Any serious discussion of major musical artists of the 20th century has to include Fela Kuti. His blend of large-band funk, soul and African percussion was a radical, and successful, reclaiming for Africa the rhythms that Americans had taken as their own. His brave poltical nerve made him a hero in his native Nigeria. Black Man’s Cry is a celebration of his legacy and his music, which will sound entirely familiar to you if you’ve been paying attention to music for the last 50 years.
Kuti’s music is the primal source for so many popular styles. The range of his rhythmic explorations is covered here, from the traditional percussion/call-and-response of Cumbia Morena’s take on “Shacalao,” to the hot horn section and Latin guitar hybrid of Dan Satch’s version of “Woman Pin Down.” There are no less than three versions of “Black Man’s Cry,” with the winner being by Lever Brothers Gay Flaningoes, whose take is a hard funk, steel-drum jam.
The collection also features jittery, horn-driven tunes (the 6th Infantry Brigade of the Nigerian Army’s version of “Black and Proud” would make the JBs jealous), Fender Rhodes tracks, Highlife hybrids (“Adebo” by Segun Bucknor), and, in Karl Hector and the Malcouns’ cover of “Toure Samar,” even examples of proto-trip-hop.
The covers on Black Man’s Cry are as reverent as they are varied. The music of Fela Kuti embraced all the styles offered in this tribute, in search of emotional and spiritual power. This is as fitting a celebration of his monumental contribution to the music and thought of modern Africa and beyond, particularly to those who are still getting hip to his achievement.