Music Break - The Beatles and Fela Kuti Mashup

by Cynthia Reid
May 20, 2011 9:11 AM
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It seems that Paul McCartney was such of fan of Nigerian performer Fela Kuti that he attempted to work with his band for the recording of his new album he was working on back in 1972. However, once Fela got wind of this he denounced Paul saying he was..."stealing black man's music."

Too bad. I'm sure it would have been an interesting collaboration...at the very least. We'll just have to enjoy this Beatles and Fela Kuti mash-up I stumbled upon as we anxiously wait for director Steve McQueen's biopic in the works.

Here's an excerpt of the story from The Guardian:

Paul McCartney found himself in Lagos in August 1972. The plan had been to record a new record - the record that became Band on the Run - at somewhere other than Abbey Road and EMI had offered one of its studios in Rio de Janeiro or Peking. Instead, the former Beatle insisted on the Nigerian capital, picturing himself 'lying on the beach all day doing nothing and recording at night'.

As he drily noted later, 'it didn't turn out quite like that', what with being held up at knife point, the lepers in the streets, the omnipresent military, the corruption and the lack of security. Still, Lagos had its attractions. Chief among these was the chance to check out Fela Ransome-Kuti's band - 'the best band I've ever seen live ... When Fela and his band eventually began to play, after a long, crazy build-up, I just couldn't stop weeping with joy. It was a very moving experience.'

Thrilled by his experience, McCartney thought of recording with some of the musicians working with the extraordinary 33-year-old firebrand. When Fela caught wind of the plan he denounced McCartney from the stage of his club and then arrived unannounced at the studio to berate him for 'stealing black man's music'.

As McCartney said at the time: 'We were gonna use African musicians, but when we were told we were about to pinch the music we thought, "Well, up to you, we'll do it ourselves." Fela thought we were stealing black African music, the Lagos sound. So I had to say, "Do us a favour, Fela, we do OK. We're all right as it is. We sell a couple of records here and there."

'I thought my visit would, if anything, help them, because it would draw attention to Lagos and people would say, "Oh, by the way, what's the music down there like?" and I'd say it was unbelievable. It is unbelievable ... it's incredible music down there. I think it will come to the fore.'

The incident caused a brief storm in Lagos, and illustrates Fela's fearlessness, his love of controversy and an unerring ability to piss on his own parade. When Motown wanted to set up an African label in the early 1980s, it offered Fela a million-dollar deal. This despite his insistence at the time of recording radio-hostile 60-minute songs, and never playing old material, so that live audiences would never hear his hits.


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