#402: Expensive Shit, Fela Kuti and Africa 70
At the top of the list, nine-point-five albums out of ten are made in America or Europe. So let’s get to the guy who created Afrobeat.
Fela Kuti and his Africa 70 sing in Nigerian Pidgin English on their twelfth album. Kuti was a controversial figure who gained huge popularity on the African continent — he lived on an antimilitary commune in Lagos, Nigeria, and was frequently arrested. The title track is apparently about an encounter that Kuti had with the police. Basically, he went to jail and ate a joint to prevent getting busted for possession; cops waited for the joint to come out the other end, which took nearly all night; his shit came up clean because he swapped with another inmate. Hence, “Expensive Shit,” a song about crime that becomes really fun to dance to. The infectious chant Hen Alagbon O translates to Hey Alagbon, which happens to be the street where Lagos’ Criminal Investigation Department can be found.
On the other hand, “Water Got No Enemy” is simple, earnest, and lightly philosophical. That’s the paradoxical pair of songs Fela Kuti put on this album.
Kuti lived something of a contradictory life. He lived with 27 wives, but his mother was a real-life feminist hero. She was Nigerian women’s suffragist and leader Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, and is such a big deal there’s a Google Doodle about her. Three years after the release of this album, Kuti’s commune was burnt to the ground, and he was injured. His mother was killed. Kuti wrote a song about this.
Kuti’s brother, AIDS activist Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, stated that Kuti’s death in 1997 was due to complications with the disease. But Kuti himself had been a radical AIDS denier, and his widow denies that this is what he died of. There’s no joke to be made about this. It’s just sad. Even sadder because the music is so full of joy.