Listen Up: Wednesday, December 12, 2002
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
arious Artists

Red Hot + Riot (MCA Records)

By Ken Shimamoto

Nigerian Fela Anikulapo-Kuti was a true revolutionary, the West African equivalent of James Brown, Bob Marley, and Nelson Mandela all rolled into one multi-talented musical innovator and social rebel. In the 1960s, he created Afrobeat, a synthesis of Nigerian highlife rhythms and melodies with elements of American jazz and funk. His music was characterized by blaring horns, call-and-response vocals, and relentless grooves that could last up to an hour. The closest analogue in American music was probably the go-go style popular in Washington, D.C., during the 1970s, but go-go tended to lope where Afrobeat percolated.

Radicalized during a late-’60s visit to America, Fela became an outspoken critic of political repression worldwide, making him a target for the Nigerian authorities. They hounded him mercilessly, sending 1,000 soldiers to burn down his compound/recording studio. The troops killed his mother and destroyed his equipment and master tapes. He spent a period in exile and was imprisoned by the military government in the 1980s until Amnesty International secured his release.

Fela died of AIDS in 1997, hence the Red Hot Organization’s choice of his music for this latest in their series of c.d. releases to benefit worldwide AIDS awareness, prevention, and relief efforts. The international all-star cast includes Fela’s son Femi Kuti and Fela’s original drummer Tony Allen alongside the likes of Jorge Ben, Talib Kweli, D’Angelo, Macy Gray, Nile Rodgers, Me’Shell NdegeOcello, Cheikh Lo, Manu Dibango, Baaba Maal, and Taj Mahal. The whole thing flows rather nicely, but the individual tracks are too short to conjure up the true flavor of an Afrobeat performance, which could be either hypnotic or a test of endurance, depending on your taste.

All in all, not a bad way to strike back at death: with life-affirming grooves and beats.


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