"The best concerts I've ever been to"—Mario Caldato, Jr. on FELA KUTI (1999)

Mario Caldato, Jr. on FELA KUTI
interviewed by Jay Babcock

This short article was originally published in Mean Magazine in 1999 as one of the many sidebar to the massive feature on Fela Kuti (see below for links to the other articles that comprised the feature). Mean’s publisher, Kashy Khaledi, wanted to have contemporary artists of a certain notoriety talk about their admiration for Fela, who we knew would be an unknown, slightly outre quantity for most of the magazine’s readership. These sidebar interviews would be a way in to digging Fela for some of the less-curious readers.

It was a good idea, and easily executed, as there were plenty of Fela admirers ready to testify—including the semi-legendary Mario Caldato, Jr. (aka Mario C.), a producer, multi-instrumentalist, and skilled carpenter, at the time best known for his work on the Beastie Boys’ Check Your Head lp.

I interviewed Mario at his home in late summer ’99…


Q: How did you first come across Fela?

Mario Caldato: One day I heard about this guy Fela coming to town. They just couldn’t stop talking about amazing the guy was. And he was gonna be at the Olympic Auditorium. I was working for a promoter at the time, Milt Wilson, who did Heavy Traffic Productions and was responsible for bringing all these reggae bands from Jamaica directly, and he started doing African shows also. He actually hired me. I rented some DJ turntables and I set up for the opening, you know, they were playing records, and I was there at the show, working the show. I heard all this hype about the guy, but hadn’t really heard his music. I didn’t know what I was in for.

As soon as he came on, the power was just so intense. As soon as they got onstage everybody just got hypnotized…the rhythm, the dancing, the lights and the sound, it just all came together. Unbelievable. A 20-piece band as I recall and 15 dancers. They did four or five songs all night. It was just an experience—I couldn’t stop talking about it. That’s when I started listening to his records and buying em whenever I saw them.

A couple years later, he played at UCLA at Wadsworth…I actually took the Beasties. We were at the studio working on Check Your Head and I told them, hyped em up, ‘This is an incredible show, we gotta go see it.’ It was just an EVENT. We were all blown away. Log drums and talking drums, two bass players, four guitars, horns, percussion… The way he orchestrated and commanded the show was very impressive. I hadn’t seen anybody conduct a show, sing, perform, direct, play keyboards, play horns, play percussion…he even got on the drums, and would go and turn the amps up and down. Creating dynamics, you know? Doing everything!

They’re still the best concerts I’ve been to, as far as overall involvement of audience and just music and dance and everything.


“Fela: King of the Invisible Art”—main article

TONY ALLEN on Fela Kuti, Afrobeat, solo career, more

GINGER BAKER on Fela Kuti

LESTER BOWIE on Fela Kuti

BILL LASWELL on Fela Kuti

BOOTSY COLLINS on Fela Kuti

DAVID BYRNE on Fela Kuti

FLEA and JOHN FRUSCIANTE (Red Hot Chili Peppers) on Fela Kuti

IAN MACKAYE (Fugazi, Minor Threat) on Fela Kuti


Fela! is now playing on Broadway at the Eugene O’Neil Theatre. Info: http://felaonbroadway.com/index.php

Here’s a review of the earlier off-Broadway production of Fela! from C & D’s column in Arthur No. 31 (Sept 2008).

"Like Frank Sinatra and Huey Newton rolled into one" — Ian MacKaye on FELA KUTI (1999)

Ian MacKaye on FELA KUTI
interviewed by Jay Babcock

This short article was originally published in Mean Magazine in 1999 as one of the many sidebar to the massive feature on Fela Kuti (see below for links to the other articles that comprised the feature). Mean’s publisher, Kashy Khaledi, wanted to have contemporary artists of a certain notoriety talk about their admiration for Fela, who we knew would be an unknown, slightly outre quantity for most of the magazine’s readership. These sidebar interviews would be a way in to digging Fela for some of the less-curious readers.

