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I just learned that Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Nigerian musician, bandleader and
activist died friday in his sleep. This is pretty devastating for me, as
Fela occupies a place in my musical universe equivalent to Miles Davis, Sun
Ra or Coltrane. I had the privilige of seeing him several times, a
traditional African ensemble I played with opened for a few dates on his
1990 west coast tour. I never actually met him, his entourage pretty well
discouraged any shmoozing, though the members of his band that I met were
exceptionally nice.

Fela's music, while played on conventional instruments, is certainly
loop-based: densely-layered, tight interlocking modal grooves played by a
killer band. Listening to "Original Sufferhead" this morning, I was struck
by how similar the groove was to a Chemical Brothers groove. Fela's
recorded pieces are great examples of how to get maximum impact out of
minimal materials, often building 10-20 minutes of music out of a 2 chord
vamp, a few polyrhythms and a *really* shredding horn section. Robert Wyatt
was once quoted as something like, "Fela is my favorite arranger, he only
has one arrangement, but it always works."

And of course, there was his politics, which got him imprisoned, got
members of his family killed, and from which he never retreated. Fela
always lived what he sang, unlike too many other so-called political

Dave Trenkel : improv@peak.org  : www.peak.org/~improv/

"...there will come a day when you won't have to use
gasoline. You'd simply take a cassette and put it in
your car, let it run. You'd have to have the proper
type of music. Like you take two sticks, put 'em
together, make fire. You take some notes and rub 'em
together - dum, dum, dum, dum - fire, cosmic fire."
                                            -Sun Ra