Jul 28, 2011
Fela Kuti - Stalemate (1977)/ Fear Not For Man (1977)
Although the original liner notes report that Stalemate was "recorded during the Kalakuta crisis," the album is surprisingly non-confrontational. Modern day notes explain that the singer was distracted by a number of outside issues, such as his sudden homelessness and legal battles with Decca West Africa, but the album's decidedly lighthearted tone is perhaps an attempt to demonstrate to his oppressors that Fela Kuti had escaped the Kalakuta conflict with his health and determination intact. "Stalemate" is a slice-of-life song depicting everyday situations where two groups of people are at odds with each other; "Don't Worry About My Mouth O (African Message)" finds Kuti as a schoolmaster teaching his students to reject Western toothbrushes and toilet paper in favor of traditional African chewing sticks and water. Fear Not for Man is less about message and more about grooves, with the title track preaching briefly about the importance of being courageous before embarking on an extended instrumental jam. One of the more peculiar tracks in Kuti's catalog, "Palm Wine Sound" is a Caribbean-styled instrumental that finishes the album in the highlife spirit of carefree fun and dancing.
Despite a massive attack by 1,000 armed Nigerian army men on his Kalakuta Republic compound on February 18, 1977, Fela Kuti, accompanied by his Africa '70, resumed his prolific musical output -- which yielded in excess of half-a-dozen long-players a year since 1975. While the exact recording date is not documented, it could easily be surmised that Stalemate -- like Opposite People -- was recorded prior to the incident. Another correlation between the two releases is that the subject matter is more social than political in content. In keeping with tradition, the album Stalemate consist of two extended pieces -- one per side. The title track has a mid-tempo trance groove that bends and yields to Kuti's call and response with Africa '70. After a lengthy instrumental introduction -- thoroughly establishing the buoyant rhythm -- Kuti begins his half-spoken/half-sung observations. His subject matter, as is often the case, deals with relationships between people and using logic to avoid conflict. One valuable lesson that can be derived from "Stalemate" is keeping one's opinions to one's self until all facts have been presented -- thus, avoiding a stalemate. The B-side track contains an equally funk-driven piece, whose subject matter is steeped in native African tradition. The moral struggle between convention and invention collide on "Don't Worry About My Mouth O..." Kuti's rap explains the heritage and preference in the African "chewing stick" versus the toothbrush/toothpaste combination so popular in most of the world. The rear cover even includes photos of Kuti using the said "chewing stick." He also makes a few clever analogies between the healthy mouth and the things that come out of it. [In 2000, Stalemate was reissued on CD coupled with another 1977 release, Fear Not for Man -- which contains the rare instrumental "Palm Wine Sound."]
talemate and Fear Not For Man were among the first albums to be released by Kuti following the sack of Kalakuta. It is likely, however, that neither album, contrary to some reports, was recorded following the February events—despite the original sleeve for Stalemate carrying the back cover message: "Recorded during the Kalakuta Crisis!!." Parts of both albums have a laid back, at times even lighthearted vibe (though not, assuredly, the title track of Fear Not For Man), and it is inconceivable that Kuti, of all people, would have recorded such music in the aftermath of the outrage. His response came later, on albums such as Sorrow Tears And Blood (reviewed below) and Unknown Soldier.
"Fear Not For Man" sounds like a work in progress interrupted by the attack, and the original LP's B-side, the attractive, anachronistic, highlife-tinged instrumental, "Palm Wine Sound," sounds like an earlier recording included to fill out the playing time and enable a quick release during a profoundly difficult period. "Fear Not For Man" opens with Kuti citing Kwame Nkrumah's statement, "The secret of life is to have no fear!." And that's about it with the lyric. The brevity and actual sound of the vocal resembles a guide track, suggesting that Kuti had intended to come back later and record an extended lyric, before being temporarily overtaken by events. But the instrumental passages, built on an edgy blend of funk, in the bass guitar, and Afrobeat, in the drums, are amongst the most ferocious Afrika 70 ever recorded.
Stalemate is a more finished affair, suggesting it was ready for release at the time of the attack. The title track is, by Kuti's standards, lyrically inconsequential, discussing social and domestic stand-offs, without deeper metaphorical allusion. "Don't Worry About My Mouth-O" weighs African personal hygiene and dress habits (chewing sticks not toothpaste, water not Andrex, traditional clothing not suits and ties) against Western practices, and finds the latter wanting.
Read the full article at allaboutjazz.
Stalemate is one of 10 or so albums that Nigerian Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti would release during 1977 alone. In February his compound had been attacked by the army and though later in the year a ban on his performing live had been lifted, though the heavy handed and intimidatory tactics of the government and army rendered any performances impossible and a penniless Fela went into self imposed exile in Ghana.
The 13 minute Stalemate, is very relaxed, almost cocktail afrobeat, minimal, low key, with a gentle groove flowing throughout. It was during this period that Fela was becoming increasingly political and you can hear this on Stalemate, where begins with some spoken word, posing a number of situations that all inevitably end in stalemate. Interestingly, and rarely for Fela, it’s his back up singers who steal the limelight fulfilling the melodic duties, whilst Fela is surprisingly circumspect. The b-side is the fifteen and a half minute Don’t Worry About My Mouth O is again another minimal low key affair that proceeds at a gentle canter. Fela is again just talking, making the music stop when he speaks, resulting in it coming across almost as some kind of skit. The general gist seems to be don’t worry about Fela, he’s been taught well by his African forefathers.
Fear Not For Man perhaps references his recent attack via the artwork in which his face defiantly playing his sax has blood superimposed over it. Released in 1977, it again is another relaxed http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifsunny Afrobeat groove, in which he begins by saying ‘the secret of life is to have no fear, we have to understand that.’ The irony is that for all the lightness this is Fela’s provocation to the military, saying that they could beat him and his people but they’re never going to stop him.
The album ends in a rarity for someone with so much to say – an instrumental called Palm Wine Sound, which has a real cocktail jazz feel. Again like both of these albums it’s quite basic and low key, but it is funky as hell and it’s nice to let the message go and just enjoy the music.
Whilst during this period the politics increasingly found their way into his lyrics, musically everything is simpler, minimal, almost austere, but most of all the tempo and urgency has slowed to a halt, like his focus has now shifted from the urgency and passion of his youth to a more incisive political and social commentary.
Bob Baker Fish
The title track, “Stalemate” refers to the tug of war between the masses and the government and begins with Fela speak-singing over a mellow Afrobeat groove. On the b-side, “Don’t Worry About My Mouth O”, Fela proselytizes about his preference for traditional African ways, specifically the use of the African chewing stick over the toothbrush. He references Dr. Yosef Ben Jochannan’s seminal Afrocentric work “Black Man of the Nile and His Family,” in which many African customs of the past were revealed – and which Fela eventually took as his bible.
Written by Mabinuori Kayode Idowu
2. Don't Worry About My Mouth O [African Message]
Fear Not For Man (1977)
Fear Not For Man was written in the heat of Fela’s conflict with the military. The title track is a provocation expressing Fela’s lack of fear in the face of the authoritarian regime’s brutality; no matter how hard they beat him, they would never break him. This is made even more explicit on the album cover, which depicts Fela, bleeding, and yet still playing the sax.
Written by Mabinuori Kayode Idowu
1. Fear Not for Man
2. Palm Wine Sound [Instrumental]