It was a good idea, and easily executed, as there were plenty of Fela admirers ready to testify—including Ian MacKaye, a founding member of Minor Threat and Fugazi, and the owner-operator of the Washington, DC-based Dischord Records (which is still in business).

I interviewed Ian by telephone in late summer ’99…


Q: When did you first come across Fela?

Ian Mackaye: I probably first heard him in the early ’80s. There was a deejay here in town that used to play him at shows. I was working at a record store starting in 1983 or ’84 and some of his records came through then, and I was attracted to them because they’re so completely primitive looking…a lot of them had no art at all, they were almost just like 12-inch things… Of course the songs were like 15-20 minutes long, but they were like punk records, so I was attracted to them on an aesthetic level. Then I started listening to them. I really had no idea who he was or what was going on…I thought the music was interesting. I listened to a lot of go-go music here in Washington, and there’s a lot of similarities. Also it had a really organic feel to it which I was always really drawn to.

Somewhere in the mid-’80s, I saw King Sunny Ade, who’s a bit of a lighter version [of African pop], and at least to my knowledge not nearly as politicized…And then I started getting real interested in Fela cuz I was like, ‘This other guy is into some very serious issues.” He seemed way more punk to me. So I had him on the brain. I just started picking up things here and there…I got the biography, Fela, Fela: This Bitch of a Life in London. And in the back of this book they have a discography, and IT BLEW MY MIND how many records he had done. I have seen a FRACTION of those in my life.

I think that anyone who reads that book would just know that this guy was coming from such a totally different place, and he was SO hardcore in what he was doing. I used to tell people that Fela is sort of like Frank Sinatra and Huey Newton rolled into one—he filled stadiums and at the same time was the most aggressively anti-government guy you can imagine. He had the dough and the power to actually really make a stir. He was an originator, an innovator, and he clearly brought a lot of people together in one form or another. He also had a lot of fuckin’ nerve—to leave your mother’s coffin at the gate of the palace…? [laughs in awe]

Q: It puts a lot of things in perspective, doesn’t it?

Mackaye: It definitely does. Some of the most publicly radical American musicians, their great acts of defiance are always these sort of paltry drinking offenses or sexual offenses, hese kinds of things where you’re like, [sarcastically] ‘Okay that’s really radical.’ Fela actually had a political agenda that he apparently was willing to really suffer for.


“Fela: King of the Invisible Art”—main article

TONY ALLEN on Fela Kuti, Afrobeat, solo career, more

GINGER BAKER on Fela Kuti

LESTER BOWIE on Fela Kuti

BILL LASWELL on Fela Kuti

BOOTSY COLLINS on Fela Kuti

DAVID BYRNE on Fela Kuti

FLEA Aand JOHN FRUSCIANTE (Red Hot Chili Peppers) on Fela Kuti


Fela! is now playing on Broadway at the Eugene O’Neil Theatre. Info: http://felaonbroadway.com/index.php

Here’s a review of the earlier off-Broadway production of Fela! from C & D’s column in Arthur No. 31 (Sept 2008).

Flea and John Frusciante on FELA KUTI (1999 interview)

Flea and John Frusciante on FELA KUTI
interviewed by Jay Babcock

This little article was originally published in Mean Magazine in 1999 as part of a massive feature section on Fela Kuti (see below for links to the other articles that comprised the feature). Mean’s publisher, Kashy Khaledi, wanted to have contemporary artists of a certain notoriety talk about their admiration for Fela, who we knew would be an unknown, slightly outre quantity for most of the magazine’s readership. These sidebar interviews would be a way in to digging Fela for some of the less-curious readers. It was a good idea, and easily executed, as there were plenty of Fela admirers ready to testify—including bassist Flea and guitarist John Frusciante, the more musicianly members of the tremendously popular Red Hot Chili Peppers, who had recorded a b-side called “Fela’s Cock” in 1991. I talked with the two of them together at John’s Silver Lake apartment in Spring ’99…


Q: When did you first hear Fela, or hear about him?

