Various Artists – ‘Red Hot + Fela’

Charity compilation on which Tune-Yards, Chance The Rapper and more pay tribute to Fela Kuti

Fela Kuti’s pioneering, joyous Afrobeat rhythms shook the world before his death following complications brought on by Aids in 1997. The Red Hot organisation, who raise money to fight HIV, paid tribute to the Nigerian musician with the 2002 compilation ‘Red Hot + Riot’, but they’ve decided it is time for a fresh wave of musicians to tackle another volume.

Red Hot have assembled a stellar line-up for this release, including Chance The Rapper, Childish Gambino and South Africa’s Spoek Mathambo, who bring their trademark charm to ‘Gentleman’, ‘Who No Know Go No’ and ‘Yellow Fever’ respectively.

First track ‘Buy Africa’, performed by Baloji – who hails from the Democratic Republic of Congo via Belgium – and L’Orchestre De La Katuba is a perfect introduction to Fela’s grooves. Baloji appears again with Fela’s former drummer Tony Allen and Dead Prez’s M-1 on ‘Afrodisco Beat 2013’, which samples Ghanaian leader Kwame Nkrumah’s 1957 speech declaring his country’s independence.

But what makes this album truly exciting is the way it sounds so new and inventive while still acknowledging Fela’s own sound: Tune-Yards, ?uestlove, Angelique Kidjo and Akua Naru bring their own brands of weirdness to their collaborative version of ‘Lady’, and GendEr Infinity offer a gorgeous dreampop reworking of ‘Hi Life Time’.

Inevitably, not everything works. My Morning Jacket and Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard team up for a self-indulgent ‘Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am’ that starts to feel worthy long before its 14 minutes are up. But, on the whole, ‘Red Hot + Fela’ works both as an introduction to Afrobeat, and as a reworking of the genre, making it a fitting tribute not just to Fela’s music but also his indomitable spirit.

Kevin EG Perry