feature: the soundtrack to ‘finding fela’ is the definitive fela kuti mixtape #soundcheck

August 8, 2014

It shouldn’t be a surprise that a documentary about one of the greatest musical innovators and political dissidents in history should have a killer soundtrack. The soundtrack to the new movie Finding Fela is about as definitive a mix of Fela’s music as one could hope for.

Words by Nathan Leigh, AFROPUNK Contributor

The soundtrack runs from the big hits (naturally “Zombie,” a song almost more famous for the tragedy surrounding the Nigerian government’s response to it than for its music, is included.) to obscure cuts, like a rare live recording of “Colonial Mentality” featuring Fela’s son Femi Kuti on saxophone. Early singles like “Highlife Time” showcase Fela as his music begins to evolve from highlife into the Afrobeat sound that would define his career.

The documentary tells the story of Fela’s legacy, his struggles against corruption in the Nigerian government, and his recent critical reappraisal, culminating in the Antibalas-driven hit Broadway musical Fela!. If there’s a complaint about this soundtrack, which is about as close to a definitive Fela mixtape as you’re likely to find beyond “all of it, just listen to his whole discography,” it’s that it’s light on his legacy. Fela’s name is nearly synonymous with Afrobeat, but that does a disservice to the small army of Afrobeat artists, particularly his sons Femi and Seun, who have followed in his footsteps and continued the sound’s evolution. Far too often, Fela is presented as an island, when more appropriately he’s merely the tallest peak in a very large mountain range. But for both the uninitiated and the seasoned Fela fan, the soundtrack to Finding Fela is a lovingly assembled collection with much to love.