Electric Fans talk about Fela Kuti to Richard Foster

Its razor-sharp African funk, percussive as hell, with riffs and little melody lines flowing, and seamlessly interweaving. It is brilliant.

 

Incendiary asked the Electric Fans' singer, Anthony Glass whether he could rack his brains and come up with something that they truly found inspiring (and, of course tell us all why). So, it's over to Anthony and Aaron; members of Amsterdam's greatest current band, and spiritual heirs of the Teardrop Explodes (my hype not theirs) to tell us about...

 

"Fela Ransome Kuti; Vol. 1&2"

 

Anthony: If I had to think of one record that has been with us as a band pretty much constantly, it would have to be this one. It was my introduction to Fela's music, and though I've heard many of his other works since then, it's still my favourite. I got it in late '96, at the time I was sharing a flat with Aaron and some other people. There was a Cash Converters close by, and I'd regularly check for any interesting CDs. Then one day, I came across this one, which had a guy on the cover playing the saxophone in his undies, with a crowd of people watching from behind a fence, and I remember thinking: "With a cover like this, the music can`t possibly suck!" Well, for that time, at least, my intuition was right: I took it home, put it in the living-room stereo, and that is where it pretty much stayed for the next couple of months. When the first E-Fans line up started to take shape during the following spring, the album was a constant presence, and when we went on our first band road-trip to Switzerland and Italy that summer, it was one of the top 3 tapes of the tour (the other two being Ween and the Chemical Brothers).

 

So what exactly was, or is, its influence on the band? Well, maybe there isn't even any direct influence, it's just a bloody great record that blew us away, that's all.

 

We certainly were not trying to copy the style directly, but in a way the fact that it was different from anything I'd ever heard before was in itself an inspiration. I mean to say, songs that go on for 12, 15 minutes –without getting boring!!! And the fact that, even though this was a huge group of people playing, the grooves are extremely simple, minimalist almost, and yet absolutely deadly! And of course, the lyrics are great.

 

Aaron:  We did rip beats off Fela!  Actually it was a Ginger Baker beat, from the collaboration he did with Kuti.  I think it was Suffering and Smiling. We played that beat every day for 6 weeks on the infamous "Tour from Hell".  I never tried to ape Tony Allen, Fela's drummer and band leader.  Kuti himself said Allen played like four drummers at once; all doing different patterns.

 

Anthony: Oh yeah, and we did make an afro-beat number once, and only performed it a single time at some ADM festival (I believe in 2000). Pity, really, it was a good song, but somehow it was also meant that way. The name of the song was No More Squat Eviction, and it was about the situation in Amsterdam at the time, when lots of cool places had just shut down. (A bit like now, actually). I got the idea from hearing about Fela's legendary "Kalakuta Republic", a free cultural space in Lagos where he lived in the 70s, and which was eventually brutally evicted by the Nigerian authorities. Of course, it might seem ridiculous to even try and compare such levels of repression with anything we experience here, but then again there are always parallels. For me, the song was also a way to pay homage to some of the great places that existed in this town. They were one of the things that made me want to stay here in the first place.   

 

Aaron: No More Squat Eviction was played for the first, and last, time at Ruigoord.  Anthony got the year right, though.  We have it recorded on mini disc, and that's where it'll stay...most likely.

 

I associate this with being on the road. It doesn't matter what road, or even what Continent you are on; this record makes the trip a sublime experience.

 

Let's Start, with Fela's classic introduction; where he proclaims what the band have come into the room to do, is my pick. Its razor-sharp African funk, percussive as hell, with riffs and little melody lines flowing, and seamlessly interweaving.  It is brilliant. And you know they've come into the room to kick your ass!      

 

Anthony: My favourites on this one have got to be Shakara (Oloje), because it's such a great opening track – the build up is just brilliant. Alu Jon Jonki Jon is also fantastic – it rocks as hard as any James Brown track! I'm still a bit sorry that none of us ever got to see Fela on-stage, he died in 97, while we were on that first road-trip. But I've seen his son Femi several times now, and I must say he has a great band, too. The last time in the Melkweg, I thought he looked really wired and sort of burned out, I hope he's OK... I think it's a great achievement that he has been able to continue Fela's legacy.

 

As far as Vol. 1 & 2 being good road music, I definitely agree. Funnily enough, it works really well in traffic jams, too; no matter how desperately slow things get, the groove keeps going on. Also, the fact that the numbers are so long comes in quite handy, because it makes the duration of the traffic jam seem shorter by comparison.  We just went to Berlin last weekend for a couple of gigs, and we had enough opportunities on the way there to see if this still holds true, and let me tell you it does!

 

Cheers chaps. GO check out electric fans on their website: www.electricfans.nl