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FELA!

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FELA!
Composer: Original Broadway Cast
Conductor: Original Broadway Cast
Label: Knitting Factory
Release Date: 2010-06-09
Rated: NONE
Genre: Recording

If the exclamation point alone doesn’t frighten longtime Kuti lovers, a glance at the tracklist might: “Expensive Shit,” 3 minutes, 45 seconds; “Zombie,” 4 minutes, 22 seconds; “Coffin for Head of State,” 4 minutes, 22 seconds; etc. Maybe it’s not fair to expect paying Broadway audiences to sit through musical numbers that are 10-20-plus minutes a pop and don’t advance a story so much as establish a groove and ride it till it has to call in sick the next morning, but a cursory glance at the album art might leave you with the impression that Kuti’s been Lion Kinged. Well, maybe a little, but you have to weigh any attempts to make a complicated, uncompromising figure more accessible against the awesome fact that this even exists — a major Broadway musical (backed in part by Jay-Z and Will Smith) focusing on Kuti’s totally danceable rebellion. Even the summarized version the soundtrack offers of the multiple award-winning production serves as a pretty decent primer, musical and biographical, for an artist whose life was as interesting and instructive as his work. Ngaujah does a mostly uncanny Kuti impression that only occasionally sounds like parody, and the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra is always on-point emulating the originals. More than that, all the exposition gives Kuti’s lyrics real-life weight. When he cries out on “Coffin,” “They kill my mama,” he’s not speaking for Nigeria’s oppressed everyman: Government soldiers really raided his compound and threw his activist mother out a second story window to her death. If this soundtrack introduces some showtuners to Kuti’s music, great, but I’d recommend the Best of the Black President comp and the documentary Music Is the Weapon first if you’re not already headed for the Great White Way

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