Photos

He Who Wears Death in his Pouch: FELA! Rises at the Shrine


Photos by Niegel Smith

Fela has risen again. FELA! cast member Abena Koomson wrote in again from Lagos, where the performances have officially begun with a first show at Fela's New Afrika Shrine. She emailed this skin-tingling report:

"The performance at the Shrine was unbelievable. It felt like that performance was the sole reason why this play was every created: to pay homage to Fela in his home, to give an offering and to receive a blessing. It's such a remarkable thing that the entire Broadway cast had a chance to experience it. I was talking to Femi (Kuti) backstage during one of our rehearsals and he was wowed. He said first of all, that the Shrine audience does not clap. That he had never seen that happen. And even during our rehearsals we were getting uproarious applause. By the time we got to the actual tribute, it was tenfold. The people I talked to were proud of us. It was a homecoming."

Check out this article for an inspired play-by-play of the entire experience.

Music

6 Samples From 'Éthiopiques' in Hip-Hop

A brief history of Ethio-jazz cultural exchange featuring songs by Nas & Damian Marley, K'naan, Madlib and more.

This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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