Fela Ransome – Kuti and Africa 70 with Ginger Baker – Live (Knitting Factory/ Planet Company)

In the late 60’s, early 70’s Fela Kuti and band recorded a number of albums at London’s famed Abbey Road Studios, one of which Cream drummer Ginger Baker guested on. Baker and Kuti enjoyed a lasting and fruitful friendship, with Baker traveling to to Lagos cross country (See the amazing doco Ginger Baker In Africa for a document of that journey) in 1969 to help Fela set up Nigeria’s first sixteen track studio funded by EMI. Whilst in Nigeria he and Fela collaborated regularly, and the fruits of this can be heard on this disc. Originally released in 1971, this reissue has even kindly thrown in a 16 and a half minute drum solo from Ginger Baker and Tony Allen at the 1978 Berlin Jazz Festival.

The album proper which was recorded at said 16 track studio begins with Baker filling Tony Allen’s seat on Let’s Start, kind’ve the equivalent of Ice-T’s L.G.B.N.A.F for it’s day, a call for sex with Kuti singing in his native Yoruba and explaining himself in English. The remainder of the album is one of the funkiest and most groove orientated works in Kuti’s extensive oeuvre, almost aggressively rhythmic due to the two incredible percussionists, possibly the two best in operation at the time interlocking and weaving around each other. Then of course there’s the congas and clave to add to the mix. The horns are impossibly sharp and stabbing and Kuti’s keyboard solos are inspired and mesmerizing. Between songs Kuti also indulges in English banter, ‘I wrote this song especially for Ginger, he doesn’t smell, he takes his bath,” on the opening to Ye Ye De Smell, which according to the liner notes from Kuti’s biographer is a colorful way of saying you reap what you sow. Perhaps most interesting is Kuti’s vocals. These are early days where he hadn’t fully developed his distinctive style and as a result he indulges in a kind of scat mixed with Yoruba, keeping things simple, leaving extended silences and even preempting horn lines, doing call and response with the instrumentation.

Of course Ginger Baker is heavily featured, not just on the final piece at the Berlin Jazz festival but also in an exhilarating extended percussion solo with Allen smack bang in the middle of Ye Ye De Smell. If you like percussion, you’re in heaven as these two together are nothing short of awe inspiring. The final piece is simply a duo recording, Baker and Allen alone, two drums and a sixteen and a half minute onslaught that sends the German’s wild.

Most Fela Kuti albums are something special, yet the presence of Baker really hardens up the groove offering a more relentless and driving feel that somehow makes the music feel more urgent, raw and passionate.

Bob Baker Fish


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