Today marks 16 years since the death of one of the giants of African history. On a musical level, Fela Kuti founded Afrobeat, the continent’s first style it could truly call its own, free from the influences and controls of western culture. It was much more than this though, growing into a political and social movement not just in Fela’s native Nigeria but across the continent. His music had – and still has – a unique ability to inspire, teach, entertain and move, physically and emotionally.
Built on a British education in jazz, his rhythms oozed funk and energy, but retained a distinctly African sound. The message never strayed from one that preached freedom and pan-Africanism, and through his lyrics, Fela tirelessly campaigned against the Nigerian politicians who sought to deny both. His nightclub, The Shrine, became a bastion for personal, religious, political and social emancipation. Equally as important, it provided an escape through entertainment, inside the oppressive existence of 1970s Nigeria. It’s testament to the courage of Fela’s convictions that, despite decades of the most violent intimidation – including the death of his mother, shortly after being thrown out the window of his home – it was not his oppressors who killed him, but a tumour brought on by AIDS.
Nearly two decades after his death, his importance to Africa remains as big as it ever was, but his influence on western culture also continues to grow. Not only because of the success of the eponymous Broadway musical, or with the growing excitement of a Steve McQueen-produced biopic. But also because of the increasingly prominent role that African sounds are playing in western underground music. The musicians that were inspired by his values and music may not compare on a political level, but as a strong proponent of music’s ability to affect human emotions and behaviour, there’s no doubt that Fela himself would be proud of how his influence has produced more creativity.
To mark this impact, we take a look at how contemporary producers have directly interpreted Fela’s material, by picking out our favourite remixes, samples and covers.
1. Fela Kuti – Shakara (Ossie’s Bump Edit)
Where this remix succeeds so well is by bringing Fela’s distinctive rhythm up to date for a UK dancefloor. Not that Fela’s rhythms sound dated in the slightest, but Ossie injects new life while being sensitive to the original.
2. Fela Kuti – Roforofo Fight (Auntie Flo Remix)
The same goes for this remix, by a Glaswegian producer who is propelling himself to the forefront of a UK scene pushing the fusion of African-influenced dance music. While respecting that famous Fela rhythm, hi-hats, saxes and reverb are put on repeat to create a pulsating interpretation, in touch with the modern dancefloor. Download this for free over at Dummy Mag, in an article where Auntie Flo, Gilles Peterson and others discuss the influence of Fela on their musical careers.
4. Pete Rock & Ini – Grown Man Sport
Fela’s universal appeal stretches to hip-hop as much as electronic music, as Pete Rock expertly demonstrates. He adapts a five second keyboard solo from Water Get No Enemy into another classic beat.
5. Tall Black Guy – Water No Enemy
Just up the road from Pete Rock, in Chicago, another producer has expertly sampled Water Get No Enemy with completely different results. Tall Black Guy samples some keys from earlier in the song to creating a soaring and enchanting slice of instrumental hip-hop. Water No Enemy is taken from Brownswood Bubblers 7, which you can buy on Bandcamp.