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Event Review: Felabration! London

Event Review: Felabration! London
Adam Tiran

On a bitingly cold night in December, we made our way down to 229 Great Portland Street for a celebration of a man from much warmer climes, Nigeria to be exact, and his music which stands, without doubt, as one of the most important and influential works of the 20th Century. That man is Fela Anikulapo Kuti, godfather of the funky, utterly danceable hybrid style that came to be known as Afrobeat, and we were there to celebrate the posthumous 75th birthday of this great revolutionary.

2013 was the year Fela bounced back into the global consciousness, with the widely publicised repressing of his entire back catalogue on Knitting Factory Records, as well as the release of a brand new tribute album of covers and reworks of some of his best material by a motley cure of leading contemporary artists and admirers. And this event coincided with the launch of that album, Red Hot + Fela.

Bringing together a star-studded lineup of African artists from across the continent and the UK, Felabration! saw The Dele Sosimi Afrobeat Orchestra form the basis of the live band throughout the night, performing a variety of Fela’s greatest tracks and a couple of lesser known ones, with various special guests popping up on stage to perform a track or two at a time.

Metronomy‘s bassist Olugbenga showed off his baritonal vocal talents on the unforgettable Sorrow, Tears & Blood, UK hip hop luminary Blak Twang laid down some of his archetypal lyricism over the top of Shuffering and Smiling, and Shingai Shoniwa of The Noisettes added some serious sass to the deep-rolling Kalakuta Show. The sheer volume of collaborative tracks showed that much effort had gone into making this event happen, and the evident passion and admiration for the man whose music brought all these artists together resulted in a strictly positive vibes dance down on the floor.

As the show reached its crescendo, the stage became even more crowded with the addition of the 10-strong Goldsmiths Vocal Ensemble, who added a fantastic backing track to the final few numbers, including Fela favourites Zombie and Water Get No Enemy, which also saw the incredible Eska and Sam Duckworth of Get Cape.Wear Cape.Fly feature.

Eska’s hearty, soulful vocals have graced tracks from a number of genres (from breaks with Stanton Warriors and trip hop with Zero 7, to the unique folk-soul on her new solo EP, Gatekeeper) but here she let her natural flair for African rhythms take over in a stirring performance of one of Afrobeat’s most widely celebrated pieces.

In the final soiree of the evening, Shingai, Zee, Blak Twang and Keazor rejoined Dele’s orchestra (whose unfaltering synchronicity meant they were arguably the stars of the night) for a proper feel-good performance of the grooviest track from Fela’s back catalogue, Shakara. Proceeding to tear the roof off, it was a fitting end to a truly great collaborative event, which was undeniably one of the most individual and memorable nights of the year.

The Red Hot + Fela compilation is out now and features ?uestlove (The Roots), Spoek Mathambo, Tony Allen & Baloji, with all proceeds go towards HIV/AIDS education and relief worldwide.