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Top 5 Fela Kuti Songs

3 by 2 collage of the album covers on which the tracks discussed appear plus a sixth black panel with "top Fela songs" written in a yellow western font

Anyone who follows me on Twitter for long knows that I am obsessed with Fela Kuti. I am not exaggerating when I say that he is easily 80% of the music I listen to. Not hard to do when the songs are upwards of 10 minutes.

I happened upon a torrent of most of Fela's catalog once upon a time and have built on that with additional releases I find here and there. Suffice it to say I know most of Fela's catalog very well.

Here are in my opinion the best Fela songs. Any of these songs would be a good introduction to Fela and the genre of afrobeat.

5. It's No Possible

It's No Possible comes off of the 3-track album He Miss Road, but I have it bundled alongside Expensive Shit for whatever reason. In any case the double album works.

It's No Possible just fucking grooves. The bass and tenor guitar push an unforgiving rhythm that gives the other instruments room to mess around.

Lyrically, this isn't one of Fela's very political songs Or if it is, the politics are interpersonal. In it he tells stories about people who do wrong and expect not to face consequences as a result.

Overall this is a good track to put on in the background. Not necessarily a good first introduction on account of the lyrics, but a solid track to jam to.

4. Zombie

Okay so anyone who knows Fela will probably be surprised this song isn't number 1. And while it is an important song, I don't think it's necessarily the best song.

The title track of the album, the song begins with the strings and shekere building into a groove until the sax butts in and the beat drops. The song features some classic elements of Fela songs including call and response (vocals and instruments), a mix of Pidgin and Yoruba, ridicule of authority, the works.

What makes this song so important in his catalog is the story behind it. Fela toured Zombie throughout West Africa including Ghana. After he played there, a group of students held a protest turned riot where the students chanted the song's refrain "Zombie-o zombie" at General Acheampong's pigs. Fela was banned from Ghana until 1982 when the ban was lifted by military leader Jerry Rawlings.

3. Sense Wiseness

Sonically, I think this might be my favorite Fela song. The intro absolutely makes you beg for the beat drop, and when it hits it is so goddamn satisfying. You can find it as the B side to Before I Jump Like Monkey Give Me Banana (aka Monkey Banana).

Lyrically, the song reflects Fela's general opposition to Western education which I go back and forth on. It probably wouldn't be such a big deal to me if it wasn't what literally killed him.

The song tells of a man who goes through the Western education system, becomes a professor, travels the world, and gets hustled in Lagos. As Fela says in the song "You get sense and common sense, but you no wise at all."

2. Colonial Mentality

I think my criteria for a good Fela song might be political lyrics and a prominent bassline because that's what this song has. You can find it as the B side of Sorrow Tears and Blood which I have packaged with Opposite People.

Lyrically, the song describes post-colonial leaders who think and act like the colonizers they replaced. As Fela's singers say, "If you say you be colonial man. You don be slave man before. Them don release you now. But you never release yourself."

1. Gimme Shit I Give You Shit

The bassline, the guitar line, the lyrics, the call and response, there are so many reasons to love this song. But it's the boldness for me.

"Gimme Shit I Give You Shit" appears on Fela's Live in Amsterdam. Sandwiched between "Movement of the People" and "Custom Checkpoint" this is the song in the set Fela uses to showcase his horns.

Lyrically, it is the only Fela song I know of that communicates a vague threat. The final call and response "Anybody wey give us shit (Him dey get he shit) Anybody wey give us shit (We gon give am shit)" just hits so fucking hard.

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