Fela Kuti

Finding Fela! [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]

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Finding Fela, the documentary by director Alex Gibney, is a compelling film that was originally intended to portray the cast of the Bill T. Jones musical Fela! during rehearsals and performances in Lagos, Nigeria; it's the first Broadway musical ever staged there. While capturing hundreds of hours of footage with a local film crew about the production and its reception by a Lagos audience, questions naturally arose about the wild life and times of the musical's subject, Fela Kuti himself. Gibney shot interviews with musicians -- those who played with him and those who were admirers -- and family, friends, and acquaintances, and wove them in with performance footage of Kuti's bands. This double-disc soundtrack is not so much a best-of, but it does contain significant music from throughout Kuti's career, from his highlife and R&B sides, to his full-on experiments that wed funk, jazz, and African rhythms in a completely integrative sound that became his invention: Afrobeat. Disc one includes "Highlife Time," cut by his first band Koola Lobitos in Los Angeles between 1964 and 1968. "Viva Nigeria" and "Lover" are from those same sessions but the bands are different -- these are the earliest recordings by Nigeria 70 and Africa 70. "Jeun Ko Ku (Chop and Quench)" was Kuti's first real hit in 1973, selling 200,000 copies in its first six months. Edited versions of "Johnny Just Drop" and "Upside Down," as well as the full-length "Egbe Mi O" (from a live date that featured Ginger Baker) are here, along with the self-titled second part (half the album) of Africa 70's "VIP." The second disc carries mostly edits from some of Africa 70's and Africa 80's best-known tunes, though some of these -- "Teacher Don't Teach Me No Nonsense," "Beasts of No Nation," and "Shuffering and "Shmiling" -- are over 12 minutes long. The two outliers -- "Zombie" and "Colonial Mentality" -- are excellent readings by the musical's Fela! Band. The latter features Femi Kuti leading the group in a blistering extended version, live at the Kuti family's New Afrika Shrine. The fact that the show band covers two tunes here does not detract from the recording's significance. As a soundtrack it works wonderfully. As a musical introduction its lack of source documentation is bit of a drawback, but that's a small complaint.

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