Mamud Band - Opposite People: The Music of Fela Kuti
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Mamud Band
Opposite People: The Music of Fela Kuti
Felmay (www.felmay.it)

Can an album be well made and yet pointless?

Opposite People, by the Mamud Band, offers a resounding “yes” to that question. The Italian ensemble founded some 20 years ago by the percussionist Lorenzo Gasperoni selected and arranged 11 songs from the repertoire of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, some well known (”Zombie,” “Colonial Mentality”, “No Agreement”) and some obscure (“Mattress,” “Johnny Just Drop”) for their tribute to the Afrobeat originator and political gadfly. All but two are instrumentals, with Vitale “Bunna” Bonino of the Italian reggae band Africa Unite handling the vocals on “No Agreement” and “Colonial Mentality.”

Fela Kuti died in 1995, but he still seems very much with us. He was celebrated in Bill T. Jones’ acclaimed (if somewhat sanitized) Broadway musical, which has toured the U.S. and Britain, and even has been staged in his hometown of Lagos. His sons Seun and Femi are successful recording artists who uphold his musical innovations and his political stance. (Luckily for them, Nigeria’s current government, though repressive and corrupt, hasn’t subjected the sons to the harassment and outright persecution their father suffered.) Fela’s recordings continue to inspire musicians around the world, as the Mamud Band’s effort attests.

Opposite People, however, is misconceived. Without Fela’s pointed lyrics and charismatic presence, most of the tracks come off as just well played funk jams. The Mamud Band’s traps drummer and two additional percussionists lay down powerful polyrhythmic grooves that point toward Cuba and Brazil as well as West Africa. Giovanni Venosta, it must be said, has stronger keyboard chops than Fela. Luigi Maione on guitar, however, evokes rather than recreates the distinctive strummed funk patterns and ostinatos that Fela derived from James Brown and repurposed for his ensembles. The horn section is bright and tight, but more competent than inspired, and rarely fiery, unlike the brass and reeds of Antibalas, the American Afrobeat band that performed in the musical, "Fela!" Bunna’s vocals on his two tracks aren’t bad on their own terms but they are woefully inadequate when compared to Fela’s. So why would you want to hear him sing those tunes rather than their composer?

Numerous Italian musicians have been inspired by African music and the music of the African diaspora, but the best of them – Sicily’s Roy Paci, Naples’ Almamegretta and their former vocalist Raiz, Eugenio Bennato, and Daniele Sepe – have crafted “glocal” fusions that blend African, African-derived, and Italian musical languages. Their work is fresh and compelling because they’ve incorporated their influences to create something new and original, rather than simply imitating them, as the Mamud Band does with their well-intentioned but unnecessary Opposite People. -- George de Stefano

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