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V/A - Black Man’s Cry: The Inspiration of Fela

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Artist: V/A

Album: Black Man’s Cry: The Inspiration of Fela

Label: Now-Again

Review date: Feb. 17, 2010


Dan Satch and his Atomic 8 Dance Band - "Woman Pin Down" (Black Man’Äôs Cry: The Inspira)


Since the death of Fela Anikulapo Kuti in 1997 from AIDS, there have been numerous tributes to the creator of Afrobeat,: individual cuts (Gangbe Brass Band’s “Remember Fela,” Femi Kuti’s “97”), complete albums (Red Hot + Riot), entire careers (Seun Kuti), and even musicals (Fela!). Black Man’s Cry is not exactly a tribute to Fela. Rather, it traces the influence of Afrobeat back and forth across the Black Atlantic through a diverse mix of ensembles and styles.

The disc signals its approach with the first cut, an acoustic cumbia rendition of Fela’s “Shacalao” by the early 1970s Colombian band Cumbia Moderna de Soledad. The ensemble is stripped bare: four hand drums, two shakers, soprano saxophone and vocals. There are two other examples from Colombia on the album, neither anything like this first offering. One is another rendition of “Shacalao” by Lisandro Meza as a funk-Afrobeat mix; the other is “Comencemos” by Phirpo y sus Caribes, a funk instrumental vision of Fela’s “Let’s Start.” All three of these styles of Colombian Fela are, according to the liner notes, the result of the Caribbean circulation of the Fela/Ginger Baker recordings in the early 1970s, which also inspired a real treasure on this recording, three medleys based on “Egbi o mi / Black Man’s Cry” by Trinidad steel drum bands. The longest is the nearly 10-minute tour de force by the Lever Brothers Gay Flamingos, a hard-pumping performance featuring stunning solos on timbales and pan (also found on Jeff Recordings). The second version by the Mosco Tiles Fonclaire Steel Orchestra is a cover of the Lever Brothers, but the third example, by the Sylvania East Side Symphony, returns to the Fela original for its inspiration.

Back on the African side of the Atlantic, the disc includes six cuts that bracket Fela’s lifetime. The oldest of this is “Woman Pin Down” by Dan Satch & His Atomic 8 Band, a late high-life (or proto-Afrobeat) piece recorded in eastern Nigeria in 1969. There are two cuts by Fela’s contemporary Bola Johnson, a stripped-down Afrobeat version of James Brown’s “Hot Pants” with lyrics in English and Yoruba, and for balance, a funk version of Fela’s “Never Trust a Woman.” The disc ends with three pieces from the 1990s German-New York neo-Afrobeat collective the Rhythm Poets, first in the form of the Daktari’s faithful cover of “Up Side Down,” then in Karl Hector and the Malcoun’s Senegal-inflected “Touré Samar,” and finally with the Whitefield Brothers’ neo-funk “Lullaby for Lagos.”

In all, the 15 tracks on Black Man Cry showcase the musical reach of Fela and Afrobeat from the time Fela burst on the scene through the height of his career into the present day. Several of the recordings dating to the late 1960s and early 1970s appear to be previously unreleased, making this compilation particularly valuable, but don’t be mistaken — it’s all supremely listenable, and much of it is supremely danceable as well.

By Richard Miller

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