Box Set #6 (Partisan)
Considering it’s a sideline from his main career, Idris Elba’s list of musical credits is fairly extensive at this point, if overall piecemeal – a recent vocal spot on a tech-house track apparently by former Liverpool striker Djibril Cissé, for example. Perhaps the actor is on firmer ground in a curatorial role, where we find him here: Box Set #6 is the latest collection of albums from the vast catalogue of the late, great Nigerian titan Fela Kuti, with Elba following Questlove, Ginger Baker, Brian Eno, Erykah Badu and Chris Martin in being called upon to choose a handful.
Seven LPs (five singles and the double set Live In Amsterdam) for around £100 is competitive value these days, as box sets go, and its contents bear witness to the depth of Fela’s discography: previous sleb compilers have taken more than 30 albums out of the equation and we’re nowhere near the point of picking over the bones. Open And Close, from 1971, is a heater for starters: its title track is possibly Fela’s only ‘dance instruction’ song (“put your leg and arm together”) while Swegbe And Pako highlights his highlife origins.
Music Of Many Colours finds him teaming up with American jazz-funk don Roy Ayers, and if the production on their 2000 Blacks Got To Be Free audibly dates it to the late 70s, the flipside Africa Centre Of The World, an anti-Eurocentric polemic, sounds like Roy and Fela each at their peak. The title tracks from Stalemate and I Go Shout Plenty, both recorded in 1977, explode with funk riffs which feel as ‘textbook’ as his oeuvre gets.
The Dutch live set is the latest-period material in the box, dating from 1983, but sounds like a blast from the mad organ solo intro on Custom Check Point to the amazing colonialism-lampooning lyrics on Gimme Shit I Give You Shit. That just leaves Opposite People, yet another ’77 artefact, where following the classic choppy guitar of Clifford Itoje on the title cut we are hit with Equalisation Of Trouser And Pant. Its fabulous title uses sartorial chat for allegorical purposes but you might pick up some fashion advice in the process anyway.
words NOEL GARDNER