Knitting Factory Records
Omuti Tide is about the alcoholic who never takes his job seriously. In the end he loses his job for drink. Sung in Yoruba like most of the songs from Koola Labitos era, one can hear the strong Latin jazz effect from Fela’s London days hanging out with West Indian Brothers (We can also hear the mix of Latin jazz and the African American Diaspora influences in Funky Horn. It is sad Fela stopped playing the trumpet in the latter part of his life as Funky Horn is a testimony to him being a great horn player). Highlife Time, another Koola Lobitos piece sung in English is about highlife music and the beat. Highlife music is one of the many contemporary urban music of West Africa, influenced by Caribbean Calypso and Latin American Salsa. Ololufe Mi is Fela’s love song, declaring his affection for his lover and insisting that she is his one and only love. Fela’s proficiency as a trumpet player can be heard in this track like in all the other pieces from his Koola Lobitos days. Wadele Wa Rohin, in Yoruba language means: ‘you will go home and proclaim in what high esteem people hold Eko, the home of great sense! Smart arse city. Eko is a funky, swinging, crazy ghetto’. Laise Lairo, another song in Yoruba literally means: without any offence or bad feeling, you lose your wife and get locked in prison by the person who took your wife. Like most of Fela’s songs of this era, they were addressing social issues. Wayo too, talks about dishonesty. Wayo in Hausa language means dishonest. Though sung in Yoruba language, it conveys the same meaning of dismay at the discovery that a person you trust is dishonest, a cheat and a fraud. It is all about being upright in society.
The ’69 Los Angeles Session recordings were a collection of songs that reflect Fela’s musical and political evolution, from a musician entertainer with a style of music called ‘highlife jazz’ to a fighter of a black cause with music as a weapon. Coming to America, he overestimated the power of his ‘highlife jazz’ style of music. He forgot that America expected something more authentic from an African band than jazz—of which America has produced the greatest maestro. Fela recounts his experience: “My American tour in 1969 was a turning point in my way of thinking and approach to life. America is a great country, it made me jealous that we don’t have today that kind of greatness in our country. It was also in America that I was exposed for the first time to a lot of black history—that background knowledge about Africa which I did not have before. I was exposed to the teachings of Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X and also the Black Panther Party.” With a new thinking, he realized he had to write and arrange his music in a way more relevant to the environment he came from—something with the African background. During rehearsals in Los Angeles, after smoking a joint (Marijuana) for the first time, he said he heard this heavy bass line vibrating in his head in the for mof sakara (apala rhythm), a traditional Yoruba music from the West of Nigeria. The result: My Lady Frustration, an instrumental piece. Dedicated to the lady who stood by him during his evolution in the US and who felt frustrated with all the problems encountered by Fela in his musical search for greener pastures. Finally finding his feet, he wrote this song as a tribute to her. Viva Nigeria, written in his new style of music called :’Afrobeat’ is about the Biafra civil war going on in Nigeria and calling on Nigerians to unite and resolve their differences in more amicable ways than war. Other titles from these sessions are songs talking about social issues: Obe!(soup), Ako!(Braggart), Lover, and Witchcraft sung in Yoruba language. The last song, This Is Sad, is a nostalgic piece expressing his longing to return to his family after a long absence from them. In a homesick manner, he wishes the witchcraft would bring him home.
- Mabinuori Kayode Idowu
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