Pulling off a Fela compilation is no easy thing. For a start, most of his classic songs from the seventies are an unhelpful 10 minutes plus in length. But if anyone is going to be able to do it, it should be Wrasse Records
Wrasse reissued a vast number of Fela double albums at the turn of the millennium (on CD and Vinyl) making a significant contribution to DJs, academics and lovers of the good groove. All of which are still available.
This compilation appears to dedicate a whole CD to Fela’s earlier work; the African independence optimism of ‘Highlife Time’ and ‘Viva Nigeria’ giving way to the first signs of the long, radical groove that would prove to be his trademark sound. You can hear this in tracks like ‘Swegbe and Pako’ and ‘Olulufe Mi’ both from Open & Close, they mark the beginning of the seventies and the beginning of the mature Fela sound. In fact with no fewer than six of the ten songs on the early years CD being classics (or proto-classics) and all six of those on the second CD, Fela fans will be well pleased with the amount of great, loose, funky, fiery and frictional music on this anthology.
It’s also good to see a Fela compilation which eschews the completely obvious tracks like ‘Zombie’ for funkier and equally seditious choices like ‘Gentleman’. ‘Gentleman’ is a withering attack on the pretentious imitation of western behaviour and also has some of the finest sax from the original African man.
If all that wasn’t enough there is a DVD about Fela included. It’s not the best made or most illuminating film you’ll ever see but there is not a lot of competition about and it is a joy to see Fela and full band in action.
Fela obsessives will have all the songs here and the DVD is not quite enough to make you buy the package. But for those who know the name but not the work of Africa’s most revolutionary musician, this would be a perfect buy.
Soon come Anthology 2 and Anthology 3