The first time I became aware of Fela Anikulapo Kuti was in one of the first issues in the first year of Spin magazine. It was discussed in a way which suggested that this was the man to listen to, and as a fan of long songs, the idea that this guy could do a song 10, 20, or more than 30 minutes on a regular basis was unheard of, at least outside of the genres I regularly listened to. Even back then, it was close to impossible to find his music. If I wanted to get his music, I either had to make a special order, which would either take one to two weeks to receive a record, only to perhaps get a response that it was OOP (out of print). Or I had to go out of town to find those records, and as someone who moved from Honolulu to a small town in the Pacific Northwest, what was a normal task to my favorite record store meant I had to deal with a mom who didn’t like to take long drives. I was a hungry music fan. Eventually, I found a store that had his CD’s, not his properly released albums but a CD that had three or four of his songs, but I bought it. Loved it, had to have more. Eventually, I bought a lot more and understood what everyone was talking about.
These days, it’s much easier to find the music of Kuti, to the point where he now has a Broadway play to his name. You can go to iTunes, Amazon, eMusic, Spotify, or wherever and hear him. Despite how much his music has been explored and reissued in the last 15 years, there’s a new album featuring a recording that most people have not been aware of.
The album is called Live In Detroit, 1986, to be released by Knitting Factory Records. The live show is from the first U.S. tour by Fela Kuti & Egypt 80, after earlier attempts to travel to North America had failed for him due to legal/governmental hassles. Before he performed at the Fox Theater, Kuti was aware that the venue was where Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder made their presence known in the 1960’s, but commanded it and the crowd in his own way, to where some felt his performance had the same vibe and importance as Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Frank Sinatra and James Brown. Keep in mind that at the time, Kuti’s music was primarily known among deep fans of African music and college crowds who were always in tune with what they would prefer to hear that was not on mainstream radio. The image of the bad boy political rebel was a part of Kuti’s appeal, but when mixed in with music that was political, tribal, social, spiritual, and sexual, you couldn’t help but fall in love with emotions you didn’t know could feel that way. Songs on the album will include “Just Like That”, “Confusion Break Bones”, “Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense”, and
“Beasts Of No Nation”.
There are fans who will battle between Kuti’s work with Afrika 70 and Egypt 80, while others feel it’s all part of a big umbrella of sound that Kuti managed to share with the world before he died.
Live In Detroit, 1986 will be released on May 8th.