Unreleased Fela and Koola Lobitos, 1965

Posted December 31st, 2008 at 3:52 pm (UTC-4)

I have recently fallen into the end of the year holiday-induced doldrums, and have not had the time to finish the research on several posts I have been working on. Nonetheless, I wanted to end 2008 with some good music (recordings that don’t need much commentary). I thought I would feature what is arguably the most ‘famous’ tape in our archive; Leo’s never-released 1965 reel of Fela Ransome-Kuti and his Koola Lobitos that caught the Afrobeat pioneers at an interesting time in their careers. Fela had returned to Lagos two years earlier (after several years of musical study at Trinity College in London) and the Koola Lobitos were starting to get noticed in Nigeria. Leo’s recording session with Fela and the Koola Lobitos came at the end of a six week trip to Nigeria that I have discussed in this previous post.

Over the past several years, several different compilations have released Koola Lobitos tracks from the same era; these recordings however were made for Voice of America broadcasts, and I don’t think any of them have been commercially released. However, given that none of the tracks are longer than 4 minutes, I suspect that Fela may have hoped to release these recordings. (According to Toshiya Endo’s great Fela discography, different versions of two of the songs Fela recorded for Leo were released, and four were never re-recorded, or at least no other versions are currently accounted for).

As you listen to the tracks you will hear Fela introducing each take. Unfortunately we do not have any of the false takes. Leo’s best recollection is that these false starts and alternate takes were erased when he got back to the VOA African Program Center in Liberia; no sense in wasting valuable tape stock. These recordings, for reasons that no one can any longer remember, are also the only ones from Leo’s 1965 Nigerian trip that he recorded in monaural.

A couple of months ago, while looking for some Angolan radio tapes I found a few other items of Fela-bilia. The most interesting is a 1967 interview that Fela gave to Sean Kelly, then the VOA correspondent in Lagos. Fela’s years as an international ‘icon’ were still ahead of him; Fela was still a Lagos bandleader trying to push the boundaries of Nigerian popular music. This nine-minute feature includes a live cut of the Koola Lobitos performing ‘Lai-se’, and ends with Fela’s assessment of the West African music scene.

This final track does not feature Fela himself, but rather his paternal grandfather the Reverend Canon Josiah J. Ransome-Kuti, an Anglican pastor and composer of religious hymns. This recording is one of many from the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation archives that were given to the Voice of America by the great Nigerian composer Fela Sowande, who in the early 1950s had been the director of Music and Music Research at the N.B.C. This piece was composed by Reverend Ransome-Kuti but I am not sure if this recording also features his voice.

For a wonderfully detailed examination of Fela’s life and career check out Michael Veal’s biography ‘Fela: The Life and Times of an African’. Best wishes to all for 2009!!

11 responses to “Unreleased Fela and Koola Lobitos, 1965”

  1. Anonymous says:

    many thanks for letting us hear all this great unreleased music
    you are doing a great work here thanks again

  2. Anonymous says:

    Great post, as usual! I wonder how many of Fela’s recordings are still unreleased or even lost for ever! Luckily, new ones are surfacing every now and then… Thanks Matthew for sharing all these rare jewels and all the very best in 2009 and beyond!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the Fela VOA files. It’s great to hear these early recordings of great African artists, like Bembeya Jazz. What other great secrets does VOA hold? You know I’ve got a soft spot for old Congolese, so wondered what VOA has in store?

    Happy New Year and thanks for sharing these unique recordings!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Hello Pieter. Thanks for getting in touch. Yes, we do have some interesting unreleased reels of older Congolese styles in our collection. Off the top of my head I know we have a couple of reels of more or less forgotten groups from Brazzaville. We also have several reels of a Congolese group that went by the name Harlem Jazz, that Leo recorded in Monrovia in the early sixties. I will definitely be posting some of these recordings in the future. Thanks again for your interest. best

  5. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Mathew for sharing this treasured asset. Even after his death, Fela remains one of the most important African personalities of the twentieth century. Nigerians and Africans continue to find most of what he sang about to be very prophetic.


  6. Anonymous says:

    Thanks so much for these rare glimpse into Fela’s musical antiquity.
    Is there any way to download these songs for personal enjoyment?

  7. Anonymous says:

    many many many thanks for all these lost treasures from the great fela anikulapo kuti,
    especially for this interview which includes a very good tune.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for offing these. The last track sheds some light on the origins of an LP that I have that has always puzzled me: a full recording of what sound like organ hymns with the mention of Fela and “Ransome-Kuti” (the LP isn’t in front of me at the moment) on it’s cover. I will have to find this LP and take a look at it again. Thank again!

  9. Anonymous says:

    thank you so much for this great post! I found even more information on the topic by http://torrents.rapid4me.com search engine. African music is somehow mysterious, charming. can’t get enough of it!

  10. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for this and all the other music, most of which I still have to investigate – a real treasure trove of almost-lost gems. Beautiful.

  11. I found your weblog on google and check several of the early posts and my seotons. Preserve up the excellent operate. I just additional up your RSS feed to my MSN News Reader. Seeking forward to reading through additional from you later on!…



Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award-winning radio program “Music Time in Africa” and is the African Music Editor for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with Doctorate and Master’s degrees from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.

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