So once again we have survived.

Ginger Baker in Africa

tn_gingerbakerWell, I’m feeling good, my new book is getting good reviews, I got the next two days off work. What should I do? How ’bout review something even more obscure than the other day’s comments-killer THE DEADLY ART OF SURVIVAL? I mean, if I had to guess I’d say this one was probly a little better known that that one, but I can’t even find it listed on IMDb. So everybody’s gonna think I made it up. They need documentation and records. But I swear to you, I watched GINGER BAKER IN AFRICA on an officially released DVD and everything.

Before you get too excited, I gotta tell you that GINGER BAKER IN AFRICA is not at all like SHAFT IN AFRICA. It’s much more experimental. It’s about how in 1971 Ginger Baker, the drummer from Cream, wanted to build a recording studio in Nigeria, so he flew to Marrakech and then drove across the desert. Although it’s real footage it’s not really what you would usually think of as a documentary. It doesn’t really explain much, but it also doesn’t linger on scenes long enough to be direct cinema. It’s pretty confusing. It doesn’t matter.

mp_gingerbakerIt’s lots of footage jumping around (not always in order) showing different sights in the villages and cities he visits. Businesses with hand-painted signs, rotten animal bodies covered in flies, “birds of prey” flying overhead. Baker narrates like a beat poet, his voice distorted like it’s rattling through a vent or a pipe. There are a couple cartoon parts, very stoned-out ’70s looking, underground comic book/psychedelic album cover style. Also it keeps cutting to a map to show progress, like an old serial. But mostly it’s lots and lots of footage of Ginger Baker driving a Jeep through the hot desert, looking real cool in the glimmer of the magic hour, narrating about the terror of being surrounded by dust. And he has to change alot of tires, too.

And then there’s the music. The movie starts and ends with a crazy jame session. Pale-faced, frizzy-red-haired Ginger pounding away, lost in the rhythm, his face stupid-high, probly off of both the music and unnamed drugs although it could be just the music, who knows? And in this little room there’s a gang of Nigerian musicians including another guy on drums and some dudes rocking out on some psychedelic fuzz bass and guitar. And I think at some point I saw a white dude with an afro playing a flute, but that might’ve been a mirage.

One thing I really enjoy about this is you see alot of people wearing traditional African clothes and some of them living in huts, so for an ignorant American like me it’s easy to assume they’re separate from the rest of the world, living some quaint tribal lifestyle I could never understand. But then you look at these guys, and you know they want to be the African Jimi Hendrix, and they probly got all the Funkadelic records at home. Rock n roll went all over the place. We’re not that different from each other.

He also visits some places where they do live a more traditional lifestyle, and he jams with those guys too. He demonstrates how a talking drum works. (To the cameras, not to the locals. That would be pretty condescending if he demonstrated it to them.)

No offense to Ginger, but my favorite scene as far as the music goes was the one where he wasn’t playing. It’s after he meets up with the legendary Fela Kuti, and you see Fela and his band performing for a while. Holy shit. I know people love Fela, but I’m not familiar with him. I guess he must be like George Clinton, not playing an instrument or anything but being more of a ringleader, putting together this mad assault of rhythm and horns. I don’t think it even shows him singing. Just dancing crazily. Man, the women shake so fast in this movie, it’s intense. Like the music is gonna make them explode. Anyway, I got a better idea what Fela’s about now that I saw this.

Even when it’s not showing people play it’s a constant musical barrage. Most of the movie you hear the frenzied type of jamming you’d hear at the end of a long show before the band throws their instruments down and struts off stage. The sound is kind of tinny, I don’t know if that means he didn’t do a very good job setting up the studio or they just didn’t archive it properly for the DVD. But it just adds to the hazy, druggy feel of the whole thing.

This movie takes you back to a time when it was cool to be worldly. Ginger’s down with the Nigerians. He doesn’t act like a tourist. He just walks around like he belongs there, and alot of people seem to know him. Hey, it’s Ginger. Get the guitars. It’s not like Schwarzenegger’s PARTY IN RIO, he doesn’t seem to have hosts bringing him to all the tourist joints, and I definitely didn’t notice him groping anybody.

Ah hell, the only way you’ll understand is if I give you a taste:

The cover says “Tony Palmer’s film of Ginger Baker in Africa.” I looked up Tony Palmer, turns out he directed Frank Zappa’s 200 MOTELS, so he knows how to hang around some crazy shit that makes no sense. But it doesn’t matter. I’m glad he got this shit on film. You don’t have to understand it, you just have to feel it.

Unless IMDb is right and this movie doesn’t exist. If so please disregard this review.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, April 29th, 2010 at 6:53 pm and is filed under Documentary, Music, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

31 Responses to “Ginger Baker in Africa”

  1. I’ve never heard of this but hell the drummer from Cream ain’t no slouch so I’ll check it out. Speaking of gingers have we all seen this yet?

    http://vimeo.com/11219730

  2. Stoked for the new MIA album, saw her a few years ago. It was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Also, Fela Kuti is cool. I prefer his music to Cream. Not much to say about this movie, because I’ll never find it anywhere, and as far as movies I’ll never find go, I’m still waiting for Trashhumpers to come out on DVD. After that, maybe we’ll talk.

