INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
The Arts Desk MAY 14, 2010 - by Peter Culshaw
BRIAN ENO ON FELA KUTI AND THE BRIGHTON FESTIVAL
Brian Eno's on the phone. He's been up all night. But he does want to talk to the arts desk about his Afro-beat concert in Brighton as part of the Brighton Festival he is curating which this evening which sees Seun Kuti, the son of Fela Kuti who has basically inherited the legendary Fela Kuti's band, as well as Tony Allen's band, on the same bill. Tony Allen was the drummer with Fela's band and co-creator of the Afro-beat sound which seems to become more popular each passing year.
Brian says that he became obsessed with Afro-beat in about 1972. "I thought at that time it was the most advanced music on the planet", and that Tony Allen was the greatest drummer. Tony Allen is these days generally credited with being the co-creator of Afrobeat, but Eno thinks it's a lot more than that. "The Fela sound came from Tony. The brass parts came from the drums."
OK. Let's talk about 1977. Which was the more radical record that had the most impact - Anarchy In The UK by The Sex Pistols or Fela Kuti's Zombie? "Punk was an interesting social event. But musically I wasn't interested. So, Zombie."
I mention one of the first African records I possessed was by Edikanfo, who were Ghanaian, which Brian produced in 1981. Eno says that Ghana caught him from two directions. "It was the theoretical source of African drumming, a lot of the players in Nigeria actually came from Ghana". But he also got into Ghana through Steve Reich who had studied there. "I was getting West Africanised from two directions - Afro-beat and minimalism."
I'm fairly sure Brian - who has, of course, produced U2 and Coldplay - said to me once that he would have loved to produce Fela and he occasionally wakes up in the middle of the night wishing he'd had the opportunity. "I thought he was doing fine on his own, actually. And I'm always nervous about meeting my heroes."
I say I did meet him, and surprisingly Fela said his favourite musician was Handel. "Really? But I've often found that the most interesting musicians have influences well outside their field."
So how would he place Fela and Afro-beat on the musical spectrum? "Robert Wyatt once sent me a tape with a note saying - this is Jazz from another planet. That seems to sum it up."