Review of Fela Kuti's Zombie

Though you can read of full reviews below, here is a summary of the what the Sonic Collective thought of Fela Kuti’s Zombie album.
You can read the original post here about this pick: Fela Kuti’s Zombie
What we liked:

  • The hypnotizing rhythms that created the Afrobeat style
  • Really nice, easy-listening music that you can relax to or have playing in the background at a cool dinner party
  • How Fela combined American Jazz, Blues, Funk/Soul and gave it an African twist. Very creative and that influenced many.

What we didn’t like :

  • We felt it would be more upbeat and moving but it was more subtle
  • It didn’t quite inspire any of us to say, “Holy shit! This is awesome. I have to get more of his stuff!”
  • Seemed like an artist you’d want to have seen live in the 70s. It didn’t translate across the recorded version.

I (Darren) am speaking for the group here but I’d say our overall recommendation is:
Buy Zombie if you already like Jazz and funky atmospheric music and want something for a dinner party.
As this was our first review, I enjoyed the process and look forward to the next album.
Don’t agree with us or have a comment or suggestion? We’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment or contact us.

Our Full Reviews

darren-scottDarren’s Review
As I chose this album I was, of course, really hoping to like it. I had heard a few sections of songs before the pick but had never listened to a full album. I listened to it several times throughout the month and tried to just experience it. A few things struck me right away:
• There were very little vocals
• The songs were at least 10 minutes long and there were only 4 of them
• The drum beat (Afrobeat) that I had heard of did really stand out
• It wasn’t quite Jazz, Blues or Funk but had elements of all of them. I couldn’t help but think that Fela had to be influenced by James Brown.
I am a Jazz fan though I don’t listen to it as much as I had in my Jazz phase in the early-mid 90s so I was used to and enjoyed the flow and changing tone and tempo of the music. That being said, this is very much something I’d refer as background music to me. This would be great played in the background of a dinner party, on a date, or perhaps while you are working away on your computer and not really concentrating on the music.
What I did really like is that Fela took what he liked from several styles of music and made it his, I can see why that would attract musicians to push themselves and experiment across genres. What I was disappointed with was that I really thought this would be more upbeat and something you’d want to really move too but I thought the Zombie album just didn’t push me there. I do think this was the type of artist you want to have seen live.
All in all, I did like the album and would recommend it to those that like Jazz with a twist. I would say that I was expecting a bit more but I will try to listen to more of his music over time. I’ll hear you at my next dinner party Fela, but probably not regularly in my playlist.
alain-dupuisAlain’s Review

Prior to joining the Sonic Collective, I had never heard of Fela Kuti, nor had I been exposed to his music (at least not in a way I was cognizant of). Admittedly not something I would naturally gravitate to, it took a bit of repeated listening before I grew to appreciate Zombie for what it is: a bombastic, funky, percussive and soulful journey into another time and place. On my third run through the album, I decided to pour myself a scotch, clear my mind, and just listen. It didn’t take long for the music to start making sense to me. It isn’t cathartic in any appreciable way for me, and there aren’t any particularly catchy vocal hooks that make me want to sing along. Instead, it’s easy listening at it’s finest. Like elevator music, only a thousand times more interesting. It’s the kind of music I’d like to imagine Don Draper would have listened to, presumably while enjoying a cigar or the company of his secretary. And man, she would have thought he was cool for listening to Fela Kuti.
The minimal vocals, winding bass line, and a too-smooth lead saxophone juxtapose fantastically against staccato percussion, and the occasional crescendos from the supporting brass section. While it’s still not something I think I’d be grooving out to on the regular, I can’t help but find myself drawn to Zombie from both a place of curiosity, and the desire to just relax and unwind.
Incidentally, my favourite track from the album is Mister Follow Follow, and it’s definitely worth a listen.