Flea: I was playing with James White, who described Fela as “the James Brown of Africa.” That’s how I found out about him. I just went out and bought the first record I found in a store, Expensive Shit. And a greatest hits record with “Gentleman” and “Lady” on it. And in the next year, he got out of jail and he came and he played at the Olympic Auditorium. I went to go see him play and it was one of the most AWESOME things I EVER saw in my life. He played for about four hours, like three songs. It was the greatest thing I ever heard: It was incredible! People went crazy, the whole place was on fire! I just remember being enthralled by the music. I was totally entranced. He had freedom to play as long as he want, say what he want, did what he want, he was just like walk onstage in his underwear, smoking joints, rocking out, counting out tunes, long solos.

What was the scene like onstage?

Flea: There was this whole big band. and the musicians were very distinct, playing their parts very well, just grooving their asses off, and the dancers were really sexual, you know. They were wearing some kind of outfits and they were on all fours in the front of the stage with their asses facing the audience, doing some wildly sexual humping movements. It was all choreographed—

John Frusciante: They do that thing where they syncopate their asses, the girls who are singing backing vocals, like he says, they line up and their asses are facing the audience, and all their asses are doing the same thing: one cheek is going up and down and the other cheek is going left and right. They’re all doing the same thing. They’ve got like hundreds and hundreds of muscles in their asses that you don’t see a girl in America having…

John, when did you first hear Fela?

John: I first heard him because in David Byrne and Brian Eno interviews they would talk about the fact that he was a big influence on the sound of the album Remain in Light which was an album I bought when it came out in 1980. But I bought a Fela record in ’84…Black President…I remember I just fell in love with it right away. I mean I went crazy, I was excited and moved. It really connected with me. I got Black President, and then I would learn the saxophone solos on the guitar. Now I’m much more into playing along with the guitar parts, because I find a lot of value in just playing five notes or six notes or ten notes or whatever it is, over and over and over and over, and thinking about the relationships between all the instruments. With Fela’s music you can really trip out on it. The relationships between all the parts…. Total mental exercises. From the period when we finished the record, whenever that was, in January, around the time we finished it and for four months after that I think I was playing along with a Fela record every single day.

Flea: Fela’s just the rebel, the punk rocker! Fela’s the guy who spat in the face of all authority. And you know, Fela’s the guy, one of those rare people, that made a WHOLE style of music that is his, that you identify with him. The Afrobeat style of music, you can’t think of anyone else, you know. And Fela would never do anything to TRY and be popular. He stuck to his guns. In that way he’s like Fugazi or something, you know what I mean? In terms of not playing the game at all. He would never play a song after he recorded it. That’s like total opposite of what people do to have big audiences. For me, being just a white guy growing up in Hollywood, my image of what’s beautiful about Africa is Fela. I’ve never been to Africa, but…everything that’s beautiful about people I see in Fela. I love his music so much and to me, he’s one of those transcendent artists like Bob Marley or Billie Holiday or Miles Davis or Led Zeppelin…all those great artists that transcend everything else.

John: With Fela’s music you’ll hear a groove at the beginning of the song and you’re just happy because you know you’re gonna be hearing the same groove for ten minutes and it’s a groove that will sound good for ten minutes. That’s only certain kinds of grooves…most people that write music, they write grooves that if you had to hear it for half an hour you’d go crazy. But with Fela’s grooves, they all sound really good, hearing them forever.

Flea: Yep. All of em. Every record! The sharpness of the music and the sound of the music is so…it’s a bottomless pit of groove, you know? There’s nothing else like it. I tried to think, is there anyone else’s like it? Nothing, you know. And all the records are consistently great.

John: I’m so happy he made so many, you know?

