Femi Kuti: The Definitive Collection

Heather Snell

One can never tire of hearing Femi's unique fusion of traditional African rhythms, jazz, soul, R&B, hip-hop and modern dance.

Femi Kuti

The Definitive Collection

Label: Wrasse
US Release Date: 2007-05-22
UK Release Date: 2007-02-12

The political urgency that informs Afrobeat is nowhere better showcased than in the cross-over music of Femi Kuti. In putting together their The Definitive Collection, Wrasse Records selected from all three of Femi's albums, including No Cause For Alarm (1995), the international hit Shoki Shoki (1999), and the phenomenally successful Fight to Win (2001). Whereas Wrasse's The Best of Femi Kuti (2005) had only two albums on which to draw, this one has the advantage of highlighting a musical career at least three decades long. The Definitive Collection also brings Femi's work to international attention at a time when interest in Africa and its cultures appears to be growing. Beyond that, there is the fact that one can never tire of hearing Femi's unique fusion of traditional African rhythms, jazz, soul, R&B, hip-hop and modern dance.

Femi broke onto the music scene in 1978 when he dropped out of school to play alto saxophone in his father's band. For those unfamiliar with Femi and the musical legacy he inherited, he is the son of the legendary Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Having been born in Abeokuta, Nigeria to parents who were politically active in the nationalist freedom struggle, Fela himself was well positioned to protest neocolonialism on behalf of the Nigerian people. He did so with great gusto and energy, provoking successive governments to label him a threat to the establishment. It was his music that provided the medium for Fela's protest. Between the 1950s and the 1970s he developed a unique sound he christened "Afrobeat"-- an innovative blend of American funk and traditional African rhythms that emphasized the necessity for prompt action in the face of Nigeria's political corruption. Since his death from AIDS in 1997, his musical efforts have achieved mythical proportions. For Femi, Fela's legend is one that threatens to overshadow even as it helps to promote the political significance of his own music.

Not to be eclipsed by his father, Femi does as he recommends in the disc's first track, "Do Your Best". And his best is incredibly good. Without sacrificing the improvisation techniques that made Fela famous, Femi updates Afrobeat in an attempt to make it, in his words, "accessible" to modern listeners. His songs are shorter and punchier than Fela's, and just as threatening to Nigeria's repressive regime. Indeed, "Beng Beng Beng" was banned by President Olusegun Obasanjo's government in 1999 due to its graphic expression of sexual desire. Unlike Fela, Femi advocates safe sex and is active in Nigeria's AIDS Awareness Campaign. He even founded his own political party designed to circumvent the negative effects of neocolonialism and globalization, calling it the Movement Against Second Slavery (MASS). Although Femi has since distanced himself from the party, his protest nonetheless continues to stimulate social change in Nigeria and elsewhere. If the songs compiled on The Definitive Collection are any indication, it is easy to see why and how Femi's "best" captures the imaginations of so many listeners at home and abroad.

In its refusal to compile the tracks in chronological order, Wrasse's compilation discourages us from looking for any kind of linear development. Appropriately, this double-disc compilation opens with-- quite literally-- Femi's best, namely: the first track on his last full-length LP: Fight to Win. Not only do the lyrics on this track aptly convey one of Femi's most important messages, but it also showcases his willingness to integrate American musical styles and collaborate with American artists. The song features rapper Mos Def, who is reputed to have contributed significantly to the underground hip hop movement in the United States. The jazz and R&B influences are palpable here, but so is the traditional African rhythm. Femi asks us to look to the past for the cultural resources that might help to end poverty and suffering in Africa.

From there the compilation highlights some of Femi's finest musical expressions. "Fight to Win" borrows liberally from R&B to articulate a soulful cry to arms, while "'97" serves as a eulogy to Femi's father and sister Sola, both of whom died in 1997. "Traitors of Africa" gets us moving to a jazzy description of the Nigerian people, many of whom struggle to survive in the city of Lagos. As with Femi's vocals, the saxophone becomes its own instrument -- a voice telling a story against the background of a peculiarly African beat.

The second disc focuses on re-mixes, highlighting the ways in which other artists have re-interpreted Femi's work and shifted it even further into modern house and dub. In addition to providing the Paris City Mix of the black pride anthem "Blackman Know Yourself", Disc Two offers the Zenzile Dub Mix of "Scatta Head". With its echoes and reverberations, the track showcases the best in minimalist dub while demonstrating Femi's knack for conveying political messages without reverting to tired clichés. As with Femi's night club, dubbed "The Shrine" in memory of his father's club of the same name, Disc 1 and Disc 2 serve as a tribute to the innovative birth of Afrobeat. Although there can be no such thing as a definitive collection, Wrasse's compilation deftly moves us through Femi's efforts in the late 1990s to the popular, internationalist sounds he cultivated most recently. It should come as no surprise that, in addition to having been nominated for a Grammy in the Best World Music category, Femi garnered numerous awards in his home country for Best Cross-over Music. Femi takes world music to new heights, marrying potent political expression with addictive rhythms, which, while accessible in his view, refuse to succumb to the culture of consumerism on which the hit single is based in the United States. The Definitive Collection proves both a suitable introduction to Femi and a testament to the significance of music in a world that frequently co-opts dissidence.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.