Greg-JorgensenGreg’s Review
When I first pressed ‘play’ I wasn’t looking forward to this album. I’ve never really liked this type of music – there was a lot of what seemed like ‘free-flow’ jazz/blues/funk playing; no real direction, random notes, discombobulation. The argument I always hear for this type of music (and forgive me if I’m pigeonholing it) is that the important thing aren’t the notes that are being played, but the ones that are NOT being played. I’ve always called bullshit on that. That’s like me saying I’m a famous author because of the books I haven’t written.
I started in and was surprised by how much I dug it, despite one nagging consistency throughout: just when I was really getting into the groove of the song, some element would pop up that just kind of took me out of the moment. In Zombie it was the organs that kick in at about the 9:15 mark, which sounded like an audience member was invited on stage to jam. I didn’t like Mister Follow Follow overall though, sounded like something you’d hear in the background of a cheesy cop show from the 1970’s (as a fun test I put on Sabotage by the Beastie Boys and muted it, playing this song instead. The tone wasn’t right, but the fashions and hairstyles sure were). Yeah, I know, this album was released in ’76, but still…weak sauce. I liked Observation is No Crime, but again, the women screeching “Tell me, tell me” was a bit grating. Mistake was a nice finish, especially when you read that it was performed at the Berlin Jazz Festival, after which his band left Fela Kuti because they said he was going to use the proceeds from the show to fund his bid for the Nigerian presidency.
However, the cool thing about it was that upon the second listen, I found myself getting right back into the groove, humming along to the melodies in my head as they came up and nodding along with the beat, really enjoying it.
This is one of those that’s a great snapshot of a specific time – the politics, the culture, and the fear of what art can do and the emotions it can stir. I knew nothing about this guy or the situation that surrounded him before, but this is one element of music that often gets overlooked – as a window in a time and place in history that would otherwise go unrecognized.
smcoates-About-Picture-200x300Scott’s Review
I really wanted to like this album. I was first introduced to the groovy music of Femi Kuti at a bar in Phnom Penh, Cambodia years ago, but had never listened to his father Fela. Like Darren, I also saw him in Beware of Mr. Baker and was intrigued to finally check Fela out. I put Zombie on enthusiastically and was underwhelmed, feeling like I’d been listening to the same beat for 45 minutes. A number of subsequent listens made me appreciate some of the rhythms and gain an appreciation for the impact Fela’s had on other artists, but Zombie just didn’t pull me in as I’d hoped. With a distinct lack of lyrics, the songs felt as though they were intended to be seen in concert, rather than simply heard. The repetitive beats at times droned on with me imagining wildly clad musicians stroking their instruments and grinding it out on stage. I’ll likely try another Fela Kuti album with hopes of falling for his music, but Zombie left me feeling a bit like one.

Fela Kuti: Zombie

Fela Kuti’s Zombie Album. 
Who you ask? Actually, I’m not totally sure yet either. But what I do know, is that he influenced not only many musicians across the world but also created a musical style called Afrobeat.
Around May of 2013 I read a great book by Talking Heads founder David Byrne called How Music Works. In that book David talks about the influence that Fela Kuti had on him and his music.

Fela Kuti“…I knew that he was a phenomenon, a unique phenomenon, in that the music he was bringing together, it sounded like it, and it truly was, he had lived in the United States for a while, he was influenced by the Black Power movement in the late ’60s, by the different strands of American music at that time, whether it was Miles Davis or Coltrane, James Brown, etc. And you could hear all that, you hear him put it together with African grooves and create something completely new out of it. But it’s obviously informed by, he’s bringing a lot of what was happening on this continent back to Africa. Just amazing! The lyrics and everything, having something to say that wasn’t just party music, that made it pretty incredible too.”
– David Byrne on Fela Kuti, 1999

I thought I should look in to Fela at that time but it got lost in the chaos of my mind and I neglected to follow up on my instincts. Fast forward to July of 2014 and I am watching a crazy documentary in an L.A. hotel room while in town for work. Beware of Mr. Baker follows the strange and drug-fueled career of Ginger Baker who was the amazing drummer behind Eric Clapton’s Cream(Check out Disraeli Gears if you haven’t already), Blind Faith and – you guessed it – he also played with Fela Kuti.
OK, how have I never heard of this guy before and then I randomly am exposed to him through David Byrne and Ginger Baker? This is what I love about music; you are always chasing the white rabbit. The influences and discovery of great music never ends.
In July I did watch a few videos and listen to tidbits of his songs, but I felt I really needed to rediscover this artist and have had it on top of my mind. It didn’t take long to discover that he has a long queue of current music icons and influencers. Here is one article alone that has praise from the likes of Brian Eno, Talib Kweli, George Clinton, Common and Paul McCartney to just name a few.
If Paul McCartney is in, I have to be in.

So I have chosen what appears to be his most influential album called Zombie. Released in 1977(I was just watching Star Wars, lol), Zombie brings his political views to the forefront, which you will see eventually leads to his death. This is an amazing story and an amazing musician that continues to influence modern rock, rap, hip hop, jazz, latin and so much more. I can’t wait to learn more about him and this afrobeat music. Let the listening and discovery begin.
Album link:
About Fela:
Zombie Album Details:
Other Links:
Red Hot + Fela
I hope everyone enjoys this first pick.
Darren Scott
Click here to read our reviews of Zombie.