Another Fela Kuti compilation, no, wait, this is worth a look. Coming in a 2 CD version and Deluxe version with DVD, this compilation pulls in what, in my opinion, are the very best tunes of his output. And teams it up with a rare live performance (his 1984 Glastonbury set).
It is by no means unique though. I have in front of me two compilations put out by Wrasse Records and one by Barclay/Universal so what makes this one worth getting? Well, if you don’t already have songs like ‘Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am’, ‘He Miss Road’ or ‘Underground System’ (which are often missed off compilations), you could be forgiven for thinking all of Fela’s output is frenetic jams along the lines of ‘Zombie’. What emerges on this album is a more nuanced, musically varied and witty Fela.
Despite everything they threw at him, Fela’s music and his message never lost their way. He was always real and he was always with the people. That’s why we love and miss him all the more.
And if you have just three Fela songs, the chances are good that one of them is ‘Sorrow Tears and Blood’. A track I first heard nearly two decades ago when Gilles Peterson got on the decks at Ministry of Sound and played the whole tune through. I knew at that moment it had to be Fela, I also knew I would become an acolyte, a devotee an obsessive from that moment on. A true musical epiphany for me, so imagine my excitement to find out that a missing six minutes from the song has been found and re-added to it!
And as much as I like to think I know a thing or two about Fela, the track-by-track notes from Chris May deliver fact and background, anecdote and revelation in generous measure.
So if you are new to Fela’s world, this is a great place to start. Old hands will enjoy the liner notes and treasure the longer version of ‘Sorrow tears and Blood’. So in spite of my scepticism, this is a compilation that really does add something. It is also a warning shot. The whole catalogue of 50 albums or so is going to be re-released in three great, joyous and generous tranches over the next six months by Knitting Factory Records / Kalakuta Sunrise also featuring in-depth commentaries by Chris May. Oh and please release on vinyl too!