Perhaps the supreme example of the artist as dissident: Fela Kuti’s importance as musical innovator, showman, political agitator and human rights activist is finally being recognised outside his homeland thanks to the recent musical based on his life. In the middle of this fresh wave of interest comes a live album, the first new Kuti release in over 20 years.
Recorded in Detroit in November 1986, the concert marked a triumph in Kuti’s ongoing battle with the Nigerian government. Having tried to tour the States two years previously, he was arrested before boarding the plane and imprisoned on dubious charges of currency trafficking. An Amnesty International campaign helped secure his release and a subsequent appearance on their Conspiracy Of Hope American tour.
Uncompromising in his live shows as well as his politics, each of the four songs here is over 30 minutes in length; it’s this expansiveness that inevitably shapes the album’s weaknesses and strengths. But while Beast Of No Nation runs out of ideas by the 20-minute mark, Confusion Breaks Bones is a triumph. Beginning curiously off-key, it soon locks into a melancholic but compelling groove that’s teased, twisted and used as a platform for freeform jazz, before being stripped back to basics. It’s an example of musical repetition at its best: hypnotic, trance inducing and irresistible.