After the famine comes the feast. Coinciding with the Fela festivities at the Barbican, this Afrobeat collection has distinguished itself in a suddenly crowded field with two unique selling points…
First off, this CD has been compiled by long time Felassociate Dele Sosimi and secondly — and that this should be unusual is frankly quite freakish — it has a respectable number of tracks (seven) from the genre’s master Fela Kuti.
Dele was Fela’s musical director in his later years and is now writing his own tunes and playing the piano for the Dele Sosimi Afrobeat Orchestra. So the man’s credentials are impeccable but what of the tracks themselves?
The first CD is not a gentle lead in but hits you from the off with the more frantic end of Afrobeat and then ups the pace. This is definitely Fela territory with many of the tracks either by the man himself or covers of them. Check Wganda Kenya’s cover of ‘Shakara’ in the latter camp. In keeping with the catholic traditions of other recent afrobeat compilations, there is a peppering of tracks one would not normally associate with afrobeat like Salif Keita’s two contributions to the first disc. Not that I am complaining as there is no such thing as too much Salif. Also excellent is the Bob Marley cover of ‘Get Up, Stand Up’, Chequer’s afro treatment fits this track like a glove.
Fela’s ‘Roforofo Fight’ on disc one contains the mad sample that Fatboy Slim uses to such effect on ‘First Down’ (disc two). And it is on disc two that we get a lot of overlap with the recently released Afrobeat Sessions. It’s forgivable that when looking for popular tracks that owe a lot to Afrobeat, there should be a more limited pool to draw from but anyone thinking of buying both collections should check out how many of the songs are the same and maybe get one or the other. One track that is so good, you could — at a stretch — buy both compilations for is ‘Funu’ by Dennis Ferrer, an absolute stormer of social conscience and funky groove: the very quintessence of what afrobeat is about and this version is different from the one on Afrobeat Sessions. That said, disc two also doubles up as a West Africa’s greatest hits CD with tracks like Mory Kanté‘s ‘Yeké Yeké’ and Manu Dibango’s ‘Soul Makossa’.
And then, as if to say, “it’s all been a bit hectic, hasn’t it?”, there is a third CD devoted to chilling. Remember that this is chilling afrobeat style so no wishy-washy stuff, just great tracks like ‘Water No Get Enemy’ and a generous supply of tracks by funksters like James Brown and The Meters (I am not exactly sure what they are doing here either:).
In total, Essential Afrobeat delivers a remarkably generous 50 plus tracks and can be slammed on at any party as you pretend to be the ultimate afrobeat DJ. Top stuff.
Also catch Dele Sosimi live at The 2nd Annual Afrobeat Birthday Bash, Thursday 14th October 2004 at The Fridge Brixton