Relevant Classics: Fela Kuti – Expensive Sh*t
Fela Anikulapo Kuti (15 October 1938 2 August 1997), or simply Fela, was a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist musician and composer, pioneer of Afrobeat music, human rights activist, and political maverick.
Expensive Shit is the twelfth full-length album by Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti. It is considered to be one of his best albums, and was ranked #78 on Pitchfork Media’s “Top 100 Albums of the 1970s”. The title of the album refers to an incident in which the Nigerian police tried to arrest Kuti by planting a joint on him. Kuti managed to eat the joint which prompted the police to bring him into custody and try to wait for him to produce the excrement. According to legend he managed to use another inmate’s feces and was eventually released.
The musical style performed by Fela Kuti is called Afrobeat, which is essentially a fusion of jazz, funk, psychedelic rock, and traditional African chants and rhythms. It is characterized by having African-style percussion, vocals, and musical structure, along with jazzy, funky horn sections. The endless groove is also used, in which a base rhythm of drums, shekere, muted guitar, and bass guitar are repeated throughout the song. His band was notable for featuring two baritone saxophones, whereas most groups using this instrument only use one. This is a common technique in African and African-influenced musical styles, and can be seen in funk and hip-hop. Some elements often present in Felas music are the call-and-response within the chorus and figurative but simple lyrics. Felas songs were almost always over 10 minutes in length, some reaching the 20- or even 30-minute marks, while some unreleased tracks would last up to 45 minutes when performed live. This was one of many reasons that his music never reached a substantial degree of popularity outside of Africa. His songs were mostly sung in Nigerian pidgin, although he also performed a few songs in the Yoruba language. Felas main instruments were the saxophone and the keyboards, but he also played the trumpet, guitar, and took the occasional drum solo. Fela refused to perform songs again after he had already recorded them, which also hindered his popularity outside Africa. Fela was known for his showmanship, and his concerts were often quite outlandish and wild. He referred to his stage act as the Underground Spiritual Game.