Fela Kuti vs. Talking Heads
I’m embarrassed to say it, but I’m about 25 years late on catching the Fela Kuti boat.
I remember I was in H.S. at GDS, when I remember one of my enthusiastic teachers going on about some kind of music someone was interested and how Fela could, “kick the shit out of that”. Granted, I was in H.S. at the time and likely jaded about anything anyone over 20 might have to say, but this teacher was one of the cool ones, so I took note.
And just last weekend, I read an article online in the Guardian, I read an interview with both Brian Eno and David Byrne, who were looking back on their earlier collaborations while promoting their new lp, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today.
As a jaded former new-wave art hipster, imagine my surprise when I read the following:
Byrne and Eno met for the first time in May 1977. Talking Heads were touring the UK as support to the Ramones, and John Cale took Eno to see the show in London. Afterwards, Eno invited Cale and Byrne back to his flat, where they sat and listened to records. Among the albums he put on was Fela Kuti’s Afrodisiac (1973), which would become the template for Remain in Light. “I was very excited about this music at the time and they were pretty excited too,” says Eno, “which was thrilling, because no one in England was at all interested.”
Wow. Afrodisiac was the template for what both was and remains one of my favorite Talking Heads albums? I was listening to that way back in those same H.S. days, when I was either getting ready to paint or looking for insptiration. Born Under Punches always truck me as an entirely sublime composition from the fringe of Western culture somewhere, some techno-tribal place in the future somewhere, because it was.
Imagine my surprise at reading Eno’s comment, and then tracking down a copy of the OOP Fela compilation that includes both Afrodisiac (1973) and Open & Close (1972). And yeah, Born Under Punches shares a great deal with the first track on Afrodisiac, “Jeun Ko Ku”. Similar percussion, similar use of horns and keyboards and I dare say more interesting than the Eno and Byrne collaborations which were derived from it, down to the Talking Heads’ Eno-less Speking in Tongues (1983).
Not only had I missed the boat all these years, but I guess Brne really liked Kuti, past the point of imitation… Not only that, Fela was a decade ahead of the abruni.
America’s new wave musicians were inspired by a Nigerian prophet. Who knew?