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Songlines MARCH 2022 - by Nigel Williamson
FELA KUTI: VINYL BOX SET #5
Stellar Kuti selection curated by Coldplay's Chris Martin
Fela Kuti's vast and sprawling catalogue has been repackaged and repurposed, anthologised and annotated countless times since his death in 1997 but Partisan's vinyl box sets have hit on a neat twist by presenting each instalment as the curation of a prominent musician. The first four box sets in the series were curated by Erykah Badu, Brian Eno, Ginger Baker and Questlove. This fifth set was overseen by Coldplay's Chris Martin and Femi Kuti, who played on the track Arabesque on Coldplay's 2019 album Everyday Life.
Apart from the pair of them writing pleasing but brief introductions in the liner notes, it's not entirely clear what 'curating' means, for the box consists of seven albums that largely chose themselves by not having featured in the previous instalments. For the record, the albums we get here are Why Black Man Dey Suffer (1971), Noise For Vendor Mouth (1975), Kalakuta Show (1976), Excuse O (1976), Ikoyi Blindness (1976), Original Sufferhead (1981), and Overtake Don Overtake Overtake (1989), all with original artwork meticulously recreated from the original vinyl pressings. The music is almost universally fantastic, of course, and there is one notable event in that we get the full 25-minute version of the title-track of Original Sufferhead. Previous reissues have featured a shorter 21-minute cut, but it's heard here with an additional four minutes featuring a fine keyboard solo from Fela. It's all beautifully presented with a 20-page booklet featuring in-depth commentaries on each album by Afrobeat historian Chris May, song lyrics, previously unpublished photos of Fela and a full-colour poster.