Great Albums You May Have Missed: Fela Kuti's 'Gentleman'
Afrobeat has been called the soundtrack to post-colonial Africa: reviving the indigenous rhythms eminating from the soil and from the blood, internalizing the best aspects of other cultures and molding them into something new, and making people dance with honest smiles on their faces even while addressing the issues of intense poverty and widespread human rights abuses at the hands of corrupt governments.
Fela Kuti's 1973 release, Gentleman, is one such recording. Fela Kuti is credited with all-but-single-handedly inventing the Afrobeat sound; he certainly named it and championed it like no other. Gentleman is an outright audible assault of infectious, funky grooves deniable by none.
American popular music was having a tremendous effect on pop music worldwide. Jazz had for decades been re-melded into existing traditions in Brazil, Cuba, India, and all over Africa; and had certainly also been born out of some of these same musical traditions. In the 1960s, Jamaican musicians like Bob Marley were getting inspired listening to American doowop groups and Motown acts, surf music was inspiring southeast Asian pop groups into occasionally downright bizarre directions, and British rock groups had begun devouring early Mississippi Delta Blues recordings.
However, as beautiful as cross-cultural, musical influences had so often proven to be, Fela felt the situation across Africa had allowed it to lose much of it's own identity and pride in the face of decades of unceasing colonial rule. This, for Fela, extended not only to art and music, but to politics, society, and psychology as well. He used his lyrics to call out his fellow Africans for allowing a colonial mentality to linger even after colonialism had gone. Further, at a time when oil was bringing tremendous wealth into Nigeria, most Nigerian people were sharing in none of it. The struggles he sang about, and the corruption he constantly brought into the light, proved to have massive appeal among those who felt they did not have a voice; and for years he suffered violence, hospitalization, arson, jail, and the assassination of his mother at the hands of the military government he dared criticize because of it. He was as well-known for bringing elements of traditional African influences back into African pop music as for his life-long dream of a free, democratic-socialist Africa.
As unyielding as his politics were, it was his musical abilities and magnetic stage presence which gave him such an important and far-reaching voice. Afrobeat is among the most recognizable styles of music worldwide, and any music lover who gets just a taste will undoubtedly be left wanting more. I can almost guarantee it!
NYPL CATALOG LINKS:
-Please click on the thumbnail below to preview the title track to Gentleman.-
provided for previewing purposes only.
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CD quality audio tracks.
* Fela Kuti tragically fell victim to AIDS-related complications in 1997. His funeral was attended by over a million people.