Fela Kuti – Open and Close, Underground System, I.T.T.
Nigerian bandleader Fela Kuti is almost as legendary for his scathing political activism and the expansive
domestic compound Kuti named a sovereign state as he is for the pioneering Afrobeat music he created,
which combined funk, jazz and West African music. Three new reissues from Kuti’s expansive catalog
show how consistent he was across the decades.
Released in 1971, Open and Close is one of Kuti’s earliest releases. You can hear Kuti moving away from
the big band jazz sound, although the songs aren’t as political as they would later become. Aside from
the 15-minute title track, which describes a new dance, the four songs are very succinct for Kuti, all
clocking in at under 10 minutes. Unavailable on LP since the 1980s, Open and Close is a strong effort,
showing the roots of what would quickly blossom into Afrobeat.
Although I.T.T. appeared less than a decade after Open and Close, Kuti was operating in a different
paradigm. His Kalakuta Republic commune had been raided several times by the government. One of
these raids resulted in the death of Kuti’s mother. Kuti’s politics are razor-sharp, as he calls out the
president of Nigeria, the head of Decca Records and decries British colonialism. The music cuts just as
deep a groove.
1992’s Underground System was the last studio album released by Kuti before his death just five years
later. Although he was 55 at the time of the album’s release, middle age had not mellowed Kuti. On the
28-minute title cut, he blasts corrupt leaders who rule against the will of the people. Kuti’s Egypt 80
ensemble plays with an intensity and urgency throughout the lengthy number. The mostly instrumental
b-side “Pansa Pansa” is similarly brisk. -Joel Francis