ROOTS DRUMMER AND collaboration addict Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson has joined tUnE-yArDs’ gifted singer Merrill Garbus, Angelique Kidjo, female poet-rapper Akua Naru and brass group Rubblebucket to craft a searing update of Fela Kuti’s Lady for a new compilation album. Red Hot + Fela is the latest instalment in the Red Hot franchise which debuted in 1990 with Red Hot + Blue, bringing us Debs and Iggy’s preposterous Well, Did You Evah! Regular subsequent releases have raised more than $10 million for HIV/AIDS relief and awareness globally. Kuti, the militant Nigerian jazz and funk musician and father of Afrobeat, died of an AIDS related illness in 1997.
Garbus, a Fela fan whose African music influences are well documented, says she found Lady the most problematic of Kuti’s songs to cover, with its lyrical pop at women seeking equality (“She go want make man wash plate”). For all Kuti’s progressive credentials in the political arena – his outspoken comments provoked constant harassment by the authoritarian Nigerian regime – he was no supporter of women’s lib and kept a harem of 20-plus women (his “queens”, see picture above) at his compound at Kalakuta.
And yet, the triumphant riot of female voices on the new version appears to redress the balance, and Fela’s comical consternation at the state of uppity females is turned into a celebration of same. (Not sure they would have found it as easy to subvert the themes of Mattress – great tune, though)
Hear the new version of Lady now.
And watch it come together in the studio…
Red Hot + Fela is released on October 15 through Knitting Factory Records and features contributions from Tony Allen, Spoek Mathambo, Kronos Quartet, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and more. You can download the excellent opener, Buy Africa by Baloji & L'Orchestre De La Katuba featuring Kuku, for free.
October 15 also marks the reissue of the final tranche of Fela albums by Knitting Factory: Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense; Original Suffer Head / ITT; Live In Amsterdam; Army Arrangement; Beasts Of No Nation / ODOO; and Underground System. The Complete Works – 46 albums on 26 CDs – will also be available as a box set. News which we think calls for a picture of Fela playing ping pong, in his pants...
PHOTOS: Fela with his Queens/ping pong: Janet Griffiths; Fela and saxophone: Bernard Matussière