On Tuesday, February 2, Knitting Factory Records will be reissuing Fela Kuti's afrobeat landmark, The '69 Los Angeles Sessions, which was recorded that year during a time when the legendary Nigerian musician was living in Hollywood and gigging with his band six nights a week at the Citidel de Haiti on Sunset (right across from Crossroads to the World, home now to — surprise surprise — a strip mall with a 7-11).
The entire catalog of late singer, who's the subject of a wildly successful Bill T. Jones-directed Broadway play called Fela!, is being reissued throughout 2010 by Knitting Factory Records. The series is one aspect of a wide-ranging revitalization of Fela's music, the end result of which will include a series of vinyl box sets and remixes, the release of digitally-unreleased Fela singles, the development of Fela.net and “new” Fela music created by completed unfinished muilti-tracks.
But right now we're interested in the 26 remastered original albums, and, specifically, The '69 Los Angeles Sessions.
Arthur Magazine publisher/editor Jay Babcock's long feature on Fela Kuti, first published in Mean magazine, addresses the story of Fela's time in Los Angeles in 1969, a transformational period in his life. Writes Babcock:
The band got a regular gig playing at Citadel de Haiti, a struggling nightclub run by Bernie Hamilton (who would later feature in the Starsky & Hutch TV series) in a red brick building at 6666 Sunset Blvd.
“We played there for about five months, six nights in a week,” remembers Tony Allen. “Bernie gave us a house and we played in his club. It was grooving, you know.”
“Anyone that was anybody — Jim Brown, Melvin Van Peebles, H.B. Barnham, Esther Phillips — came to see Fela,” says Sandra [Smith, Fela's LA girlfriend]. “It was all word of mouth.”
Sandra was singing onstage with the band, who were playing a mixture of Fela's jazz compositions and his unique arrangements of contemporary soul favorites like “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” On his nights off from the Citadel, Fela would sit in around town at jazz gigs, or play private parties — including one where a drunk Frank Sinatra got in a heated exchange with Fela.
We'll have more on Fela's time spent in Los Angeles in the weeks to come, but for now, feast on the first batch of reissues listed below. (Some of the releases compile two albums in a single package.)
Koola Lobitos (1964-1968)/The '69 Los Angeles Sessions (1969)
Live with Ginger Baker (1971)
London Scene (1971)/ Shakara (1972)
Roforofo Fight (1972) + two singles
Open & Close (1971)/ Afrodisiac (1972/1973)
Gentleman (1973)/ Confusion (1974)