Old friends and inspired musicians revisit Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti's influence at Saturday's World Wide Dance Party
Though mainstream superstars Will Smith and Jay-Z threw their producing weight behind the recent Tony Award-winning musical production of Fela!, it's tough to imagine an artist quite like Fela in today's music scene, fighting back from the top of the pop charts, occupying the public imagination with his radical politics and spiritual beliefs, and speaking his mind, loudly and outrageously. Still, Fela's story and music speak louder than ever, especially in the context of indie's less-than-political appropriation of African sounds, the recent SF run of Fela!, the 2011 rerelease of Fela's Universal-controlled albums in North America by Knitting Factory Records, the upcoming film directed by artist-filmmaker Steve McQueen, and continuing tide of injustice in Nigeria, where weeks of protests continue over fuel prices and the country has undergone its worst oil spill in a decade.
"The thing that's most interesting about Fela's music is how traveling and seeing other cultures, going to the United States, and getting familiar with American music and James Brown and American politics inspired him to fulfill his own roots and look back on himself and to really see these international forces as part of his background and his own culture," observes Will Magid, 26, who organized the Fela dance party and has played with Odukogbe and Okulolo. Magid's own forthcoming debut album promises to mix Kuti's influence with Balkan, pop, and funk sounds. "We need more people who are like that and who are speaking up."
El Cerrito-by-way-of-Nigeria bassist Okulolo played with Fela as well as King Sunny Ade and has performed with Odukogbe in the Kotoja, the Western African Highlife Band, and the Nigerian Brothers. Magid's friend and mentor since the two met through Okulolo's son at UCLA, the musician sees "Fela Kuti Extravaganza" as a teaching opportunity.
"Fela was a great musician, and his music will never die," says Okulolo. "I think it would be a good idea to continue educating people about his music and how beautiful it is. I worked with [Fela] briefly, and I know the man well, and so many bands are playing Afrobeat now — generally the music needs to be out there."
"It has funk; it has jazz; it has an African beat; it has everything," he continues. "It's our opportunity to showcase it to as many people as we can and make it valuable, to put it in a category that someday will be what reggae is today."
And during hard times, we can all learn something from Fela, his still-vibrant music, and his way of moving, fluidly and artfully, through oppression, through pain. "There's this element of social consciousness, of people dancing and then hearing about these oil spills," muses Magid of the upcoming dance party. "It's a different kind of dancing when you're dancing through suffering." *
WILL MAGID'S WORLD WIDE DANCE PARTY: FELA EXTRAVAGANZA
With Baba Ken Okulolo and Soji Odukogbe, Will Magid Trio with Fely Tchaco, MSK.FM, and izzy*wise
Sat/28, 9:30 p.m., $15
Cafe Du Nord
2170 Market, SF