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Song of the Day: Fela Kuti, “Sorrow, Tears and Blood”

I featured Fela Kuti’s “I.T.T. (International Thief Thief)” as a Song of the Day back during the BP oil spill, with which it had a certain resonance. I love Fela – here’s another one of my favorite songs from the creator of the Afrobeat sound…

Fela Kuti, “Sorrow, Tears and Blood” – originally from the album of the same name (1977); this is from The Best Best of Fela Kuti

Vintage Fela. Extended instrumental intro that builds up to the song proper. Fela’s distinctive vocal stylings—singing, speaking, chanting, shouting, moaning—and in this song imitating a siren. Call-and-response type exchanges with his backing singers and band. A lot of the sounds come out of Fela’s engagement with American R&B and funk, from his time in the States in the late 1960s—that distinctive organ and Fela’s honking sax work, here some of his best. A terrific mid-tempo groove—all of Fela’s music is clearly meant for dancing—driven by typically excellent and complex percussion. Pointed political commentary, in this case dealing with, among other things, an attack by the Nigerian army on the compound where Fela lived and performed. “Them leave sorrow, tears and blood. / Their regular trademark.” 10 minutes long. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Song of the Day, , ,

Song of the Day: Fela Kuti, “I.T.T. (International Thief Thief)” [updated]

Like so many people these days, I’ve been following the unfolding disaster of BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico with fascinated dismay. So I thought to make my “Song of the Day” more topical by posting a song having to do with oil spills or the oil industry. You’d be surprised how hard it is to find a good song on oil… But Nigeria is a country that has long suffered from problems associated with the oil industry there – ranging from spills and environmental damage to political corruption to the assassination of political and environmental activists. Nigeria is also the source of Afrobeat music and one of my favorite musicians, Fela Kuti. And Fela has a song attacking the impact of foreign corporations, which I thought was appropriate. Given how BP is stealing the Gulf of Mexico from the future, despoiling it for generations, and trying to evade responsibility – financial and otherwise – they certainly qualify as an “International Thief Thief”

Fela Kuti, “I.T.T. (International Thief Thief)” [link fixed] (the song starts out quiet, so don’t be fooled into thinking there is a problem with the link) [download original album-length version in high-quality here]

More info….

More music…

Filed under: Song of the Day, ,

Blaxploitation, Kenya-Style

This video, for the song “Ha-He” by the Kenyan group Just A Band, has become a huge hit in Kenya, and is now going viral with a wider audience, in part thanks to, which is where I ran across it, and where it has been posted more than a half dozen times in the last couple of months.

The video draws on blaxploitation and kung fu movies for its plot and style. The subtitles seem like a strangely articulate but still bizarre parody of those crazy subtitles on 70s kung fu movies from Hong Kong (cf, the Shaw Brothers), and there is even a Matrix reference. Meanwhile, the hero’s name, Makemende, is a Swahili slang term that derives from a corruption of the classic Clint Eastwood line from Dirty Harry, “make my day.”

This is a fairly run-of-the-mill collection of enthusiasms and references for a North American fanboy, but what intrigued me was to see them cropping up in a Kenyan music video. I suspect I shouldn’t be surprised, and that the only real surprise is that I have allowed myself to remain ignorant of most cultural activity in Africa, beyond my long-running interest in the Nigerian musician Fela Kuti and more recent discovery of the Malian guitarist Ali Farka Touré.

Perhaps, in the same way that Hong Kong filmmakers were able to take degenerate Hollywood tropes and styles and genres and reinvigorate them, largely due to the entirely uncynical and enthusiastic manner with which they approached them, African filmmakers can take the weirdly wonderful genre of blaxploitation films and reinvent them, hopefully with a subversive and critical edge. Perhaps they already have…

WikiPedia: “Makemende is a fictional Kenyan superhero character which has enjoyed a popular resurgence after an adoptation by Kenya’s musical group Just A Band in the music video for their song Ha-He on their second album, 82 (2009). The video became the first viral internet sensation in Kenya


The word Makmende is a sheng (Swahili slang) word which means “a hero”. The name supposedly originated from a mispronunciation of Clint Eastwood’s phrase “Go ahead, make my day” (Mek ma nday) from his 1983 movie Sudden Impact. The word made its way into Kenyan streets in the 1990s whereby the streets bad guy wannabe would be called out and asked “Who do you think you are? Makmende?”. Anyone who thought they could do the impossible or a particularly difficult task was always asked whether they thought they were Makmende since only Makmende could do or attempt to do the impossible. The character Makmende is associated with the fashion wear of the early 1980s. He is portrayed with long John Shaft-like afro hair and bell bottom trousers…” (via Wikipedia).

Filed under: Interweb, Movies, , ,



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is an over-caffeinated and under-employed grad school dropout, aspiring leftwing intellectual and cultural studies academic, cinéaste, and former poet. Raised in San Francisco on classic film, radical politics, burritos and soul music, then set loose upon the world. He spends his time in coffee shops with his laptop and headphones, caffeinating and trying to construct a post-whatever life.


What's in a name... The handle "zerode" is a contraction of Zéro de Conduite, the title of Jean Vigo's 1933 movie masterpiece about schoolboy rebellion.



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