Finding Fela Credit: Michele Buono/Piero Riccardi

Late in this documentary about the Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti, the musician’s longtime manager, Rikki Stein, recalls the time he traveled to the U.S. to meet with every major record label on behalf of his client and was invariably asked, “Which three minutes out of that 28-minute song do you want me to put on the radio?” Kuti’s tunes typically began with a percussionist laying down an irrepressibly funky beat, then the guitarist adding some edgy riff, then the other players joining in one by one until a brass fanfare elevated the music to the next level of drama; over the course of a half hour or more, the song built, peaked, and subsided like the plot of a movie. Of course director Alex Gibney has his own story arc to construct, and like so many other documentary makers dealing with musical figures, he hasn’t much choice but to excerpt bits and pieces from Kuti’s numbers; he might stretch out a live performance by mixing the music underneath the talking-head commentary that brackets his concert footage, but in this context even three minutes would be pushing it. Continue reading >>