Fela Kuti (YGtCTO Music #95)

He Miss Road

Song composed by Fela Kuti and performed by Fela Kuti & Africa 70

How is that we know art when we see it? Because that’s the pithy saying, isn’t it? How do you know if a book is science fiction/thriller/etc.? Why is that painting better than the other one over there? Is this piece of furniture a work of art?
Well, I can’t tell you how I know, but I know when I see it.

Practical definitions of art revolve around intent and transformation. I’ve written about art as a medium for communication between the artist and the audience. Realistically, we all make our own judgments about art in the moment. Sure, if we have our attention drawn to something, then we might be happy to acknowledge that it seems to be art, though we might qualify the estimation with statements about the quality of the art. “Why yes, that is a lovely piece and I can see that your child is a master of the finger paints.”

Then, there are the moments where we feel the art first, those times when we are stunned into acknowledgement.

Any description of the music of Fela Kuti would have had me slowly stepping away from the speaker. I’m sorry, but did you say that the songs are often ten or twenty minutes long? More percussionists than can be counted? Sometimes sings in French or other languages than English? Politically active? That might make him admirable in some ways, but can make for boring music.

Fela Kuti

If you’ve

ever been music ally adventurous, then you’ve been burned by a lot of music that was supposed to be good for you and expand your horizons. I tip my hat to anyone who keeps trying.

I found my way to Fela by way of Cream. After their drummer, Ginger Baker, left the band, he spent time in Africa and joined Fela Kuti’s group.

Those first tracks that I heard contained so much energy and all the horn riffs and drive that I simply could not get enough. Maybe I’m trapped in a life with 70s soul ears, but I don’t care. The sheer majesty of the songs as they develop and mutate reassures me that this is music for all time.

Kuti’s life found its way to Broadway, among other waves of revival. Antibalas is a fantastic band that works in his style. His political legacy remains complex and inspiring, as any political stance ought to be in a world that is not simple.

And yet art has that power to make us stop in our tracks and pause and breathe. Your feet might be moving and your heart might be beating, but for that brief, shining moment, you know that you are in the presence of something that clarifies, something that brings the value to life.

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 17 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out release regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry post irregularly. Receive notifications on Facebook by friending or following Craig.

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