  3. I saw TRASH HUMPERS in the theater. If there was a way to give you that experience in exchange for the time back I gladly would.

  4. Sounds like an African-set version of Block Party. Or maybe Block Party was a Brooklyn-set version of this. Guy wanders around, sampling the local scene, putting together a musical crew, all that good stuff.

  5. Gwai Lo – That blew my mind.

  6. Well, I[m not expecting Trash Humpers to be good, but I am expecting a few friends to act like it is, and I guess the thought of Marmony Korine and friends humping trash for 80 minutes or so sounds appealing to me.

  7. Man, that Mellotron (blaring-sounding keyboard playing to the right of Ginger) is so freaking distorted for the first part of that jam I thought for a second that’s what Tony Palmer was talking about when he says “oops” into the microphone. But what can you do, man. In the words of the estimable Robert Fripp, “tuning a Mellotron doesn’t.”

    Anyway, this band is clearly on fire, particularly the bassist around the seven minute mark, and any footage of Fela Kuti’s players is going to be worth its weight in gold. These people ended up recording an album together, Stratovarious (1972), which is now collected here, in case you were looking to spend any of your hard-earned YIPPEE KI-YAY royalties on some funky rhythms.

    About as rare, it would appear, is the footage of Ginger Baker smiling. Rolling Stone ran an interview a few months back that showed a bitter and relentlessly angry old man who has pushed anyone and everyone who’s ever cared about him far away from himself so he can hunker down in his African bunker with his polo ponies, his satellite soccer matches (“Yankee! NO FUCKING TALKING DURING FOOTBALL!” he kept screaming at the interviewer), and his occasional drum solo, when his back is agreeing with him. Quite sad.

    Finally, I thought I’d share this anecdote about Fela Kuti from a piece Jay Babcock wrote in Mean magazine about a decade ago:

    “[In 1974, Nigerian] police raided [Kuti’s] house again, this time attempting to plant weed on Fela. He asked to look at the evidence–and ate it, right in front of the surprised officers. Once again, Fela was hauled off to jail, where the prosecutors demanded he produce feces containing the marijuana. Fela wouldn’t. He was set three days in Timbuktu, a floating cell anchored in the Lagos Lagoon behind the prison. Eventually, he defecated the weed in secret, and provided ‘clean’ shit to the authorities, who rushed it to the lab for analysis. The results were negative. Fela was released, and immediately wrote another hit album, entitled ‘Expensive Shit’, detailing his experiences.”

    That, my friends, is badass.

  8. Vern, you should check out this terrific documentary about Fela Kuti: MUSIC IS THE WEAPON (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0483296/)… He was once interviewed in London about his influences and thought about it for a long, long time. The interviewer assumed he’d say James Brown (an easy assumption – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBgewcFh-cg) but he eventually replied, with great seriousness: “Johann Sebastian Bach…”

    Some friends of mine worked on a vaguely similar project to Ginger Baker, entitled DAMBÉ: THE MALI PROJECT (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1206539/), but I’m not sure how available it is on DVD.

  9. weird, I thought imdb pretty much listed every movie ever made

    I mean they have hundreds and hundreds of pages devoted to porn films for crying out loud

  10. here’s my personal favorite with a hilarious user reviews for “White Butts Drippin’ Chocolate Nuts 4”

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0453964/

  11. My comment is awaiting moderation? What if I take out all the links…

    “Vern, you should check out the terrific documentary about Fela Kuti: MUSIC IS THE WEAPON … He was once interviewed in London about his influences and thought about it for a long, long time. The interviewer assumed he’d say James Brown, but he eventually replied, with great seriousness: “Johann Sebastian Bach…”

    Some friends of mine worked on a vaguely similar project to Ginger Baker, entitled DAMBÉ: THE MALI PROJECT, but I’m not sure how available it is on DVD.”

  12. One of the my favorite facts about Ginger Baker that always amuses me is that he was supposedly the inspiration for the appearance of Animal on THE MUPPET SHOW (the wild red hair). Animal’s behavior was more based on John Bonham and Keith Moon, though, which is in keeping with the mellow traveler Vern describes in the review….(although it sounds like he’s gotten a whole lot less mellow in recent years.)

  13. If you haven’t heard much Fela, you should pretty much go buy the album Zombie right the fuck now.

  14. Turn’s out this movie does exist after all. (Which means there’s probably a remake in the works.) See here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1518508/

    It’s actually part of a docu-series. Maybe there are some other worthwhile episodes as well?

