Expensive Shit / He Miss Road
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For He Miss Road and Expensive Shit, Fela still carried his original last name--Ransome-Kuti (which changed to his more radical moniker Anikulapo-Kuti later), but he had grown since his early 1970s albums in two important ways. First, Fela had been radicalized beyond his introduction to U.S.-style Black Power and had been framed by Nigerian authorities, who placed marijuana in his possession. He promptly ate the dope, after which authorities arrested him and waited for him to defecate so they could test the dung for drugs. Not a sexy scheme, and not even a workable scheme, but it did give Fela fodder--specifically the tune (and album title) "Expensive Shit." His second advance came in the form of using the studio as a virtual instrument, one that makes He Miss Road a trippy, stuttery, reverb-laden intersection of lean Afro-beat and '70s astro-funk. Ginger Baker was at the controls for Road, and Fela shone through the weird studio ambience. Africa 70 was a band given to leaning back into the percussion weave the drummers--led by Tony Allen--laid down. Their inherently languid pacing was enhanced by Baker's studio play, and the results are outstanding. So too is Expensive Shit, which has the earmarks of radicalized urban musical poetry without all the pretensions of strict meter or the pop market. --Andrew Bartlett
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Sometimes the beat is menacing as on the title track on "Expensive Shit." (Just read the liner notes for the lowdown on the title-it's quite a tale!) Other time, the band slips into a flowing froth as on Water Get No Enemy.
The tracks on "He Miss Road," while less political, chronicle more of the life and times of Fela, who must have had quite a sense of humor considering the abuse he endured. When you listen to the 17-minute final track, It's No Possible, all of a sudden you understand one of the main sources for derivative bands such as Traffic. Compare this track with Traffic's jams on the "Low Spark of High Heeled Boys" and "Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory."
All five tracks are all long jams: typically the instrumental solos build up to Fela's vocals. Though he was the heart and brains of the outfit, he doesn't hog the limelight but lets everyone have some time to shine. And what an instrument his voice was: wailing, strutting, and vexing. These sessions are a true group effort. Both the band and choir churn along in deep grooves, the equal-is not better--of any soul or funk back from what George Clinton and James Brown were dishing out in the `70. For the record, Ginger Baker produced (but does not play) "He Miss Road." All the tracks sound vibrant and fresh even 30 years later, and the sound quality on the combined CD is excellent.
If you want to try Fela Kuti and do not know where to plunge in (his discography is amazingly long and there are some uneven sessions), I would recommend this CD as a fine place to start.