How did I not know Fela Kuti existed! Sometimes I get locked into music that I know I love, that I know resonates with me, and so I miss out. As the years go by the joyous experience of finding a genius, something new, something beautiful, something that moves me on a deep soul level, that is special, becomes rarer and rarer. I don’t ever expect to find something I haven’t heard already that I will truly love. That rush of finding Hendrix, of hearing Marquee Moon, or Joni Mitchell’s Blue, or the divine Ms Simone, or Elizabeth Cotten, is something I always presume is now in the past.
The only music that really surprises and moves me now is jazz. I get jaded and have to go to jazz to awake anything that feels like shock or freshness. I sit here making like Neal Cassady, clicking my fingers and smoking weed, and pretending that there is still a world out there that is interesting, and bright and free and open, and amusing myself with that jazz rap-a-rooni-rooni, as Cassady would say.
The last time I felt anything intensely musically was when I started listening to Miles Davis intently. Charlie Parker. Fuck the Velvet’s Heroin, these guys knew the nod. They were the nod. They were the movement. They were pure intoxication. Not always joy, but at least something strong, some really good medicine.
Youtube suggested I might like Fela Kuti. The algorithm was correct.
Oh the joy! The pure joy! Something between jazz and protest, funk and protodub, with a strong afrobeat drive. Shamanic-flavored chants that press all the right buttons, but are somehow the most positive exhortations to power, to freeing a people globally the subject of subjugation and attempted sickening white domination, to fight against teachers that teach only weakness, a system that sets people up to fail. This is not just music, this is social and political magick. The passion! The musicality! That beat! That pure beat. It is the heartbeat of the Earth. It is the power of the universe. It is something so deeply human, so precisely perfectly organic. I found the anti-Kraftwerk! The vox humana to counteract the sound weapon of Reed’s Metal Machine Music! Another dose of metaphysical medicine.
I feel like I might live. I feel lighter. I feel stronger. I feel like I could drag my dead ass up off my chair, and out from under my desk, and dance with one hand raised to the heavens, and my feet stamping out some rhythm that belongs to us all, yet not all of us are prepared to hear. Oh joy! Oh pleasure! Something in my heart feels renewed again. Younger. The room feels brightened. My Boy is smiling. In all the pain, all the suffering, all the indignities, all the power trips, all the injustice, all that grotesque oppression and attempts at permanent subjugation, there is a band so loose it is tight, so “on”, it is in perpetual motion, so tapped into that power of Gaia that it is unstoppable. This is music to cure the world. The “underground spirituality” as Kuti described it. It is a spirituality that runs in rivers under the surface, and fountaining from the earth, pure and true, I truly believe that if everybody listened, really listened, it is music that could heal almost any rift: continental, racial, spiritual, global.
Unfortunately, people rarely listen with the hearts as well as their ears.
What a gift! A gift I am unworthy of receiving. I chose a second track at random, and came up with a 1978 performance from Berlin, of Pansa Pansa. This is jazz with a soul. This is soul with intelligence. This is funk with power not just sexual, but spiritual.
No doubt I will be unbearable for days now, working my way through the performances and Kuti’s entire oeuvre, telling whoever will listen, and a few who will not, that the man was a genius. The psychedelic overtones deftly weave their threads through Pansa Pansa, intoxicating, promising freedom, justice, happiness. While it sounds as if Kuti would have happily changed the world through music, with sounds and words and the beauty of the Beat, songs like Shuffering and Shmiling demand, “You Africans, listen to me as Africans, and you non Africans, listen to me with open mind”, and they lay on the heavy questions and answers boldly and confidently. I am not saying Fela had all the answers, nor even all the questions, but he tried to open eyes, even though he owed no one a hand towards mutual understanding.
The world is a poorer place for losing him within it, even if we are all just ‘shuffering and shmiling’ and understanding that “He Miss Road”. So do I, Kuti, so do I. Sometimes I think the only honest thing in this prison of a planet is music, the road, and the few artists that make me feel as if humans themselves are not the real damn plague. Rest in peace, Fela Kuti, and thank you for the beat and the frequencies of power and love and resistance.
I feel as if I might find my way towards finding some energy to keep on going.