Badu Curates Fela Kuti Box Set

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Erykah Badu performs on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, backed by The Roots.

(Photo: Andrew Lipovsky/NBC)

The ease with which singer Erykah Badu inhabits Fela Kuti’s work is shocking—and inspiring.

Recently, she appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon to perform a song composed by the Lagos, Nigeria-bred bandleader to promote Fela Kuti Box Set No. 4, issued through Knitting Factory Records and curated by the singer. The Roots were built to back a performance like this.

Badu weaves her own music into her interpretation of Kuti’s “Sorrow, Tears And Blood,” which was the title track to his 1970 album. He recorded it with the band Afrika 70 as a 10-minute track. What viewers got on The Tonight Show was shorter, with a brief sax solo. Badu’s version flows into her tune “On And On,” from her 1996 album, Baduizm. The singer’s disposition smooths out Kuti’s composition a bit with a more polished vocal approach, spiked with a fair amount of vocal hiccups, something akin to scatting.


Badu, whose most recent album is 2015’s But You Caint Use My Phone (Motown), has tremendous respect for the world-music icon : “Fela Kuti is a f***ing genius. Please listen to these tracks … .”

The box set includes the albums Yellow Fever (1976), No Agreement (1977), J.J.D. (Johnny Just Drop) (1977), V.I.P. (1979), Coffin For Head Of State (1980), Army Arrangement (1984) and Underground System (1992).

Keep an eye out for a Beyond column focused on the release in the April 2018 issue of DownBeat.

To read a recap of a tribute to Fela Kuti (1938–’97) featuring his son Sean Kuti, click here.

For more information about the box set, visit knittingfactoryrecords.com. DB