tue 23/07/2024

Brian Eno on Fela Kuti and the Brighton Festival | reviews, news & interviews

Brian Eno on Fela Kuti and the Brighton Festival

Brian Eno on Fela Kuti and the Brighton Festival

Eno on the influence of west Africa

Brian Eno’s on the phone. He’s been up all night.

But he does want to talk to theartsdesk about his Afro-beat concert in Brighton as part of the Brighton Festival he is curating which this evening sees Seun Kuti - the son of Fela Kuti, who has basically inherited his legendary father’s band - and 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 with each passing year (Fela died in 1997).

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 Afro-beat, 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.”

Brian says the very first record he played to the Talking Heads was a Fela record, before he produced Remain in Light. “I just said to them – this is the future.”

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 he 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.”

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