Fela Kuti

Underground System

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Underground System was among the better recordings of Fela's late career, comprised of two extended tracks, the title cut and "Pansa Pansa." "Underground System" starts off with rhythms that are far faster and more urgent than those on most of Fela's characteristically lengthy tracks. If that sounds like a marginal quality upon which to judge a song as a standout, well, something like a much faster and played-as-though-we-mean-it tempo really does help to differentiate it from the singer's generally similar output of the 1980s and 1990s. The backup singers also come in quickly with infectious chants, prior to a typical Fela lyric observing the difficulty in enacting positive political change in Africa. Hearing them sing in tandem with Fela instead of doing call-response patterns, as they do during much of the 28-minute cut, also makes for a refreshing variation. "Pansa Pansa," at a mere (for Fela) 17 minutes, also gets your attention more than his average effort, with rapid propulsive beats and sprinkles of slightly dissonant jazzy piano. The 2001 CD reissue on MCA adds a half-hour song from his 1990 album, ODOO, which is considerably slower and moodier than the prior two tunes, the beginning emphasizing mournful electric keyboards and sax soloing.

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