FELA KUTI featuring ROY AYERS / “Africa, Centre Of The World”

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This one is short— in the late seventies Roy Ayers toured Africa, visited Nigeria, hooked up with Fela Kuti and came under the heavy influence of Afrobeat, Fela’s musical creation that combines Nigeria elements and James Brownian funk into a higher vibration.
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(I won’t assume you know who Fela is—go here to read a BoL write-up on Fela.)

A close encounter of the transforming kind—once you visit the other world, returning to earth is so… well, so ‘mundane,’ which, if you look it up, mundane literally means both ‘common place’ to the point of boring and ‘of this world.’

Of course, if you are oppressed by the current power arrangements in this world, then the continuation of western hegemony is, at the very least, a supreme exercise in boredom, if not an out and out travesty and insult to humanity. While I have nothing against, for example, digital technology and urban development, I do believe there is more to life than consuming and shitting even as I understand that those two activities are part of life, but, hey, let’s make some structural adjustments and put things in their proper perspective.

Seeing Africa as the center (or, as the British would say, ‘centre’) of the world would require we humans to clean up our act. All of us (whether Africa or whatever) would have to change our perceptions and behavior. And that’s what Fela was talking about—changing up how we looked at ourselves, looked at each other and looked at all others; changing up how we related to all humanity and to the planet itself.

To free Africa, to raise Africa, well, to do that successfully would require the whole world to change.

I said “short,” so anyway, in 1980 Roy Ayers hooked up with Fela and jointly issued Music Of Many Colors, an album featuring a Roy Ayers cut, “2000 Black,” on one side and a Fela cut, “Africa, Centre Of The World,” on the other side.
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In 1981, Roy Ayers released an album, Africa Center Of The World (out of print, but the title track is available on Evolution: The Polydor Anthology). This one featured Roy’s band. The earlier released featured Fela’s band. Both albums contained “Africa, Center Of The World.”

On the Fela release the song is seventeen minutes long, on the Ayers album the song runs five and half minutes. Same song but Roy is more in a funk bag and you can hear how funk differs significantly from Afrobeat, and also hear the similarities (depending, of course, on what references are in your head’s musical databank—for example, I hear Pfunk percolating in the vocal arrangement on Ayers’ version).

Notice that Fela is not just grooving, he is preaching and teaching. That upfront political advocacy is one big difference between Fela’s afrobeat and Ayer’s funk. I do not mean that funk is less than afrobeat, what I am pointing to is the context of musical production and pointing also to the determination of the musicans to make (or avoid making) a hard political statement.

This is the deal: a consumer economy prefers consumers who do not think. And also prefers musical creators who do not talk too much about what they think—the industry is selling entertainment, not political education. The separation of entertainment from education is not because the two can’t or don’t go together but rather because political education is a threat to the hegemony of an industry built on consumerism. In other words, if we thought about it, we wouldn’t buy (literally and mentally) a lot of the system’s shit.

Hence, the danger inherent in certain elements of this music.

So here is first, the 1981 American (Roy Ayers) version, and second the 1980 Nigerian (Fela Kuti) version. As far as I’m concerned the Fela is the classic and the Ayers version is like one of those signs you see on the interstate letting you know your destination is so-and-so miles away, straight ahead.

—Kalamu ya Salaam

This entry was posted on Monday, January 12th, 2009 at 1:40 am and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “FELA KUTI featuring ROY AYERS / “Africa, Centre Of The World””

Gail Says:
January 13th, 2009 at 10:38 am

I never knew such a collaboration existed. Thanks for sharing this. Now I’l have to see if I can find a copy for my collection.

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