In 2011, I told Osagie Alonge (who then worked at THE NET) that Fela was a sampler's dream. We were both at the New Afrikan Shrine watching a recorded version of the award-winning stage play FELA!
Pulse Opinion: Herein lies the true art of sampling Fela Kuti
The art of sampling is a very tricky art especially when sampling records by Fela Anikulapo-Kuti which serve a higher purpose.
Soaking up the vibrancy of Fela's politically charged genre of music, Afrobeat, I believed that producers, who carried a shovel into the vast cave of Abami Eda's discography, would come back with a treasure chest filled with snares, kicks, horns and guitar riffs and chopped vocals to play with.
In December 2010, a Nigerian rapper by the name of Kahli Abdu released 'Ministry of Corruption', a 13-track mixtape that featured a Fela sample on every song.
'Ministry of Corruption' was heralded among Internet rap fans for addressing societal ills while using Fela's music as a soundboard for Hip-Hop styled consciousness.
For me, M.O.C was fierce because Fela's sound and words were not sampled out of context. They were sampled within the lines of activism, consciousness and social change. Kahli Abdu never strayed from these paths as his used Fela as an auditory guide to curate the political climate of those times.
In 2017, I observed in an article titled 'The Nigerian youth has disconnected from country's struggles' that contemporary Nigerian acts were tapping into the sounds of Fela Kuti but not necessarily the content.
With the wave of Afrobeats splashing on the shores of England and North America, Nigerian singers have sought inspiration from Fela, mining the hedonistic part of his lifestyle, looks and sound.
Seun Kuti duly noted that the new gen acts have been appropriating Fela and what he stood for. He recently took them to the cleaners for this, and in usual Kalakuta style, he did not mince words.
Musically, a few of Nigeria's young music hitters have been ripping apart Fela's music, devoid of context, just to get people to dance. His melodies have been misappropriated and his words have been interpolated for the sole purpose of making backsides sweaty.
Fela's music is highly melodious and groovy. He was very much an apostle of getting people to dance but his driving passion was to share knowledge. This was his music formula-at least the one I came up with - a lush composition of a complex groovy instrumental that allowed for him to deliver his politically charged sermons.
In the article I mentioned, I pointed out the disconnection between what Fela stood for and Nigerian pop music. I referenced the song 'Temper' Remix by Skales featuring Burna Boy.
The song is an interpolation of the 1977 record 'Sorrow, Tears and Blood'. Anyone who knows anything about Fela's music knows that this song is one of the most important songs in his discography.
The song which starts with an attention-arresting riff and dissolves into a bittersweet groove led by sorrowful keys is the soundtrack to the most tragic event in Fela's life.
'STB' chronicles the invasion of his commune, the first Kalakuta Republic by unknown soldiers and the assault of his band members. His mother, Nigeria's most foremost feminist Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti, died from injuries in the hospital after she was thrown off a balcony during the raid.
Known as one of his most poignant recordings, Fela sang "Hey, yeah/Everybody run, run, run/Everybody scatter, scatter/Some people lost some bread."
Oddly Burna Boy and Skales switched this to "Hey, yeah/Everybody run, run, run/Everybody scatter, scatter/Hey, yeah dance don catch fire/Hey, yeah boys don start to maya."
This is a highlight of how the new gen twist Fela's sound and words to suit their narrative of turn up. And herein lies the problem, because Fela's music is highly purposeful and has a deeper meaning, it shouldn't be deconstructed for baser reasons.
On Tuesday, January 15, 2018, Falz dropped his fourth solo album titled 'Moral Instruction'. The 9-track album features (cleared) samples from Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and on the LP Falz does not stray from Fela's ethos.
On the introductory track 'Johnny' Falz samples 'Johnny Just Drop' released in 1977 to touch on the subjects of extrajudicial killings and violence in Nigeria.
The classic 'Zombie' is chopped and repurposed on 'Follow Follow'. Falz's uses Fela's scathing diss to the military to rap about consumerism and peer pressure influenced by social media.
In 1981 Fela put out the record 'Coffin for Head of State', to mock the hypocrisy of Christians and Muslims and how they stayed silent during oppressive military regimes. Falz borrows his vocals to pimp slap materialistic men of God (or gods of men) who pimp their congregation.
Falz entered the studio with a higher purpose, to put out conscious music for this generation to understand that we can be agents of change. This is also the underlying theme of Fela's music-change for the better.
When Fela's music is remixed, repurposed to suit an agenda or narrative that does not fit into the higher purpose of why he became a socially conscious act, then the beauty of his music is stripped away.
It becomes nothing more than a purposeless soundbite or loop that lacks an anchor, a conviction and an identity. This is why despite sampling classics, a bunch of these songs don't resonate deeply with you.
'Ministry of Corruption' by Kahli Abdu and 'Moral Instruction' by Falz are two great examples of how to sample Fela's music, especially within the rap genre.
Sampling Fela outside the general context in which his music was made, protest music, is a waste of time and effort.
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