Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Africa'70 with Ginger Baker - Live!, one of the latest in the series of albums reissued by The Knitting Factory, represents some of Fela’s earliest, most raw, relentlessly rhythmically aggressive work. Originally released in 1971, it’s one of the first records Fela put out under the band name Afrika 70 and calling his music “afrobeat.”
All three songs on the record are punchy and full of hard-hitting breaks. When compared to Fela’s later work, they sound harsh, and underdeveloped lyrically. Fela has yet to develop his own style vocally: he still seems to be fashioning a Yoruba-James Brown style reminiscent of his first afrobeat recordings, The ’69 L.A. Sessions. Although Ginger Baker is sitting in on drums, Tony Allen, Afrika 70’s original drummer, is also playing simultaneously. Although the two drummers are not in perfect lock-step together, they manage to avoid stepping on each other’s rhythms and foster a thick backdrop along with the clave, shekere, and congas.
Fela had yet to take on the tenor saxophone at this point in his career, so one can notice the sharp, fine, pointed tenor sax solos during the extended improvisation sections, very different than the sloppy, edgy, tenor sax extended solos Fela became known for later on. The keyboard solos, however, are his.
The primary feeling one takes away from listening to these songs is raw emotion. Particularly in a song like Black Man’s Cry, Fela screams and moans conveying the frustration and angst the title of the song connotes. The dynamic horn breaks clashing with Fela’s voice and the live, underproduced production value help foster that scratchy, desperate sound.