  15. Yeah, Vern, Fela is right up your alley: heavy, heavy funk with an in-your-face fuck-the-man message. I’d like him a lot more if any of his songs were shorter than a half-hour, though. Sometimes that’s more of a commitment than I’m willing to make.

  16. Jareth Cutestory

    April 30th, 2010 at 8:07 am

    Vern: Fela Kuti was a multi-instrumentalist and composer. He primary played saxophone and the keyboards, but he was also proficient on the trumpet and guitar.

    Kuti changed his given middle name from “Ransome,” which he considered a “slave name,” to “Anikulapo,” which translates to “he who carries death in his pouch.” Like MattMan said, total badass. Remember how you celebrated the insanity of Julie Taymor’s biography? Fela lead a similarly insane life.

  17. Jareth Cutestory

    April 30th, 2010 at 8:19 am

    Mr. Majestyk: I expect that you know Kuti’s son Femi Kuti plays a cleaner, more succinct version of his father’s music (ie. shorter songs). I prefer Fela’s stuff, but Femi’s most recent record shows a big improvement in his singing. And it’s so freaking amazing to hear Femi’s 13 piece band play so tight.

  18. Jareth: I’ve only heard one Femi record, and it was a bit TOO clean for me, production-wise. It didn’t really stick with me, I must say, but perhaps I will give him another chance.

  19. Jareth Cutestory

    April 30th, 2010 at 8:46 am

    That’s my problem with Femi too. Femi’s “Day by Day” is where you notice the big improvement from his early stuff, but it’s still pretty slick.

    It’s interesting, isn’t it, how the kids of musical trailblazers often put out such mediocre, bland music, like Jacob Dylan, Ziggy Marley, Julian Lennon. At least Femi kept some of his dad’s politics.

  20. I will defend the work of Nancy Sinatra, but that’s mostly because of Lee Hazlewood. As he proved on his “Cowboy In Sweden” album, he could make a decent psychedelic country record co-starring pretty much any breathy blond singer.

  21. Jareth Cutestory

    April 30th, 2010 at 9:10 am

    Oh yeah, “Some Velvet Morining” is awesome. I like Charlotte Gainsboug too. And certainly no one will accuse Rufus Wainwright of being bland. Jeff Buckley has plenty of fans too.

    Okay, I just shot holes in my own arguement.

  22. Don’t care for Ziggy Marley, but I’m awaiting Damien’s Nas collaboration with baited breath. I haven’t heard much of either of the two Marley kids, but Damien always seemed like the better artist, mostly because he seems to give a shit about something besides getting high and adhering to a really shitty religion.

    Admittedly, my anticipation is due entirely to Nas, who’s been on a roll for quite a while. I’m hoping for something like this-
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXR5sDOrS-c

    Nas could be inventing folk-rap in the next few years if this type of stuff keeps up. I know I want to hear it.

  23. This discussion has veered into weird places that are tangentially related to the fact that the video I posted in the first comment is a music video directed by Romain Gavras, son of renowned filmmaker Costa Gavras (Z, STATE OF SIEGE, MISSING, MAD CITY). Thought I’d bring it up. And Zowie Bowie is directing crackerjack sci-fi too dontcha know.

    loudabagel – if you want to hear more stuff like that man just get your hands on all the Gil Scott-Heron you can find.

  24. Vern as long as you are reviewing musical documentaries I would like to suggest(again) The Future Is Unwritten which happens to be about the only band that matters.

  25. This sounds like a pretty cool watch.

    There’s probably never going to be another opportunity to bring it up, but I bought this cracking little collection a year or so ago:
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Nigeria-Rock-Special-Various-Artists/dp/B0016A8E6K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1272672284&sr=8-1
    It doesn’t always work, but when the mixture of African rhythms and overloaded guitar is just right then you get something pretty special. There are two or three crackingly fuzzy wah-wah guitar breaks which are probably worth the money on their own.

  26. Justin Townes Earle is pretty good

  27. I couldn’t find the “Zombie” album yet so I failed to get it immediately as commanded. But I got the live one with Fela and Ginger Baker, I’m guessing from the same show that’s in the documentary. It’s good shit.

  28. Hi Vern,

    Knowing you’re a fan of old-school funk, have you heard the new Janelle Monae? Her album came out this week.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ys4GpR6v0TQ&feature=related

  29. Since I must abide by the Striving for Excellence credo, I have found the IMDb information for this. It was an episode of a 1970s television documentary series called Omnibus. You can actually find the link on Tony Palmer’s page where he is listed as the director of four episodes:

    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0658482/

    Or skip straight to the episode itself:

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1518508/

  30. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5seWMYG9kk

    http://www.rollingstone.com/music/blogs/alternate-take/beware-of-mr-baker-a-documentary-about-the-genius-and-terror-of-drummer-ginger-baker-20121204

    New documentary on Ginger, featuring a who’s who of Classic Rock royalty, and especially drummers.Not to mention him abusing the film’s director.

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