5.07.2008

Fela Kuti: The Underground Spiritual Game

I said this last time I reviewed a Fela Kuti album, and I'll say it again: If you love music and haven't heard Fela Kuti, you should check this out.

Fela Kuti isn't widely known, but he had an immense influence on pretty much every style of music created in the past few decades, be it jazz or funk or hip-hop or rock.

The Underground Spiritual Game is Fela Kuti as mixed by Chief Xcel from Blackalicious. Xcel obviously cares about Fela's music, and everything from the song selection to the sound quality makes it obvious that this album was a serious labor of love.

Music: 4.5 EPFL library cards out of a possible 5
These aren't remixes in the sense that most of us think of the word "remix." There are no breakbeats or house vocals or James Brown samples. Instead, Chief Xcel picked a diverse set of Fela songs, pulled out the integral parts of each, and put them together in a continuous mix. It's a really neat way to hear Fela for a few reasons: First, the song selections are far more varied and obscure than they'd be for a best-of collection; second, the songs blend together in unexpected ways that highlight the similarities and differences of each track; third, Xcel must've worked some kind of sonic magic, because these recordings have a clarity that I've never heard in Fela's music. This is a good set for either seasoned Fela fans or for newbies who want to discover the richness of the man's music.

Packaging: n/a (altered by EPFL)
All that's left from the original package are the front and back covers and what might be the back of the jacket. The design is nice but ultimately forgettable. I wish the liner notes were here, because I'd love to know if Chief Xcel wrote about how and why he reworked these songs.

Listen if you like: Honestly, if you like any real music from the past 50 years, you should check this out. It doesn't really matter if you're a rock fan, a hip-hop fan, or a jazz fan because it was all influenced by Fela Kuti.

If it were food, it'd be: I've got to step outside of Baltimore for this one. There used to be a Nigerian restaurant in Oakland called the Museum Kitchen, where you could get all sorts of veggie and meaty foods. Like the mixture of Fela Kuti and Chief Xcel, it was a mixture of Nigeria and America. Alas, like Fela, it's no longer with us.

2 comments:

The Daily Breather said...

I'd have to admit, if I saw a cd by this name I would probably not give it a second glance. A buddy of mine, whose musical tastes I hold in high regard, talks about this musician. It's nice to get a second opinion. Thanks. Maybe I'll grab it from the library when I'm there next.

h a s s a n said...

¡Greetings!

I am listening to USG right now and i am lovin' it. I have to agree with most of what you wrote. Fela Kuti IS good music. That i write as someone still being introduced to his art but like a good batch of limeade, oft times the first taste is the right taste

Funny ting is that my first conscious introduction to Kuti was the music of the antiballas which is obviously heavy on the Fela. From KPFT where i first heard the antiballas to my Cuban roadtrip during which the NESTA cd was in heavy rotation wheeling from kinfolk house to kinfolk house, that heavy bass sound and big brass fanfares was too much to save just for lunch.

Un abrazo fuerte pa' ti, Chief Xcel, y el maestro Fela Kuti