Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday Fela; Gentleman

Now that the election is over and we're settling into another political cycle, I want to start doing a bit more non-political stuff. To that end I'm starting this series, Friday Fela. I hope you like it.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usFor those who aren't familiar with him, Fela Kuti was born in Nigeria in 1938 and was the origionator of the afrobeat style of music. In 1958 his parents sent him to London to go to medical school but he instead went to music school.

While on tour in Los Angeles in 1969 he discovered American Black Nationalism and his music quickly grew more political. When he went back to Nigeria he formed the Kalakuta Republic, a sort of community center/commune/socialist experiment.

The period from 1970 to 1977 would prove to be Fela's most prolific musically and influential politically. He would release no less than 24 albums during this period, most of them consisting of two or three songs, with each song lasting around 15 minutes, which is why you never hear him on the radio.

In 1977 the Nigierian government raided the Kalakuta Republic and threw his 82 year old mother out of a second story window, eventually resulting in her death. This event marks the end of Fela's prolific music making period and the beginning of his more overtly political ambitions.

Fela died in 1997 from complications related to AIDS. This press release from the United Democratic Front of Nigeria is a fitting summation of Fela's life:

Those who knew you well were insistent that you could never compromise with the evil you had fought all your life. Even though made weak by time and fate, you remained strong in will and never abandoned your goal of a free, democratic, socialist Africa.

Now on to Friday Fela...


Image Hosted by ImageShack.usRecorded in 1973, Gentleman, like most of Fela's early 70's music, is a scathing critique of post-colonialist African culture.

Nigeria, like the rest of Africa, was emerging from a past in which their culture was dominated by colonial powers. As a result, even though the British had left Nigeria, many Nigerians still clung to aspects of that culture.

Fela sought to undermine these remnants of colonialism by mocking them in much of his early music.

In one verse he points out the absurdity of Africans who still dress like the colonialists:

Africa hot, I like am so
I know what to wear but my friends don't know
Him put him socks, him put him shoe
Him put him pant, him put him singlet
Him put him trouser, him put him shirt
Him put him tie, him put him coat
Him come cover all with him hat
Him be gentleman
Him go sweat all over
Him go faint right down
Him go smell like shit
Him go piss for body, him no go know
Me I no be gentleman like that

Besides the great lyrics, Gentleman is an ultra funky song that, like most of Fela's music, you just can't help but shake your ass to. Gentleman is also the debut of Fela on Saxophone, an instrument that would come to symbolize him.

Earlier in 1973 Igo Chico, Fela's sax player, left the band. Instead of getting a new sax player Fela decided he would learn the instrument himself. Three months later Gentleman was recorded and opens with a classic Fela sax solo.

While I would rather listen to almost any Fela song than 97% of the music being made today, Gentleman is among one of his best, truly a musical masterpiece. Enjoy!

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