Fela Kuti – Shakara (45 Edit)




Listen – Shakara (45 edit) MP3″

Here we are again, at the old digital watering hole, gathering to quench our thirst and to attempt to insulate ourselves against another week chained to the wheel.
Though my approach to the beginning of the work week is once again (predictably) dismal, it is so only out of habit. Despite the fact that any day spent as a cog in another huge corporate machine is in some way wasted, I cannot deny that the prospect of this particular week being truncated by the Thanksgiving holiday makes me happy. This is not due only to the aforementioned truncation (is that a word?), but by Thanksgiving itself, my own personal favorite holiday.
Unlike some of the holidays on the calendar, Thanksgiving is pretty much just about getting together with your friends and family and chilling. Depending on your own family situation – and your own need to sit in front of the TV watching football – the level of chill may vary, but in general it’s just a day filled with warm feelings (and delicious food) and I can’t say that there are too many of those anymore.
Today’s selection is an early 45 edit by one of the truly great musical figures of the last 50 years, the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti*. If you haven’t heard of him, don’t feel bad because despite his popularity in Africa and Europe, he is/was hardly a household name in the US.
I’m no expert on his life story – start here for that – but I think I can give you some idea of why you should be checking him out.
Fela was born in Nigeria in 1938 and his parents were both socially/politically active, especially his mother who was an early advocate of Pan-Africanism, and a staunch anti-colonialist.
He moved to London in 1958 and started his study of music, and with other Nigerian ex-pats he formed the band Koola Lobitos, which specialized in playing ‘highlife’ music. He returned to Nigeria in 1963, and reformed the band, recording several 45s before picking up lock stock and barrel and moving the unit to Los Angeles in 1968. It was during his stay in the US that the jazzy, latin influenced sound of Koola Lobitos was struck head on by the modern sounds of US soul and funk. The band was renamed Nigeria 70, and their sound changed drastically, bearing the mark of a leader that had been on the road to Damascus and was struck down by the sound of James Brown. There’s a great CD reissue entitled ‘The ’69 Los Angeles Sessions’, the first half of which is the Koola Lobitos recordings (covering the period from 1964 to 1968), and the remainder are the Nigeria 70 recordings from 1969. Though there are still elements of the earlier sound in the Nigeria 70 tunes, there is a clear difference. Fela and band bear the influence not only Brown and the JB’s, but also US/UK rock and pop. The band is much tighter, the sound more aggressive and funky.
It’s also important to mention that while in the US, Fela’s politics – already on the way to radical – were informed by his contact with the Black Panther party.
Fela and band (soon to be rechristened as Africa 70), who were in the US without work permits were forced to return to Nigeria.
Upon his return to Nigeria, Fela formed what was to become known as the Kalakuta Republic, basically a compound/commune in Lagos which included housing for Fela and his entire entourage (band, family and 20+ wives) and the performance space that became known as ‘The Shrine’. It was here that Fela began his long career as a musical innovator, political agitator and all-around social iconoclast. Africa 70 grew both in skill and size (the band, singers and dancers eventually topped out at around 80 members), and started recording the long-form songs (taking up entire LP sides, and going much longer than that in a live setting) that would be their trademark. They became hugely popular in Africa, and recorded both in Lagos, and in London where Fela would collaborate briefly with Ginger Baker of Cream, an early fan.
The early 70’s sound of Fela and Africa 70 feature Fela on vocals, sax and keyboards, and are marked by long, polyrhythmic grooves. The sound, which Fela christened “afrobeat” is marked by multiple guitar lines, African and western percussion, and powerful horn lines. Fela’s songs, alternately sung in English and pidgin (a kind of Nigerian patois) featured bold political and social themes, often directly attacking the colonial government of Nigeria. As a result Fela was targeted by that government which repeatedly tried to jail him (sometimes successfully) on trumped up drug and smuggling charges. Over the years he (and often his family and followers) was beaten, tortured and exiled, returning defiantly each and every time (even attempting to run for the Nigerian presidency). He soon became not only a musical but a political and cultural hero to not only his fellow Nigerians but Africans in general, and others under colonial repression around the world.
He was hugely important, not only for his fantastic music and direct political action, but because he embodied a unique fusion of anti-colonial politics and confrontation, as well as social and sexual freedom. The definitive biography, that captures the spirit of the man and his music, has yet to be written, but if you get a chance check out the documentary ‘Music is the Weapon’, which turns up on Sundance now and then. It’s a fantastic introduction to the life and music of a remarkably charismatic and important man.
Fela and Africa 70 (which was renamed Egypt 80 in 1980) recorded dozens of records between 1970 and his untimely death in 1996, and performed all over the world. Today’s selection, ‘Shakara’ was originally released in 1972. The track I’ve posted today is a 45 edit released in Europe in 1974 (4:41 of the tracks original 13:25 length**). The edit gets right to the rough heart of the song, creating a sharp, funky distillation of a tune that has a somewhat looser, jazz inflected vibe over its original length. The repeated guitar motif sounds like a slightly reworked take on ‘Sex Machine’, and there’s strong interplay between Fela and his backing singers.
If the sounds on this 45 have intrigued you, most of the Africa 70/Egypt 80 records are available as reissues (including some excellent live material). If you don’t want to dive in head first, and wish instead to sample at the buffet that is the Fela discography, there’s an excellent 2-CD set entitled ‘The Best of Fela Kuti’ that ought to do the trick. While the liner notes are short on facts, the music is exceptional and it’s a great introduction to Fela’s music.