Flea: People have gotta hear it, you know? He should be heard by everyone. …Plus, the main thing that I always liked about him, probably the most CRUCIAL element, was that his name had the same four letters as “Flea”… [laughter]


“Fela: King of the Invisible Art”—main article

TONY ALLEN on Fela Kuti, Afrobeat, solo career, more

GINGER BAKER on Fela Kuti

LESTER BOWIE on Fela Kuti

BILL LASWELL on Fela Kuti

BOOTSY COLLINS on Fela Kuti

DAVID BYRNE on Fela Kuti


Fela! is now playing on Broadway at the Eugene O’Neil Theatre. Info: http://felaonbroadway.com/index.php

Here’s a review of the earlier off-Broadway production of Fela! from C & D’s column in Arthur No. 31 (Sept 2008).

Arthur Radio Voyage #15: Supermercado de Sueños

This week we arrived at Newtown Radio as sunset was descending over Bushwick, and a mysterious blue and purple mist had started to fill the neighborhood. Feeling inexplicably sleepy, we stuck a little mugwort under the studio’s couch cushions, sprawled out on the floor, and immediately began to dream our way into Arthur Radio Voyage #15. We found ourselves in a lucid haze, lost in some kind of other-worldly superstore. Dancing our way down endless aisles of multicolored light bulbs, muffled music blaring happily over a faraway PA system, we reveled in the realization that dream worlds can feel every bit as real as waking life…


Stream: [audio:http://www.arthurmag.com/magpie/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Arthur-Radio-Voyage-15-4-25-2010.mp3%5D
Download: Arthur Radio Voyage #15 4-25-2010

Artists played this week…
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C and D from Arthur No. 13 (cover date Nov 2004)

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This C & D session was originally published in Arthur No. 13 (Nov. 2004)

C & D
Two confirmed schmucks grapple with the big issues—and an unexpected female visitor.

PICK A WINNER dvd
(Load)
C: You’re not going to believe this.
D: Try me.
C: [delicately loading DVD] Like an hour’s worth of charmingly bonkers/whimsical low-tech animation to go with homemade psych-crunge by the usual Fort Thunder-plus suspects… [Reading the sleeve text] “Dual formatted, double dipped and extra-whipped. Technicolor-laced acid flakes are on the table. Dig in! 18 trips of sound & sights are poured into K-Holes of dubious dimension from tonz of Load bands and video tribes with this new DVD/CD powered pellet.” Amen to all of that.
D: [looking at screen] Whoa.
C: Lightning Bolt, Black Elf Speaks, Wolf Eyes, Neon Hunk, Pink & Brown…
D: [eyes pinwheeling] I don’t believe it. I mean, I do believe it. I am believing it very hard. Continue reading

"FELA! on Broadway" cast (incl. Antibalas) performs "Zombie", director Bill T. Jones on Colbert Report…

<td style='padding:2px 1px 0px 5px;' colspan='2'Fela! – Zombie
The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Economy
<td style='padding:2px 1px 0px 5px;' colspan='2'Bill T. Jones
The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Economy

DAVID BYRNE on Fela Kuti (1999)

DavidByrne

This article was originally published in Mean Magazine (October 1999), which I was editing at the time, with art direction by Camille Rose Garcia. The piece was accompanied by a set of sidebar interviews and an overview of Fela’s catalog by Michael Veal [who was finishing his work on the manuscript that would be published as Fela: The Life And Times Of An African Musical Icon]. The main article text, and sidebars, were later reprinted in full in the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 book (thank you Douglas Wolk and Peter Guralnick). Main article text is online here: http://www.arthurmag.com/2009/11/02/fela-king-of-the-invisible-art

DAVID BYRNE
by Jay Babcock

David Byrne is a founding member of Talking Heads. When Fela was jailed by the Nigerian government in the mid-’80s, Byrne was one of the well-known American artists who worked with Amnesty International in an attempt to get Fela freed. Today, in addition to his solo career, Byrne runs the New York-based Luaka Bop record label.

Q: You first heard Fela in the ’70s, right?

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