Category Archives: Record Collecting

Hugh Ramopolo Masekela (South African Musician)

The biggest South-African musician for most Nigerians is Mariam Makeba, she was the struggle, in her we saw the pain, the grace, the ability to retain one’s dignity in such dark times. Her music was familiar and foreign at the same time. And when she danced we saw beauty in motion, sensuality and class.

Miriam Makeba 1959 (tournage de King Kong)

She single-handedly started the fixation some Nigerian men have for South African ladies. She came to Nigeria for the first time in the 1960s as a member of the ANC and as a freedom fighter but also as wife to Hugh Masekela.

Mariam Makeba (1960s)
Mariam Makeba (1960s)

A friend told me Masekela plays an Orlando Julius tune at each concert, any of these three tunes: “Asiko, Awaade and Going back to my roots” (this information needs to be confirmed, but there’s no doubting Masekela’s admiration of Afrobeat and Orlando Julius). They both worked together in the US and were involved in the disco classic, “Going back to my roots”, which shares a lot with “Ashiko” but for which Orlando was not properly credited.

The Boy's Doin' it
The Boy’s Doin’ it (Dedicated to Fela Ransome Kuti)

The song was originally written for Lamont Dozier (LP, “Peddlin’ Music On The Side”, 1977, Warner Bros). Masekela was also friends with Fela and he spent sometime in Nigeria staying and playing with him in the late 70s. He dedicated his album, “The Boys Doin’ It”, (LP, 1975, Casablanca Records), to him. The album contains a song titled Ashiko, composed by O.J Ekemode AKA Orlando Julius).

Lagos, 2013, Greatness and Style
Eternal Style, HRM, Lagos, 2013

I met Hugh Ramopolo Masekela when he came for Lagos Jazz Series 2013 I was shooting the festival for the Organisers and had full access. He was practising Tai Chi behind the live stage and had a timeless quality like he was hewed from polished granite. We (Folarin my creative partner-at the time- and I) approached him afterwards and asked if we could shoot him privately. He agreed and when he had an hour we took him to the RadissonBLU, set up lights backing the Five Cowries Lagoon and started shooting.

HRM, Lagos 2013

He had tales for years, the one that stuck was when he was about 17, already a working artist and a member of the cool set of black bohemians. He and his girl at the time, were widely recognised as two of the sharpest dressers around. Alf Kumalo came round looking for a shot for Drum magazine. He told Masekela, “I need you to jump up with your hands spread out like so”. “I knew right away it was a bad idea, but Alf had a way you know, he was very persuasive a bit like you guys…”.

Hugh Masekela by Alf Kumalo 1957
Hugh Masekela by Alf Kumalo 1957
Hugh Ramopolo Masekela
Hugh Ramopolo Masekela (reliving the moment).

The picture came out and it was serialised, it epitomised for many, that bubbling effervescent, jazz revolution that was happening at the time in South Africa.” “My girl saw the picture and thought, very rightly that it was the corniest thing ever and she left me.”

“You know what…. I saw her recently and she said, ‘we could have grown old together but you had go take that stupid picture”.

 

Early Afrobeat: The Invention of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti

IMG_2952
Fela-Kuti and the Koola Lobitos 1968 (LP Nigeria, EMI PNL 1002) Pix: Livingstonestudio (c)

Fela’s love of jazz and highlife music is widely documented. He named his first major band, Koola Lobitos (cats in Spanish) which literally translates to, “Cooler Cats”. This appears to be a wink at Victor Olaiyas’ Cool Cats, one of the most popular highlife bands at the time. A friend says Fela wrote, Bonsue, the popular Highlife standard for Victor Olaiya’s band.

Bonfo
Fela Ransome-Kuti and the Koola Lobitos Fere/Bonfo RK1 Image courtesy of Livingstonestudio (c)

“Koola” hints at the ambition to become more than a popular highlife band.  However, it took several inventions and reinventing, twists and turns but he got there in the end. He became the legend he was born to be.

Fela Ransome-Kuti and the Koola Lobitos Fere/Bonfo RK1 Image courtesy of Livingstonestudio (c)

 

Once the family had reconciled with his decision to be a musician. His mother threw all she had into making a success of it. She was convinced of his already obvious musical talent, and felt he should be a commercial success, this influence coupled with her career as a leftist intellectual and agitator for African independence informed Fela’s ideas and drove him to “play for the people”.

 

Koola Lobitos featuring VC 7  Orise (highlife) b/w Eke (highlife) (7" Nigeria, Parlophone (EMI) NPJ533 --7XNPS1613/1614)
Koola Lobitos featuring VC 7
Orise (highlife) b/w Eke (highlife) (7″ Nigeria, Parlophone (EMI) NPJ533 –7XNPS1613/1614)

Bonfo (RK1), has all the traits of his “trying to play African Music through jazz” phase. He called records released during this phase, “Highlife Jazz”. It didn’t do so good commercially. But it was a first into controlling his narrative as an auteur-musician. Previous releases had appeared as Fela Ransome-Kuti and the Highlife Rakers in the late 50s on 78s*. Other releases followed on the RK label through the early 60s:

1961                 
Fela Ransome-Kuti and Koola Lobitos Bonfo b/w Fere (7″ Nigeria, The RK label RK1)

1961                  
Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Koola Lobitos 
Nigerian Independence (highlife jazz) / Ayawa (highlife jazz)   (7″ Nigeria, The RK label RK2)

1961                
Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Koola Lobitos
 Koola Lobitos Special (highlife jazz) / Biko (highlife jazz) (7″ Nigeria, The RK label RK3)

1965?
             Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Koola Lobitos 
Onifere No. 2 (highlife) / Oyejo (highlife) (7″ Nigeria, The RK label RK4)

1965?             
Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Koola Lobitos
 Oloruka (highlife) b/w Awo (highlife) (7″ Nigeria, The RK label RK5)

1965?
            Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Koola Lobitos 
Ololufe b/w title unidentified (7″ Nigeria, The RK label RK6)

RK6 was the last release on the RK label. Between 1961 and 1965 he  worked with  Phillips West Africa Records  and VOA (Voice of America) which produced a live recording of his 
Band.

Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Koola Lobitos Onidodo b/w Alagbara (7" Nigeria, Phillips West Africa Records PF383 620)
Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Koola Lobitos
Onidodo b/w Alagbara (7″ Nigeria, Phillips West Africa Records PF383 620)

According to Benson Idonije (music journalist and erstwhile manager to Fela), there was the London incarnation of Koola-Lobitos and the Nigerian version which underwent several changes until it settled with key players (Ojo Okeji, Tex Becks, Tony Allen, Tunde Williams, Yinka Roberts).

Afro-Beat-Early Fela Mix-AWestAfricanIndependenceSoulSession Vol 1 by Temicastro on Mixcloud

 

Fela’s early discography especially 7 inch and 10 inch records are very collectible.

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

All pictures courtesy of Livingstone Studio (c)