Jun 15, 2011

Fela Kuti - Excuse O (1975)/ Monkey Banana (1975)



Reviews

"Monkey Banana/Excuse O" is another gem in the Fela two-albums-on-one-CD reissue series on MCA. (By the way, the cover art posted on this page is that of "Upside Down" not "Monkey Banana.") It should be noted that unlike some of the other titles in this series, the song "Monkey Banana" was previously available on the original Celluloid label release of "Zombie" in the mid-1980s. Both the original "Monkey Banana" (with its b-side "Sense Wiseness") and "Excuse O" (with its b-side "Mr. Grammarticalogylisationalism is the Boss") LPs were originally released in 1975. This was the beginning of what was arguably Fela's greatest period, and in the next three years he would release more than a dozen albums! While "Zombie" and "Opposite People" are clearly the essential recordings from this period, this disc is not far behind. In fact all of the Fela reissues are really indispensable, and you should get them while you can.

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Two 1975 albums, Monkey Banana and Excuse O, are combined onto this single-disc CD reissue. With two tracks of about a dozen minutes each, Monkey Banana was really more an extended single than a proper album, reflecting a time at which Fela's music was moving even more into long extended grooves. Both of the two cuts, "Monkey Banana" and "Sense Wiseness," have his characteristic blends of improvisational-sounding trades between various instruments and lead and chanting backup vocals, along with his minor-based melodies. "Monkey Banana" reflects his social consciousness in deploring the poor conditions of workers' lives in Nigeria. "Sense Wiseness" has a funkier beat and prominent high, glistening electric keyboards, the backdrop for lyrics criticizing the educated segment of Africa's population for absorbing Western ways. Excuse O again presents two songs in the ten- to 15-minute range occupying entire sides of the release. The 13-minute title cut of "Excuse O" is not much different than his usual excursions into Afro-funk-jazz fusion from the era, though at this point he was moving into rhythms that were more jittery and African-sounding than those he had used on many early-'70s efforts. "Mr. Grammarticalogylisationalism Is the Boss" is his bid for the "longest word used in a song title" contest. The novelty of that title aside, it's one of the better cuts from his mid-'70s discography, with remarkably spooky, effective organ with that odd varispeed tone that sounds like it's playing on warped vinyl, a slow ominous groove, and a blunt critique of Africa's educational system.

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Excuse O (1975)

Excuse O

Excuse O is about natural human reactions to situations we confront in our daily endeavors. If you walk into a bar, ask and pay for a drink and you happen to recognize a friend in the bar, you take time off your table to chat with this friend. While you are at it, another man walks over to your table and drinks your glass of beer, of course you turn round and find him drinking your beer, your reaction will be: ‘Excuse O!’. Same for the person who goes to withdraw five Naira (equivalent of US $5 at that time) from his bank, takes public transport, in the bus the person finds another man trying to pick his pocket, the obvious reaction is: ‘Excuse O!’. For the man who dates a woman for the first time, the situation is even more serious. Particularly since, on their date, he takes the woman to a swimming pool after which they have lunch, from lunch to cinema, from cinema to dinner. After dinner, the man again invites her to have a dance at the Shrine (Fela’s Club). Sitting at a table, after ordering drinks, another man comes to excuse his partner for a dance, he does not object to the first, the second he consents to grudgingly. A third dance? That is enough Mr! Excuse O! will be the reaction from the man.

Mr. Grammarticalogylisationalism is the Boss

This is another of Fela’s songs critical of the education system in Africa—which he calls a poor imitation of the Western education system. The man who speaks better English gets paid more. Fela sings: ‘…the better oyinbo you talk! The more bread you get!’. School certificate education is rated: ‘…grade four bread!’ Bachelor Of Arts(BA): ‘…grade three bread!’, Master Of Science(MSe): ‘…grade two bread!’, and Doctor Of Science (PhD): ‘…grade one bread!’. This is how we are oriented towards Western values. First thing we are given in the morning? News Papers! The brainwash starts from the ‘Big’ English words used in the News Papers…the oyinbo (English) wey dey inside!, na riddle for labourer man! Inside the paper! Jargonism dey!(meaning there is a lot of jargon). Irrelevant issue that has no bearing towards alleviating the sufferings of the poor man on the street. Then the leaders blame the poor man’s problems on “ignorance” and “delinquency”. Fela asks: ‘…who be delinquent? Na them delinquent! Who be delinquent? The oyinbo talker delinquent…! Meaning who is delinquent? The Mr. English Speaker is the one who is delinquent. Referring to the leadership ruling most African countries.

Written by Mabinuori Kayode Idowu



Tracklist

01. Excuse O
02. Mr. Grammarticalogylisationalism is the Boss

Monkey Banana (1975)

Monkey Banana

Monkey Banana is Fela’s advice to those who want to work for the Nigerian status quo without social security, heath insurance, job security, etc., to think twice before slaving for nothing. In his habitual manner of putting-down the Nigerian elite, he sings the popular English expression: ‘A fool at forty is a fool forever’—implying life begins for a man at forty. Fela says he will not advice his brother to wait until forty before the man realizes he has been making a fool of his life. Twenty, for him is the limit to make a fool of one’s life. After that, a man is supposed to know how to take his destiny in his hands. He sings: ‘…book sense different from belly sense’, meaning the reality of hunger is not always the way the elite like to project it. How can the majority of the people in Nigeria still live below poverty line despite the much publicized oil-boom. The Nigerian ‘elite’, who profit from the oil-boom encourage the younger generation to be optimistic, hoping the living standards of the average conscientious worker will improve one day. Fela advises the contrary, saying corruption and mismanagement of the Nigerian economy is responsible for the poor state of the social order. Calling on the worker to stop slaving for nothing, he compares the worker to a monkey, that can only be enticed to dance if you offer it the banana. He concludes by saying: ‘…before I jump like monkey, give me banana’.

Sense Wiseness

Fela, in this song, is singing of the state of alienation in which the educated elite in the African society find themselves. After their education in Western ways and mannerisms, the educated elite in Africa try to distance themselves from the ghetto. Sense Wiseness is Fela’s sarcastic way of saying: ‘book sense is different from street sense’. The song starts with: ‘You are student! You been to grammar school (college)! You graduate MA! MSe! and PhD! You go for London! You Go for New York! You come for Lagos? You start to miss your road! One boy for Mushin(ghetto)! Him hustle you! For Ajegunle (another ghetto area)! You ne get mouth! For Jankara (big ghetto market)! Your money lost!’ In conclusion, all your travels in those cities are not enough to see you trough the realities of the world. If you learn things from other parts of the world, don’t forget your roots. The only way to keep abreast of things is to always identify with your roots.

Written by Mabinuori Kayode Idowu



Tracklist

01. Sense Wiseness
02. Monkey Banana

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