October 10-16, 2002
Riot Going On
The latest Red Hot disc has hip-hop and soul's current whiz kids taking on Kuti classics.
For 12 years, the Red Hot Organization (RHO) has dedicated itself to music endeavors -- namely the successful Red Hot CD series -- that gather the industry’s biggest and bravest to raise funds and focus awareness for HIV and AIDS relief.
"Our current projects, as opposed to early works like Red Hot + Blue, are [intended] to tackle targeted aspects of the AIDS epidemic that desperately need help rather than fundraising," says John Carlin, founder and executive director of RHO since 1990. "The first record was geared to baby boomers," he continues. "Our concern now is to gather musicians close to each project's targeted audience: communities at risk and most difficult to talk to and about, like those of color and rural country audiences." Carlin points to Red Hot + Rio, Red Hot + Latin and Onda Sonora: Red Hot + Lisbon (geared to South America), No Alternative (grunge types focusing on intravenous drug concerns) and America Is Dying Slowly (rap acts focused on black American communities).
With the AIDS struggle worsening in Africa, Carlin found it necessary to start an African AIDS awareness project. "Communities of color have, historically, had much less success in mobilizing themselves politically against the AIDS virus," he says. The god of Afrobeat, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, denied the existence of AIDS, but became a symbol of its tragedy when he died of it in 1997.
"Music is the right weapon to reach people. That's what we do.... Fela made dance music within his culture imbued with crucial socio-conscious text." To the day he died, Kuti wound traditional African polyrhythms, flickering highlife guitars and an intense sense of repetition (learned from James Brown and Funkadelic) around lyrics that spoke to the duality of deeply personal rhetoric and public political stances. He was a tyrant, a sexist, a martyr and a civic warrior rolled into one, creating music that begged Nigerians (and eventually all people of African descent) to learn, as he did, the tenets of Black nationalism, Afrocentrism and peaceful but empowered existence.
Kuti's funky-drummer sound and powerful message was a no-brainer when Red Hot wanted to focus on America's hip-hop community. RHO's choice group of nu-soul, hip-hop, jazz and world music maestros -- Sade, Archie Shepp, Me'Shell NdegéOcello, Nile Rodgers, Talib Kweli, Mixmaster Mike, Baaba Maal, Taj Mahal, Macy Gray, Les Nubians -- were enthused about tackling the works of the late master on the new Red Hot + Riot (MCA) compilation. Somewhere along the way, Carlin crossed paths with the hardest working man in showbiz, Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson. The drummer got hold of MCA's remasterings of the Kuti catalog while The Roots were recording Phrenology for the same label.
"All of a sudden, Amhir was interested. Having the greatest drummer of his generation get interested meant a lot," says Carlin. A partnership was struck up, leading to RH+Riot's first session, "Water No Get Enemy" with The Soultronics, D'Angelo, Macy Gray, Roy Hargrove, Nile Rodgers, Positive Force and Femi Kuti, Fela's son.
"It's fair to say that not only did that session help us get together with our label partner, it made it easy for other hip-hop artists to participate in what was a sensitive project," says Carlin of the tender, macho likes of Blackalicious and Dead Prez who contribute and collaborate with Jorge Ben Jor and, most stirringly, Africa's Baaba Maal. "I had been pursuing Gift of Gab and Dead Prez because of the political/lyrical affiliation. Having Ahmir lend his name was a perfect lubricant."
Red Hot + Riot’s record release party with DJ Rich Medina, Mon., Oct. 14, Aqua Lounge, 323 W. Girard Ave., 215-769-5114. Me’Shell NdegéOcello and Cassandra Wilson host a benefit, You Rock My Soul, for the Gay Men’s Heath Crisis, Thu., Oct. 10, Carnegie Hall, 57th and Seventh Ave., New York City.