Gentleman (1973) / Confusion (1974)


The prelude to Fela’s mid-1970s purple period, when one masterpiece followed another in rapid succession (Fela released an extraordinary nineteen albums of newly recorded material between 1975 and 1977 alone). The title track has one of Fela’s all-time greatest lyrics. "I no be gentleman at all," he sings. “Africa hot, I like am so; I know what to wear but my friend don’t know; him put him socks him put him shoes; him put him pants 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….I no be gentleman at all-o; I be Africa man original.“ The song is the first of many on which Fela addressed the post-colonial cultural inferiority-complex which he believed was distorting Africa’s development. It is not necessary to abandon your own culture in the pursuit of progress, he points out. Originally released by EMI.

Casual listeners sometimes say that Afrobeat all sounds the same. While it does not, of course, any more than hip hop or opera or jazz all sounds the same, it is true that Afrobeat’s signature characteristics did become codified during the mid-1970s. But Fela continued to experiment musically right up until the end of his life. There is nothing codified about Confusion, for instance, which throws away any alleged rule book. Taking up where Ginger Baker’s trippy production of He Miss Road left off earlier in the year, it begins with a five minute, free-rhythm dialogue between drummer Tony Allen and Fela on electric piano. Full of distorted, spacey textures, it sounds like the overture to a sci-fi movie. And that is just for starters. Originally released by EMI.

Fela Kuti