You’re Who?

Sometimes music can be confusing*. Especially when bands release versions of songs that are not strict covers and rename the song!

In 1971 Fela Kuti released Who’re You? a raw early Afrobeat track, with subtle horns and driving percussion. It is actually one of the early releases of Africa 70, Fela’s band initially named as Nigeria 70, and it sowed the seeds that were to later blossom into the fully fledged, intricately arranged compositions that made up the classic Fela cuts of the mid to late 1970’s.

Afro National, a band from Freetown, Sierra Leone, released an incredible version of this song two years later as Mr Who You Be; playfully renaming the track and confusing me in the process, as I was sure it was a Fela track I had heard before. I love their version, which strips back the horns, speeds up the drums and injects a breath of fresh air into the song. Mr. Who You Be

The band released several LP’s and singles, mainly of Highlife and Calypso songs and only a few Afrobeat tracks, some with the voice of Patricia Koroma.

Record Details:
Afro National – Dem Kick / Mr. Who You Be (1973) – Afro National (Record No. 2)
BsideAside

*Music and record collecting can also be magical, as digger extraordinaire, Duncan Brooker, demonstrates in this interview, where he discusses his efforts to track down the band.

UPDATE:
The plot thickens….
There appears to be a rare early Fela Kuti & Koola Lobitos single “Mr. Who Are You” that could have been the song that Afro National were referencing. This song was supposedly very popular in the whole of West Africa and could explain why it was released by Afro National in Sierra Leone.

Another theory is that “Mr. Who Are You” is an early version of “Who’re You?”, the song Fela recorded with African 70 in 1971. The problem is I have not heard this early version and nor would it appear have many others! Afro National’s “Mr. Who Be You” does bear some similarities to “Who’re You?” but it is definitely not a straight cover.

It therefore appears that both these theories have weight and that there is a lost Fela single that was popular in West Africa, which may have evolved into the later “Who’re You?”

Watch this space!

Thanks to Uchenna Ikonne for this further information.

Akwaaba!

This is the first word I heard when I arrived in Ghana and Africa. It means “Welcome” and fittingly it is the first word I give you as I start my new blog, which I aim to update regularly, documenting my travels through African music.

Ghanaian Highlife was my first real taste of African music, specifically the tracks compiled by Soundway Records on Ghana Special; in short it blew me away and is the reason I booked a flight for Ghana at Easter in 2011. Anyway, that is another story that I am sure I will cover in the future.

Where better to start a blog on the music of the Dark Continent, as labelled by the early Victorian explorers, than with Nigeria and Africa’s best known musician, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, who single-handedly brought African music to the world’s attention, blending Highlife, Rock, Jazz and Funk into a new sound that, although he questioned the term, came to be known as Afrobeat. Fela’s influence cannot be disputed and can clearly be seen in the dozens of imitators as well as the legacy left by his bands –  Africa 70 and Egypt 80.

The first Fela record I got was Black President and it finds him in a particularly Jazzy mood with sax solos dominating most of the album. That is not to say that the elements of Afrobeat are not there, they are, just slightly toned down – subtle West African guitar, driving drums and percussion, and repetitious call and response vocals. The major theme of the album is the purging of Africa’s land and economy by the world. Fela shows no restraint, calling them “Motherfuckers, bastard motherfuckers” (I.T.T. (International Thief Thief)).

On a side note, the incredible keyboards on I.T.T. are by, a then eighteen year old, Dele Sosimi, who later left the Egypt 80 with Fela’s son Femi to form Femi Anikulapo-Kuti and the Positive Force and later his own band, Dele Sosimi Afrobeat Orchestra. The latter band play the Afriganza Festival at the Blind Tiger in Brighton on 16th March and are well worth checking out.


Record Details:

Fela Kuti – Black President (1981) – ARISTA (SPART 1167)

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