Old Flames: Fela!

If I had to name a handful of musicians who shook the world in the 20th century, Fela Anikulapo Kuti would be somewhere near the top of the list. This week, nine of Fela's early recordings are being reissued. I've spent the better part of a week listening and, damn, these are amazing records.

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Fela Kuti's music was African at its heart, but it was also jazzy and trance-inducing. It also rocked. I saw Fela perform in the late '70s at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. I'll never forget it. The band was fierce, and they just played and played and danced and played. In fact, the unionized stage crew pulled the plug on the lights and on the PA system around the time the show was "supposed" to end, but these were musicians lost in time. Even when the big speakers in the hall were turned off, the guitar amps on stage still worked, the drums still pounded and Fela kept singing. We all rushed closer to the stage to listen and party. It sounded even better.

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