Category Archives: Nigerian History

Early Afrobeat: The Invention of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti Part II

Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Africa 70 The Best of Fela (LP Nigeria, EMI (HMV) HNLX5043)
Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Africa 70
The Best of Fela (LP Nigeria, EMI (HMV) HNLX5043)

In 1970, Fela was regarded as a wild canon by record labels. There were stories of his frequent disregard for contracts and his appetite for wrangling, in shorthand, he was a label’s nightmare, a troublesome musician with a rock star complex and no sales to justify the massive ego.

Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Africa 70 Shenshema (Part 1) b/w Shenshema (Part 2) (7" Nigeria, HMV HNS1299)
Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Africa 70
Shenshema (Part 1) b/w Shenshema (Part 2) (7″ Nigeria, HMV HNS1299)

Odion was in the MD’s office when a brouhaha ensued from the gate. He enquired about the source of the commotion and was informed that Fela was being bounced from seeing the MD. The MD then told Odion very plainly, that he wanted no business with the man.

Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Nigeria 70 Fogo-Fogo (Part 1) b/w Fogo-Fogo (Part 2) (7" Nigeria, HMV HNS1472)
Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Nigeria 70
Fogo-Fogo (Part 1) b/w Fogo-Fogo (Part 2) (7″ Nigeria, HMV HNS1472)

Fela was not taking ‘no’ for an answer, he returned a few weeks later. He was rebuffed on two more occasions. Odion sensed something was wrong. He was torn between his recognition of Fela’s talent and the business reality. He went to the MD after the third time and explained that Fela deserved a hearing. “The man’s persistence shows he has something to offer or at least something to say..”.

The MD made it clear that he wanted no responsibility in the matter. But if he felt strongly about it, he could see Fela at his own instance. Odion invited him for a meeting. When Fela arrived he was expecting to be taken to the MDs office. But the MD said, “No. We will have the meeting at Odion’s office”. 
They sat down and Fela said. “I have a new sound, a new music. I believe only EMI can provide the platform I need to sell this music across Africa.  I am prepared to start this relationship on a no contract basis. We will cut the record and you will buy a van fitted with an amplified PA system to play the music around Lagos and we will reconvene after four months to review proceedings”.

Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Africa 70 The Best of Fela (LP Nigeria, EMI (HMV) HNLX5043)
Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Africa 70
The Best of Fela (LP Nigeria, EMI (HMV) HNLX5043)

Fela left and Odion told the MD, “its a “no brainer”, the guy is carrying all the risk. No advance fee, no contract..”. The MD reluctantly agreed but still denied any responsibility. Odion arranged for a session and Fela’s band broke into the first few bars of Jeun K’oku.
”I couldn’t believe what I was hearing”. “The horns sounded like nothing we’d heard before”. He left the studio and ran to the MD’s office. “You need to hear this”. “Who”. “Fela”. “That guy.. please…”. “Just come”.  The MD got to the studio and his mouth dropped open. He looked at Odion. “I hope you are recording this”. Odion laughed. “It’s not even there yet”. The song ended and he made some recommendations to Fela. Fela agreed and they cut the third or fourth take.
 EMI released the single and started marketing it as Fela had directed. The market responded and the single was the fastest selling single that year, 80,000 units sold in 3 weeks.

 Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Africa 70 Monday Morning (Part 1) b/w Monday Morning (Part 2) (7" Nigeria, HMV HNS1322)

Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Africa 70
Monday Morning (Part 1) b/w Monday Morning (Part 2) (7″ Nigeria, HMV HNS1322)

Fela returned 4 months and a day later (as the original date fell on a Sunday). The MD was falling over himself to accommodate him. “Please come” He said gesturing. Fela smiled and said
, “no, we will meet in Odion’s office”. MD looked at Odion. “Contracts are signed in the MDs office” Odion explained. “Are you not here to sign?”

Fela reluctantly followed them to the MD’s office. Everyone sat down. Fela refused to sit. He finally perched on the corner of the desk.

 Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Africa 70 Monday Morning (Part 1) b/w Monday Morning (Part 2) (7" Nigeria, HMV HNS1322)

Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Africa 70
Monday Morning (Part 1) b/w Monday Morning (Part 2) (7″ Nigeria, HMV HNS1322)

The MD started to speak. Fela placed his index on his lips…. “shhhhhhh. You have spoken. Now its my turn to speak”.      “Who saw the rickety trap I drove here in… is it befitting of an EMI recording artist?… no. Damn right.. I need something better.. (strolls to the window overlooking the car park). Something like that..” (points to a Mercedes benz saloon car).

The MD looks at Odion. Who smiles, “That’s the MD’s car”. Fela retorts   “It will do.. I also need the van you recently acquired to market my single. I need it for my band. And new instruments, horns, guitars, trap drum.. everything..”. The contract was prepared and executed. Fela drove off with the MD’s Merc.

Sometime later the MD called Odion to his office. “Your man ruined us…I warned you..”       Odion asked the accounts department to provide a statement of accounts for the Jeun Koku sales. They found out they still owed Fela some money even after the extras.

EMI went on to releases several important singles like Fogo-Fogo, Beautiful dancer, Shenshema, Who’re you. Fela soon out grew the time constraint of the 7″ format.  He stopped doing singles from 1974, only LP albums. Going in and coming out was his last 7″single.

Fela’s early singles are very much a thing as they have not been reissued. They are highly sought after by big collectors from all over. The LPs are still collectible but their rarity value is low as they have been reissued by the Knitting Factory and are widely available.

 Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Africa 70 Why Black Man Dey Suffer (LP Nigeria, African Songs AS0001; Initially recorded for EMI, but EMI refused to release it)

Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Africa 70
Why Black Man Dey Suffer (LP Nigeria, African Songs AS0001; Initially recorded for EMI, but EMI refused to release it)

1971
Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Africa 70
Jeun K’oku (Chop & Quench) Instrumental Part 1 b/w Jeun K’oku (Chop & Quench) Instrumental Part 2 (7″ Nigeria, EMI/HMV HNS1075)

1971? Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Africa 70
Don’t Gag Me (Part 1) b/w Don’t Gag Me? (Part 2) (7″ Nigeria, Jon200; Ghana, Jon200)

1971? Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Africa 70
Don’t Gag Me (Part 1) b/w Don’t Gag Me? (Part 2) (7″ Nigeria, Jon200; Ghana, Jon200)

1971
Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Africa 70
Jeun K’oku (Chop & Quench) Instrumental Part 1 b/w Jeun K’oku (Chop & Quench) Instrumental Part 2 (7″ Nigeria, EMI/HMV HNS1075)

1971
Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Africa 70
Who’re You? (Part 1) b/w Who’re You? (Part 2) (7″ Nigeria, EMI/HMV HNS1058; Ghana, EMI/HMV
HNS1058) 1971 Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Africa 70
Na Fight-O! (Part 1) b/w Na Fight-O! (Part 2) (7″ Nigeria, HMV HNS1049)

1971 Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Africa 70
Fela’s London Scene (LP Nigeria, EMI HNLX5200; LP USA (1983), Editions Makossa M2399)
[A] J’ehin-J’ehin / Egbe Mi O 
[B] Who’re You / Buy Africa / Fight to Finish

1971
Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Africa 70
Blackman’s cry b/w Beautiful Dancer (7″ Nigeria, HMV HNP526; 7″ France, Pathe Marconi 2C006-80

Discography related information courtesy of http://endolab.jp/endo/africa

All pictures courtesy of Livingstone Studio (c)