Jul 8, 2011

Fela Kuti - Sorrow, Tears and Blood (1977)/ Opposite People (1977)


1977′s Opposite People is another hard Afrofunk workout, with even a featured Fela sax solo before he utters a word, which is incidentally about ten minutes into this sixteen and a half minute opus. He weaves in and out of the call and response female backing vocals, before getting more overtly funky with a bit of Nigerian James Brown-feel. It’s probably one his lesser known tunes but, as an expression of people who go against the wishes of the masses, it’s a cracker. Clocking in at about the same time the curiously titled ‘Equalization of the Trouser and Pant’ has a much slower tempo and as a result is a little more jazzier with a great horn riff, a kind of amalgamation of high-life and old school funk, though it’s a relaxed kicked back song, somewhat playful, and of course Fela only pops in with vocals at about ten and a half minutes. It’s metaphorical Fela; using underwear to describe even the most seemingly insignificant article can be incredibly important. So too with people.

Released in 1977 Sorrow Tears and Blood was the first of Fela’s self released albums on his own Kalakuta Records, after being dropped by his label following the raid on his commune. Of course he was forced to go to court to get these masters returned, and was eventually successful. Whilst it’s easy to attribute the sentiments expressed in this piece to the violence Fela and his authorities experienced at the hands of the military and government, the tune was inspired by the 1976 Soweto uprising in South Africa in which students rioted against the forced teaching of Afrikaans. It’s Fela’s Ohio, and it’s easy to see how the events in south Africa appealed to his own struggle against authorities. They leave sorrow tears and blood, their regular trademark he offers on a much moodier, more subdued mid-tempo piece that is laden with enough emotion to be one his best works.

Of course Colonial Mentality was an ongoing theme for Fela, one that he would return to in numerous forms over the course of his career. He talks of judges who put on white wigs to jail their brothers, of putting on the air conditioner to shut out the climate, the African elites adopting the manners and beliefs of their colonial masters and in a sense remaining slaves. The tune has a real grinding slow burn feel, Fela’s sax just grinding away, the music as a whole just grinding along seemingly innocuously until your attention shifts from his vocals to the way this highly repetitive music just keeps coming at you in waves, highlighted by the backup singers just rolling with the groove while Fela goes off to amuse himself at the keyboard.

This collection of two of the albums he created in 1977 demonstrates the effects that the raids on his Kalakuti Republic had. Reaching out to the Apartheid struggle in South Africa it’s hard not to see similarities with his own struggles with the government, with multinational corporations (i.e. his former record company), and the elites in Lagos who continue to do the bidding of white man. Angry eloquent and a little bit cheeky, this is some of Fela’s best work.

cyclicdefrost.com, written by Bob Baker Fish


Sorrow Tears and Blood (1977) accurately depicts the trail left in the wake of the February 18, 1977, raid by 1,000 armed Nigerian army men on Fela Kuti and his Kalakuta republic. In keeping with the format upheld on a majority of Kuti's long-players, this disc contains a pair of extended works, featuring one title per LP side. In contrast to the hard-edged and aggressive Afro-funk that Kuti and his Africa 70 became synonymous with, both the A-side title track and B-side, "Colonial Mentality," are seemingly staid, in light -- or perhaps because -- of the cruel state-sponsored attacks that he and his extended family suffered. "Sorrow Tears and Blood" is neither a full-blown, up-tempo funk drone nor a somber dirge. The even-handed, mid-tempo groove trots along at a steady pace and features some comparatively sedate sax work from Kuti. Even the instrumental introduction -- which has been known to clock in at over five minutes -- is reduced to well under three. His lyrics are starkly direct -- "Everybody run, run, run/Everybody scatter, scatter/Some people lost some bread/Some people just die" -- yet the emotive center is gone. Perhaps this is the result of fear, shellshock, or a combination of the two. Kuti's words, however, remain as indicting as ever: "Them leave sorrow, tears, and blood/Them regular trademark." "Colonial Mentality" returns to a more seething and slinky musicality. The dark and brooding bassline undulates beneath a brass-intensive Africa 70. Rarely has Kuti's musical arrangements so perfectly imaged James Brown's J.B.'s or Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra. The message is delivered as a fable, demonstrating that it is the individuals who live in a stifling "Colonial Mentality" who are the slaves. His preface, stating that the colonial man had released them yet they refuse to release themselves, sets out to prove that slavery is a continual and concurrent state of mind for Africans. In 2000, Sorrow Tears and Blood was coupled with Opposite People (1977) and both long-players were issued on a single CD as part of the "Fela Originals" collection. The sound is quite good despite some vinyl surface noise, presumably from the source material.



The two albums included on Opposite People/Tears of Sorrow book-ended the Nigerian army's deadly raid of the Kalakuta Republic, Fela Kuti's self-appointed independent state domicile, and Kuti's hostile feelings toward upper-class Nigeria are prominent on both sessions. Opposite People, recorded between 1976 and 1977, is brave and brassy, beaming with an almost joyful defiance on the title track. This album isn't particularly outspoken, focusing on the celebration of freethinking and only referring to politics through a metaphor about pants (yes, pants). But Tears of Sorrow, the first recording released after the Kalakuta's capture, is fiercer; the band's sound almost seeming to drip blood. Slower and more persistent, the ominous grooves here no longer bother with metaphor, crying out bluntly, "some people lost some bread, someone just died...them leave sorrow, tears, and blood." Alongside Woody Guthrie's Struggle, this is as stirring as musical social protest gets. "Sorrow Tears and Blood" boils over with Fela's singing and the frantic call-response of horns and chorus; the scattering sounds of people fleeing a police-and-army attack. And "Colonial Mentality" calls for a united Africa to stand up against its widespread leftovers of imperialism. The entire collection is chock-full of Kuti's distinctive polyrhythmic orchestra-funk in top form.



