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Baker's Dozen

Languages Inhabited: Teju Cole's Favourite Albums
Teju Cole , August 24th, 2016 09:28

Following the publication of his first collection of essays, Known And Strange Things, the writer and photographer pens us his own Baker's Dozen, picking "as many kinds of albums that really mattered to me as possible"


Fela Anikulapo Kuti & Egypt '80 – Beasts Of No Nation/O.D.O.O. (Overtake Don Overtake Overtake)
The greatest Nigerian artist in any genre is Fela Anikulapo Kuti. A few years ago I was asked to name the best novel of Lagos and without hesitating I said it would have to be Fela's complete discography. He earthed the lightning of our contemporary life.

Fela took his ship far from safety. He could have hugged the shore of highlife, the genre of his first album. That album, with a band named the Koola Lobitos, was pleasant enough. But soon enough, he changed his tune. Mere pleasantness wouldn't do, not with the post-colonial anomie, the civil war, military rule and the sordid saga of corruption that engulfed the nation. Fela's activism was musical: he changed the rules of his music in order to suggest what else could be changed. His 'Afrobeat' style unfolded epic tunes with a propulsive drum kit and a full-throated backing band, songs that stretched 15, 20, 30 minutes. The humour was savage, the anger was incandescent in this music. For his trouble, he was beaten often and jailed numerous times. His mother, thrown from a window, died of her injuries. The soldiers burned his house.

The people who did such things were beastly. 'Beasts Of No Nation', late on in the career, is for them. A painful song, full of the pain of Nigeria's wasted years, and so beautiful a song, a blazing beauty, as beautiful as a house on fire.