*The 45 sleeve lists him by his birth name Fela Ransome Kuti. In the early 70’s he changed his middle name to Anikulapo, which means “he who carries death in his pouch”.

** For some reason the 45 label suggests that this edit is 6 minutes and 20 seconds long. This is clearly not the case.

Buy The Best of Fela Kuti at Amazon.com

Buy Shakara/London Scene at Amazon.com

Buy the’60 Los Angeles Sessions at Amazon.com

Buy Music is the Weapon DVD at Amazon.com

11 Responses to “Fela Kuti – Shakara (45 Edit)”

  1. Harry Says:

    Fab. It’s great to see some African music here.

  2. Corey Says:

    Check out “Ghana Soundz 1 and 2,” two separate compilations, for some of the best and most funky examples of the “highlife” sound from the 60s and 70s. These two discs are packed with truly amazing grooves. (Import from the UK)

  3. John Says:

    Dear Lord, I need that 45.

  4. Ciggie Says:

    Hey! I super enjoyed the “boo boo be doo” podcast, and returned to get the zip file so I’d have the individual tracks, but when I hit “extract all” to the saved zip file, it said that there were no files to extract. Haven’t had problems with your zip files in the past; wondered if anyone else had experienced similar unzipping issues on this particular radio zip.
    Thanks as always for the fantastic tunes!

  5. funky16corners Says:

    This is the first I heard of a problem. Anyone else???

  6. bradley Says:

    great stuff. thanks.

  7. naira Says:


  8. Chapomatic » Fela 45 Alert Says:

    […] If you don’t know about Fela Kuti, and like music at all, then the wonderful blog Funky 16 Corners has a post with background information and a scratchy mp3 from a Kuti 45 that I’d never seen before.  (Fela’s songs tended to be about twenty minutes long–the side of an LP, pretty much–and a 45 is pretty mindblowing.)  1970s Afrobeat; imagine a marching band conducted by James Brown singing Yoruba-language funk in Lagos, Nigeria, and you get the general idea.  Where does F16c’s Grogan get such lovely records? […]

  9. Jonathan Says:

    If you dig this sound and want it live Antibalas do a right nice job.


    Peace and Love

  10. I Am Dali Says:

    fela kuti is probably my favorite musician and composer of all time. and singer.

    i own several cds and have obtained a load of singles by other means, have also seen some videos of him and read an interview with him, but i’ve never found real evidence that the entourage ever included 80 people, or even 70 people.

    that would be a huge group, and his sound was never that big and i’ve never seen a group of dancers that big that would fill out the numbers. i mean even say, 30 dancers leaves fifty people! it’s hard to believe there were 50 instrumentalists, even with a horn section and a bunch of percussion. –and even if tony allen counts as 3 people.

    is it some kind of myth that nigeria “70” and egypt “80” represented the # of members? incidentally the chronology for the groups numbers also loosely fall rightly into the 1970s and 1980s. (even if fela kuti was playing future 80’s music in 1976! and even if 80’s music was terrible)

    hugh masakela also talks about his time with fela kuti in his autobio. it’s ridiculous that there’s no fela biography.

    for anyone who’s interested, some other GREAT fela tunes besides shakara are: Johnny Just Drop, Zombie, Roforofo Fight, Alagbon Close, Expensive Shit, Monday Morning in Lagos (one of the more raggae/lilting tunes and less edgy afro-beat per se with an amazing sax solo by igo chico, which is extremely unique and beautiful)

    antibalas are basically a fela tribute band (or were) although nobody calls them that. the singer is dismally weak compared to fela though. (a lot to live up to!) also their organ solos are even more taxing than fela’s infamous hamfisters. (personally i’ve always liked fela’s organ playing, that i’ve heard)

  11. vietnam news mp3 nhạc tin chuyện thể thao giải trí vui vẻ chuyện music Says:

    love this site have nice music

    going to copy some to my forums
    Âm nhạc – giọng ca — vietnamese

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