Critics at amazon.com:

Its rare that you can listen to an album that stands alone both on MUSIC and MESSAGE... Fela's music consistantly does this... one element doesn't compensate for the other... both are presented at an unbelievably high spiritual and musical level. Take SORROW TEARS & BLOOD... well before Fela's powerful message comes in, the tune is unbelievably musically engaging in depth and funk... Coltrane with a JB pocket.... then Fela comes in mocking the sounds of an approaching police car with his voice... (*anyone familiar with Fela, especially as his music matured is well aware of the brilliant way his pieces just build and build and not simply "stop" where you'd expect them to, but to keep going in interesting directions.) - - within moments, Fela is wise enough to state the first chorus of his verse several times prior to "chanting" his scathing indictment of the army and police in his own country (which can be assumed to also represent police and military abuse throughout the world)... in response the well orchestrated chorus responds with the same vigor and intensity of the horn's JB like horn punches letting you know that they agree and are listening... After the message has been stated Fela delivers his message, then returns to that incredible verse of his once again, then the vocals make way for his solo, Fela being one of the one of the only men in history who could probably be described as both the African JAMES BROWN (actually JB said this) and John Coltrane (my opinion).

The first time I heard some of the tunes on this album I remember it hit me similar to the first time I discvoered modern Jazz... I had turned the radio dial too far to the left, and heard this music that was so different and non-worldly that I wound up just laying on the floor feeling the world was spinning and not knowing what was going on... it was like a religious experience. Rarely since had I had such feelings toward music... but when I listened to Fela's BLACK PRESIDENT CD (which had two of the tunes from this album) it happened all over agin.

Though Fela has developed a cult following since his death, I think the world has yet to truly describeda man with a message as strong and powerful as the Marley's and Gil Scott Heron's and groove that has MANY REVIEWS uttering the words JB and ART BLAKEY in the same breath (and actually knowing what they're talking about.)

(P.S. The Vocal arrangements over the incredibly mysterious, sharp, yet funky rhythmic groove and horn arrangements in COLONIAL MENTALITY in my book serve as high points in musical innovation and performance.)


It's twenty years ago that I first listened to Fela. Funny how time flies. I was a musician at the time, looking for a new direction, something that wouldn't grow stale so easily, and to me Fela represented it. My first record of his was Sorrow Tears And Blood. This music has the power to grab you and never let go. It's relaxed, yet pulsing, funky cool, yet heart warming. This is about real life problems, heroism, suppression, fearlesness and integrity. Reading up on his life adds dimension to the music. Be forewarned though. Once you've heard Fela Anikulapo Kuti ('the one who carries death in his pouch') it will be hard to go back to silly love songs and shallow commercial tunes. Although not a mainstream name, Fela more than deserves a place among the musical legends of the 20th century. If the quality of the true classics is that they don't grow stale, Fela is right up there with them. His music is timeless.


This album explains why Fela Kuti is the undisputed King of Afrobeat, but I could say the same for most of his albums (minus the misogynistic songs, which really are few :). You can't go wrong with this album if you love afrobeat. To be honest, while all the songs are wonderful, my favourite is Colonial Mentality because it reminds me of the struggle to decolonize from European culture. Whether you are a huge Fela Kuti fan or a beginner, this is still the CD to buy. These songs should've made it to his Best Best compilation but for some reason they didn't. I still HIGHLY recommend it!


Sorrow, Tears and Blood (1977)

Fela wrote the title track of this album as a response to the Soweto Uprising of 1976 in which thousands of South African students protested the forced teaching of Afrikaans, the colonial language of Apartheid. During the uprising and the ensuing riots, hundreds of students were killed. The song calls out killings that have gone on in the name of authority and totalitarian rule as well as the instruments of repression of colonial Africa – the police and the army. In this way the song indirectly references the brutality that Fela and his family have experienced in the series of raids on his family compound, the Kalakuta Republic. The musical composition parallels the somber tone of the lyrics; focused and direct, the track avoids the bombastic funk of many of Fela’s compositions.

“Colonial Mentality” follows in the same manner, pointing out that those who wish to live in a post-colonial mentality are in essence living as slaves. Musically, the Africa 70 returns to a more funk and jazzy grooves while relaying a pertinent message to those who looked to Fela as a leader of the resistance.

Written by Mabinuori Kayode Idowu


1. Sorrow Tears and Blood
2. Colonial Mentality

Opposite People (1977)

“Opposite People” is a rant expressing Fela’s aggravation with people who are contrary or go against the grain of the crowd. His annoyance extends to a person who ruins the fun of a group of people dancing, or someone who is trying to speak seriously when others are simply enjoying themselves. “Equalization of Trouser and Pant” explains that all people are equal both naturally and under the law; everyone has a role to claim in society. He uses the graphic example of underwear to explain his point – underwear may seem insignificant, but we all need our underwear at the end of the day, or we’ll be naked underneath our trousers. In other words, the small man in society is just as important as the big man.

Written by Mabinuori Kayode Idowu


1. Opposite People
2. Equalisation Of Trouser and Pant

1 comment: