These two 1976 albums from Nigerian Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti and his Africa 70 are documents of an ensemble at the height of their powers. Afrofunk doesn’t get much better than this. Both albums are populated with some incredible tenor sax solos from Fela demonstrating his increasing affinity with the instrument and the rest of the band are impossibly tight with an incredible groove. The music is taut, melodic two chord bass, thin repetitive guitar and stuttering power horns that will put hair on your chest.
Ikoyi Blindness like many of Fela’s songs is about the blindness of the ruling class, who chose professions for status instead of passion. “Them miss the road,” he offers on this fifteen minute blast of power Afrobeat which features one of the greatest horn riffs in any of his songs, where the brass feels plugged straight in to your adrenalin glands, and midway the tune descends into this really incredible highly repetitive horn solo that enables everything to break right down before kicking back in with a vengeance. The second piece, the fourteen minute Gba Mi Leti Ki N’Dolowo, translated to Slap Me Make I Get Money, offers quite a different kind of driving Tony Allen beat, speeding everything up giving it a frantic feel. It references law suits from the poor against the rich who had to pay settlements, with Fela suggesting that the rich could no longer take advantage of the poorer with impunity.
If there was ever any doubt about the persecution Fela and his followers experienced at the hands of the Nigerian government and police all you need to do is look at the cover of his album Kalakuta Show. It’s a hand drawn representation of the police armed with batons beating people on the ground and shooting tear gas in their raid on Fela’s home in 1974. whilst many of his followers were injured Fela himself spent 17 days in hospital as a result. The inside cover has pictures of the head wounds he suffered at the hands of the police. The tune proper is a fourteen and a half minute musical revenge. It’s Fela striking back against the attack, refusing to back down, laying it out for everyone to know what their government was up to. Beginning with Fela’s mournful tenor sax, playing out like a sad scene in a bad 80′s film, it quickly erupts into an incredible fusion of James Brown style funk and the Nigerian highlife, an Afrofunk band at the height of their powers. The sixteen minute Don’t Make Garan Garan, or don’t brag like a big man to me, is another swipe at the Lagos class inequality, suggesting that we all know that if heaven falls it will fall on everyone. It’s a much slower song than its predecessor, just chugging along at a canter, It’s a gentle repetitive groove that you can just sink into as Fela alternative solos on sax and keys before taking to the mic. Beautiful.