius) - but I do like the idea of Fela being brought to new audiences."

Since then I've seen the show. It was at Sadlers Wells, and it was astonishing. I never did see the real Fela, I never went to Lagos to visit the Shrine, the Kalakuta republic, I just have been deeply attracted to his music since - when?

I first heard Fela when a friend made me listen to the Ginger Baker/Fela Ransome Kuti recordings back in the early 70s. It was exciting stuff, but then so was Osibisa, and then along came Bob Marley and I was totally absorbed in Jamaican music for the next 10 years or so. Apart from a wee bit of Ian Dury, and a lot of jazz, and the Clash, PiL, Robert Wyatt  and Jah Wobble.

Partly thanks to John Peel, but even more thanks to another radio man, Charlie Gillett, I  started again listening to wider ranges of stuff. Gillett's show on BBC Radio London was a beautiful thing. He was so mild, modest, and engagingly knowledgable, he out-Peeled Peel for me.

 Thanks to him, African, specifically South African,  music, re-entered my airspace in the early 80s, and then thanks also to repeated visits to a Kentish Town pub where the great (and now late) Dudu Pukwana's band – Zila – had a regular slot. This music was just so crazily, beautifully, infectiously hot and full of human charm, and this coming form a band of exiles who'd been forced out of their own country by hatred and death-threats.

The Indestructible Beat of Soweto, District Six, Hugh Masekela, Paul simon's stuff - and the way  UK musicians like the Specials, Robert Wyatt etc, signed up to anti-Apartheid with the whole of their musical as well as political souls  - that music was powerful, joyful and even quite dangerous, in the best sense.

And then we had the Bundhu Boys,  etc etc....I needed to get back to the Nigerian sounds but there was just too much else of beauty around. Rare groove revivals, James Brown. Funk, punk, Rip Rig and Panic. All that Cuban and Brazilian stuff too, and the rise of Soca. Those were good times to love music in London, or anywhere else I am sure.

Fela was there all along BUT stupidly  I only really got back into him in 1983 or so, when, on the last evening of that year's Notting Hill Carnival, as the southern quarter of the crowd of revellers surged back up Portobello towards the tube and the buses, as we surged past pyramids of empty Red Stripe tins and coconut shells, there was one last sound system - not really a sound system, just an indoors hi-fi set up on a trestle table outdoors,  two small but good speakers and a deck and a big amp, and a girl dj/citizen swaying around, selling her last few tins of lager, with Shuffering and Smiling playing off vinyl at maximum volume, and that stream of going-home pople were stopping their going and starting again to dance, and Fela sort of led it all, a big last street dance at the 1983 Notting Hill carnival.

Anyone else who witnessed this please remind me. Maybe I was just too tired and stoned and runk and dreaming to have any accurate memories.

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