Judging only by the music on this recording, there's a reason that the Broadway musical Fela! is a hit: it kicks. While it's true that the original cast recording is no substitute for Fela Kuti's own records, this studio production of music and narrative is drenched with passion, groove, and chops. There are a number of reasons for this. First, the songs are Kuti's; second, the studio band -- also from the stage production -- is none other than the Afrobeat orchestra Antibalas, backing the cast. The show begins inside Kuti's club, called "the Shrine," and he begins narrating the tale of how he came to create Afrobeat in a land ruled by military dictatorship. The musical uses Kuti's tunes to address various chapters in his life, from his leaving Nigeria for Los Angeles and then returning to his home country after being inspired by the revolutionary change in American culture in the late '60s, only to be oppressed brutally by the Nigerian government and imprisoned, not once but twice. Well-known Kuti anthems such as "Expensive Shit," "Teacher," "Trouble Sleep," "I.T.T.," "Zombie," "Torture," and "Coffin for Head of State" are used as cues in the narrative. Throughout, Kuti is haunted by the ghost of his mother (whose theme song here is "Trouble Sleep"), who ultimately becomes a Muse. There is an education to be had while moving your feet and shaking your ass on this set. It is not only a pointer for those who have seen the show, but an accessible document for those who are curious about Kuti's story and music. (Snag The Best of the Black President for an actual introduction to Kuti's amazing Afrobeat sounds.) If cast recordings are your thing, this one will hit you in the head with its intensity; if you're a cynic about musicals, this may be the one time you can suspend your disbelief without regret.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek