Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene The Beat Goes On

By Ron Wynn, Jim Ridley and Michael McCall

AUGUST 11, 1997:  Though his sales figures didn't rival those of Bob Marley or Celia Cruz, Nigerian bandleader Fela Anikulapo Kuti made just as much of a worldwide impact with his music. A unique and spectacular musician and a fiery political activist, Kuti died this past weekend at age 58 of AIDS-related complications. Despite repeated jailings and beatings at the hands of various Nigerian regimes, his voice was never silenced. He even ran for president of Nigeria in 1983, only to find himself banned from politics by government edict.

The son of noted feminist and labor organizer Funmilayo Kuti, Fela studied music at Trinity College in England in the late '50s, finding time to play with various jazz, R&B, and rock bands. It was in England that he began a lifelong friendship with drummer Ginger Baker in the early '60s. Kuti's greatest achievement was the creation of "Afrobeat," a sprawling, polyrhythmic sound that combined traditional Yoruba call-and-response chanting with freestyle jazz solos, funk guitar riffs, and constantly shifting percussive accents. His compositions were lengthy, multilayered narratives in which acerbic denunciations of military excesses and oppressive actions were punctuated by intense musical backing.

After experiencing success with his first band in Nigeria, Kuti came to America in 1969, where he divided his time between New York and Los Angeles. Upon returning to Nigeria in 1970, he formed the seminal ensemble Africa '70, a group that featured 20 instrumentalists and 27 singers and dancers. Kuti lived on an estate, which he dubbed Kalakuta Republic, and built a hospital and studio there. He also gave live performances there, attracting such notables as Paul McCartney and Roy Ayers, the latter of whom recorded an LP with Kuti in 1980. The estate was destroyed in 1977 by Nigerian soldiers, who also killed the bandleader's mother.

Throughout his lifetime, Kuti's albums were poorly distributed and promoted, particularly outside Africa. Black President, arguably his greatest release, is now out of print, as are other classics such as Teacher Don't Teach Me No Nonsense. But others are available, including Zombie, Live With Africa '70 and Ginger Baker, and the duo date with Ayers. A complex individual prone to outrageous claims and deliberately provocative statements, Fela Anikulapo Kuti was nonetheless a major musical and political figure who revitalized African music long before world music became popular in the Western hemisphere. In the process, he helped expose corruption and social injustice that still exist today. His voice will be missed. (RW)

Victor Wooten's second album, What Did He Say?, will be a change of pace from his debut LP, which featured only solo bass pieces. On his fully produced new effort, Wooten, a former member of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, will flaunt his musical dexterity on selections ranging from urban funk to hip-hop to smooth jazz to a solo rendition of The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood." Guests on the album include Bela Fleck, Oregon oboist Paul McCandless, ex-Aquarium Rescue Unit member Oteil Burbidge (now of the Allman Brothers), trumpeter Rod McGaha, and uillean pipes specialist Davy Spillane. The album is scheduled for an Aug. 19 release on Nashville-based Compass Records. (MM)

Nashville '60s rock combo The Feminine Complex is getting its big break in the movies--and it only took about a quarter of a century. Last year, the Washington, D.C., label TeenBeat reissued the long-unheard 1969 album Livin' Love, the work of five teenage Nashville girls who were playing rock 'n' roll at a time when female bands were scarce in Music City. Now songs from the CD are turning up on a variety of movie soundtracks, with more to come.

The group's infectious rave-up "I've Been Workin' on You" appears later this month in the new Rebecca De Mornay drama The Winner, directed by Alex Cox of Sid & Nancy fame. Meanwhile, Feminine Complex tracks can be heard in two other current indie features: the erotic drama Bliss, with Dylan McDermott and Terence Stamp; and the romantic comedy Still Breathing, with Brendan Frazer and Joanna Going. A fourth film is also reportedly negotiating to use several Feminine Complex songs. Not bad for a group that hasn't performed since Nixon was in office.

As interest in the band grows, TeenBeat is preparing a new compilation of Feminine Complex rarities, To Be in Love. The collection gathers never-before-heard live tapes, early studio recordings, and even audio tracks from local TV appearances on The Noon Show and The Ralph Emery Show. Made up mostly of covers, the CD includes the band's sizzling takes on "You Keep Me Hangin' On," "Hold On! I'm Comin'," and a gender reversal of "Mustang Sally" called "Jaguar Jimmy." Check Lucy's and other local stores in September. (JR)

Elliptical dispatches: If you didn't get accepted to perform at the last NEA Extravaganza--and we know who you are, because you called us to complain--you can try again by applying for the 1998 Extravaganza, to be held Feb. 18-21. Send a three-song cassette or CD, along with a bio, photo, application form, and $10, to Extravaganza '98, P.O. Box 121948, Nashville, TN 37212. The deadline is Sept. 30.

Blink, the weekly music fax covering Nashville's club scene and indie labels, makes its debut as a monthly music paper soon. According to Blink's June 30 issue, the paper will have an initial circulation of 20,000, and featured columnists will include Billy Block on alt.country, Josh Jackson on Christian music, and Kim Webber on local rock. Watch newsstands in August. In other music-media news, Playboy music writer Vic Garbarini has joined the biweekly In Review as a columnist....

Buddy Miller's second album, Poison Love, has been scheduled for an Aug. 19 release by HighTone Records. Miller, a guitarist with Emmylou Harris' band for most of 1997, finished the album in his living-room studio during breaks from Harris' world tour....

The Pretenders have recorded a version of Steve Earle's "Goodbye" as the lead-off single from the movie G.I. Jane. The single was released to radio July 21; the soundtrack album will be out Aug. 12....

In other Nashville soundtrack news, listen for Gillian Welch's "Tear My Stillhouse Down" in the Peter Fonda movie Ulee's Gold, currently showing at the Belcourt....


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