Fela Kuti took a scholar’s knowledge of Nigerian rhythms and bebop jazz, infused it with the rocksteady of Jamaican reggae and the pageantry and revolt of James Brown–era soul, and called it "Afrobeat," summing up both its essence and its aspiration. Five years after Fela’s death from AIDS, this tribute album rallies hip-hop, R&B, jazz, and house luminaries to toast his musical and social largesse. "Water Got No Enemy," a classic from his near-100-album catalogue, finds D’Angelo, Macy Gray, Roy Hargrove, and Fela’s son Femi re-creating his slinky, brassy rhythms and subversive protest almost perfectly. Even duplications like this serve the purpose of introducing Fela’s hypnotic ceremony to a new audience.
But the question raised by songs like "No Agreement" and "Zombie" as performed by artists like Me’Shell NdegéOcello and Archie Shepp is: why celebrate Fela’s music with reproductions that could never match the original? On the other hand, Kelis’s "So Be It" weaves a cooing, ghostly melancholy with crackling Afrobeat melody, and on "Kalakuta Show" Blackalicious and Mixmaster Mike flip Fela’s oft-displayed slicing dance procession into an electric hip-hop jam. Both are original tracks, not covers, and it’s in those interpretations that Fela’s true inspiration is revealed.