Sound Travels has been taking an arc through the life and times on African afrobeat inventor Fela Kuti this week, playing the important cuts of his career.
Today I got at some music Fela made in the early to mid 70's that is as much his great hits and also a chronicle of an extremely turbulent period in his life. Turbulently productive, I suppose Fela's greatest talent was to remove the barrier between his art and his life.
What kinds of things were going on? Jay Babcock, in his dope article for Arthur Magazine chronicled:
On April 30, 1974, the commune was raided and Fela was arrested for possession of marijuana. Released on bail, he returned to his compound and re-named it “Kalakuta Republic” (“Kalakuta” being the name of the prison cell he had occupied for two weeks), erected a ten-foot barbed wire fence, declared that the Republic was its own nation wholly independent of Nigeria, and recorded a hit album (Alagbon Close) that chronicled the arrest.
The police raided the house once again, this time attempting to plant weed on Fela. He asked to look at the evidence—and ate it, right in front of the surprised officers. Once again, Fela was hauled off to jail, where the prosecutors demanded that he produce feces containing the marijuana. Fela wouldn’t. He was set three days in Timbuktu, a floating cell anchored in the Lagos Lagoon behind the prison. Eventually he defecated the weed in secret, and provided “clean” shit to the authorities, who rushed it to the lab for analysis. The results were negative. Fela was released, and immediately wrote another hit album—entitled Expensive Shit—detailing his experiences.
From the album Expensive Shit, I played my favorite Fela song ever, "Everything Scatter," which is literally a substantive account of Kalakuta Republic being raided by soldiers. I also played the b-side to the release, "Water Get No Enemy"…
Fela "Everything Scatter"
Fela "Water Get No Enemy"
My last song of the day was more commentary on the government, the scathing "Zombie" from an album of the same name. A song in which Fela pretty much baits the government and armyto take further action against him; and a seriously dope tune…