Photo courtesy of Rubber Tracks: Merrill Garbus, Alex Toth, Adam Dotson, Annakalima of RUBBLEBUCKET, and Stuart Bogie
We’re in a new moment of great artists making music in new ways.
(Red) Hot + FELA represents this new moment while also being a continuation of Red Hot’s work and mission.
For many years – decades even, AIDS was a death sentence. Now the AIDS epidemic is in a new moment, too. There are previously unimaginable goals we are striving towards.
It IS possible to have the first AIDS free generation of babies born in 30 years. That’s a pretty amazing possibility.
The music of (Red) Hot + FELA speaks to and aspires toward this goal.
Red Hot has partnered with (RED) to work towards stopping Mother to Child HIV transmission by 2015.
The first time I heard tUnE-yArDs’ music I was blown away. I could hear the spirits of so many different influences, but the sound was uniquely her own. I had a pretty good feeling that she was a Fela Kuti fan.
My co-producer Anthony Demby and I asked Merrill (aka tUnE-yArDs) if she would consider reinterpreting Fela’s classic anthem “Lady”. Amazingly, she agreed. Merrill wanted to collaborate with Questlove of The Roots and asked that we invite an African artist to sing the lead vocals. Angelique Kidjo, one of our favorites artists said yes, so Game On!
Like all of Fela’s anthems, “Lady” has that thing – that mix of syncopation, swagger and audaciously satirical lyrics. In “Lady” Fela criticizes westernized African women who he felt had been corrupted by the new feminist movement of the time. Which is ironic considering Fela’s mother was one of the most progressive women in all of W. Africa at the time.
“Lady” reinterpreted by tUnE-yArDs, Angelique Kidjo and Akua Naru turns Fela’s lyrics on their head.
The basic tracks for “Lady” were recorded at The Bunker on May 8th and the backing vocals and horns at Rubber Tracks on May 9th. Both amazing studios.
It was remarkable to watch Merrill work and see the extent to which she had broken down “Lady” in order to put it back together in her own way. She led the group of musicians thru 3 live takes, while singing a guide vocal in the mix room. Her guide vocals were so stunning I begged her to sing some of the lead vocals on the song. Merrill was very nice about it and did a good job of putting me off!
Questlove is, well, a genius. He said he could have played another 10 takes, just to play the song. His presence and rapport with Merrill anchored the session and made the recording process go quickly and thrillingly. The finished song is basically the second take, no pro-tools / cut and paste – just amazing musicians playing live in a room. Nate from tUnE-yArDs played bass, Luke O’Malley played guitar and Ray Angry aka Mr Gold Finger played keyboards.
Photo courtesy of Rubber Tracks: Toni Hartley, Merrill Garbus, and Patricia Preware
On the second day we recorded backing vocals and horns. The vocals feature Merrill’s friends Patricia Preware and Toni Hartley singing together with Merrill. The vibe was very fun and relaxed as they got into the all the parts together.
The horn section, features Stuart Bogie on tenor (Antibalas) and members of the incredible band Rubblebucket: Alex Toth on trumpet, Annakalmia Traver on baritone and Adam Dotson on trombone.
Lastly Miles Arntzen (Antibalas) played shekere and claves. Miles did a couple of takes on each and, despite bumping into the stereo mics, as if in a trance, he did an great job, especially after finishing 3 finals earlier in the day at NYU.
All the vocals and horns were live takes. It was an incredible process to watch and listen as Merrill talked, sang and coached everyone thru their parts. She knew exactly what she wanted and got everyone to keep going until they made it there. It was very special to be able to witness her creative process.
A huge thanks to Eli Crews, for coming to NYC to help Merrill get the sound on the “LADY”! His hard work in recording, engineering and mixing the song are also a big part of what makes it great and gives it the ‘tUnE-yArDs sound”!! Kudos also to John and Aaron at The Bunker and Aaron and Ben at Rubber Tracks for their expertise and good vibes!
We were truly blessed with an overwhelming amount of talent and luck to have so many artists come thru and play on “Lady”
At this point we still just had a banging instrumental with backing vocals.
After dialoging with Merrill, Angelique Kidjo recorded her fiery lead vocals in Paris. Merrill discovered Akua Naru via posts of her music on OkayPlayer.com. With the help of Ginny Suss of OkayPlayer, she reached out to Akua and invited her to contribute to the track. Her serious rhymes have floored everyone in the way they articulate the essence of this new version of the “Lady”.
It was a privilege to have the trust of so many incredible artists in the collaborative process of this recording.
I’m humbled that Red Hot was a part of making this come together.
Executive Producer, The Red Hot Organization