Saturday, November 7, 2009

Unknown Fela: Stratavarious

In 1971, after several years of musical experimentation following the breakup of the super-group Cream, British drummer Ginger Baker made his way to Lagos, Nigeria, where he helped set up EMI's new 16-track recording studio. It was here that Baker re-united with his friend Fela Anikulapo Kuti (then known as Fela Ransome-Kuti) and recorded Stratavarious (Atco SD 7013), one of the first collaborations between an African musician and a Western rock star.

To the best of my knowledge, Stratavarious has been out of print ever since it was released in 1972 and consigned to oblivion shortly thereafter, although one or two cuts from it may have been included in compilations. It is very much Ginger Baker's "thing," although Fela plays an important role on several tracks. Also present is Fela's American girlfriend Sandra Izidore (credited as "Sandra Danielle").

Strativarious is a fascinating look at a magic time when rock, jazz and Afrobeat were taking their first tentative steps toward each other, and a harbinger of fusions to come. It certainly deserves more attention than it's gotten. Like the recordings featured in the last two posts, Stratavarious was originally posted on Uchenna Ikonne's With Comb & Razor blog.

Fela and Sandra Izidore take center stage on Side 1 of Stratavarious. Izidore provides vocals on "Ariwo," an adaptation of a Yoruba folk tune, and Fela sings lead on "Tiwa," with Sandra included in the backup chorus. Fela plays keyboard on both tunes:

Ginger Baker - Ariwo

Ginger Baker - Tiwa

Fela's keyboard work also features on the next two tracks. Both are notable also for the lead guitar work of Bobby Tench (here credited as "Bobby Gass"), who had previously played with the Jeff Beck Group:

Ginger Baker - Something Nice

Ginger Baker - Ju Ju

Fela Ransome-Kuti plays no role in "Blood Brothers 69" or "Coda." "Blood Brothers" was apparently recorded in London in 1969, a collaboration between Baker
and renowned Ghanaian percussionist Guy Warren, later known as Kofi Ghanaba:

Ginger Baker & Guy Warren - Blood Brothers 69

Ginger Baker - Coda

Stratavarious can be downloaded as a zipped file here.

Stratavarious was by no means Ginger Baker's first experiment with African music. Not only had he previously recorded Fela Ransome-Kuti & the Africa '70 with Ginger Baker Live! (Signpost SP 8401, 1971), but his two LPs with Ginger Baker's Air Force had a definite African "feel," notably this tune from their first album (Atco SD 2-703, 1970, right). Compare it with "Ariwo," above:

Ginger Baker's Air Force - Aiko Biaye

This series of posts was occasioned by the recent announcement that Knitting Factory Records plans to reissue the "complete" Fela discography, although as I pointed out here, there are a few titles missing. In addition to Stratavarious, Perambulator and I Go Shout Plenty!!! the 1985 Bill Laswell "remix" version of Army Arrangement (Celluloid CELL 6109) is long out of print with no plans for reissue (it was released while Fela was in prison and he is said to have hated it). Toshiya Endo's Fela discography lists a number of other tunes that have never been released in any form. Notably, Knitting Factory plans to release the "entire" catalog of recordings Fela made with the Koola Lobitos in the 1960s. This is good news indeed.


Perrata 2000 said...

Now that you mention the musical meeting of different cultures through Fela's music, I posted some time ago two covers of Fela's Shakara from two bands from the coastal region of Colombia from around 1975 in my Blog. It's interesting how they merged Vallenato and Cumba with the Afrobeat sound. Stop by and take a listen, I think you will enjoy this original approach.

I have really enjoyed your last few posts. Thanks a lot for sharing!!

John B. said...

Perrata: Yes, I caught that post of yours back when it first came out. Much appreciated!

Dan Buskirk said...

Excellent, fun to here the British rock slant on Fela's music. Thanks...

g.raf said...

Thanks for sharing this. I really enjoyed it!

Anonymous said...

Stratavarious was released on CD about ten years ago as part of the 2cd collection "Do What You like" which also combined Baker's two Air Force albums. Unfortunately it seems to be out of print and costing a small fortune on the used market.

John B. said...

I knew that some tunes from "Strativarious" were on "What Do You Like" but I didn't have a full tracklist. Now after doing a more thorough Google I see that you are right.

dailyleftover said...

hi John, also maybe nice to mention that Ginger Baker's trip to Africa was documented those days, incl. great jams with Laolu Akins & Haastrup, also Lijadu sisters and Tee Mac and the meet with Fela in there + Ginger on talking drum for first time ..great watch, easy to get on dvd

dailyleftover said...

Here is a piece on tube
and there are also the longer parts with Segun Bucknor to find.

Henk Madrotter said...

thank you thank you thank you!!! been collecting fela since i first heard him around 86/87 but living in rotterdam back then it was always hard to find his work

Anonymous said...

thanks for this

wuod k

Dave said...

Ayiko Biaye is the same song as Ayiko Bia off the first album by the great afro-rock group Osibisa. I like their version better but Ginger always rocks.

Thanx as always for posting.

Gianni aka Cesare Barbetta said...

great lp.
thank you

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atta said...

Very many thanks to the adminstrators of dis blogspot for providing us wit dis epic piece...may the funk be wit u