May 25, 2011

Fela Kuti - Alagbon Close (1974)/ Why Black Man Dey Suffer (1974)


Though preceded by the more-than-promising Gentleman and Afrodisiac in 1973, Alagbon Close, with the benefit of hindsight, marks a quantum leap for Kuti, Allen and Afrobeat. Most of the elements which make the disc so compelling can be heard on earlier albums, but on Alagbon Close Kuti and Tony Allen pull them all together to devastating effect, in the process creating the definitive Afrobeat paradigm.

Well recorded (and excellently remastered), Africa 70 plays with unprecedented fire: the four-piece horn section was never more majestic; the nagging riffs and ostinatos of the tenor and rhythm guitars never more insistent. Allen is a lithe-limbed colossus, his soon-to-be signature rhythms at times pushing the band forward with extraordinary percussive power, at others drawing it back like a coiled spring, only to unleash it again. Three conga drummers support him. Kuti's screaming multi-octave glissandos on the organ climax an incantatory solo, and the track's concluding drums and horns passage is Africa 70 at its most epic.

In what was becoming Kuti's trademark lyric writing style, the title track—sung in the Broken English he adopted to communicate beyond only Yoruba speakers—highlights a particular social injustice to make a broader point. On the title track he bravely exposes the brutality going on in the Alagbon Close police cells. "Dem no get respect for human beings," he sings. "Dem no know say you get blood like dem. Dem go send dem dog to bite bite you. Dem go point dem gun for your face. The gun wey dem take your money to buy. Dem don butt my head with dem gun. Dem go torture you and take your statement from you...." After more in the same vein, Kuti concludes with the observation: "Uniform na cloth na tailor de sew am. Na tailor de sew em like your dress. Nothing special about uniform."

Lyric writing like this, in a country beset by thuggish police and soldiers, provoked ongoing harassment of Kuti and Africa 70. In 1977, during the army's biggest and most shameful assault on Kalakuta, his elderly mother, a revered anti-colonialist, was thrown out of a first floor window by soldiers, hastening her death. Beatings and rapes of band members were common.

Alagbon Close is one of Kuti's greatest discs, establishing a benchmark for subsequent 1970s' classics like Zombie (1976), Sorrow Tears And Blood (1977) and V.I.P. Vagabonds In Power (1979). In late 1975, around the time he rebranded Africa 70 as Afrika 70, Kuti changed his middle name from Ransome to Anikulapo.

Why Black Man Dey Suffer is a more formative affair. It's one of a series of early 1970s' albums which made the transition between the highlife and jazz blend of Kuti and Allen's first band, Koola Lobitos, and the turbulent magnificence of mature Afrobeat. Trumpeter Tunde Williams, baritone saxophonist Lekan Animashaun and first conga player Henry Kofi, from later line-ups including that on Alagbon Close, are also in place. But Afrobeat's signature tenor guitar has yet to be introduced, and, crucially, Allen didn't play on the session, making way for Ginger Baker.

Baker does a creditable job on Why Black Man Dey Suffer, although Allen's absence means Africa 70 lacks the singular rhythms that would come to define Afrobeat a couple of years later. But the album is worth hearing, with powerful lyrics and some strong instrumental performances. A valuable snapshot of Africa 70's foetal stage.

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Alagbon Close represents one of the first times anyone had directly taken on the Nigerian authorities in such a brash manner. Why Black Man Dey Suffer: This album, recorded in 1971 with Ginger Baker behind the board, was originally deemed too controversial for release by his label at the time. The title track is a history lesson on the oppression of the African man - detailing the litany of abuses they have suffered from being taken as slaves to having an alien people impose a new culture upon them, take their land, fight them, and set them against one another.


Those familiar with my reviews on Amazon know of my love for Nigerian Afro-Beat icon Fela Kuti, and of my happiness earlier this decade when MCA decided to reissue seemingly the entire Fela back catalog as two-albums-on-one-CD to the tune of nearly 30 discs (see my reviews of at least a dozen of them). Then a few years later these volumes began to drift out of print, only to be rescued once more by Wrasse Records, who is licensing them from Universal. So you can imagine my delight this fall when I decided to do a "Fela Wrasse" search here on Amazon and discovered that there was one title that had been reissued by Wrasse that for whatever reason was neglected in the original MCA series. "Alagbon Close" (with its B-side "I No Get Eye For Back") and "Why Black Men Dey Suffer" (with its B-side "Ikoyi Mentality Versus Mushin Mentality") is more classic Fela, with its pulsating grooves, lengthy instrumental build ups, honking horn riffs and the leader's booming baritone. There is no recording date information in the liner notes, but as the album cover recognizes Fela as "Fela Ransome Kuti" my guess is "Alagbon" is from 1971, and also it sounds very similar in style to "Open & Close," "Shakara" and "Lady" also of that year. (Of course it could be as late as 1974 when Fela dropped "Ransome" in favor of "Anikulapo.") But no matter, regardless of when it was made, having one more Fela CD to treasure is priceless!


Answering to the review below: Alagbon Close has been recorded by Fela on 1974, and released on Lp on 1975. This work belongs to the "minor" Fela's works, but it's great anyway. I'm giving to it 5 stars just because until some time ago this album was available just on Lp, and a re-printing of it is a very important new and a great pleasure. My rate for this album is 4/5: it isn't one of the best Fela ever. "Why Black Man Dey Suffer" (1977) was even more rare. Now we're waiting for the re-printing of the full version of "I go shout Plenty", maybe with "Perambulator" as bonus track (which is available at this moment just on the Fela's hits album "Jazz & Dance")...

All reviews above from


Fela Kuti was a gifted saxophonist and bandleader, and an indisputable musical genius whose incendiary fusion of African rhythms with jazz improvisation and funk percussion gave birth to an entire musical genre. He and his crack backing outfit, the sprawling Africa 70, cut an overwhelming number of seminal recordings in the `60s and `70s, but these two LPs from 1971, ALGABON CLOSE and WHY BLACK MEN DEY SUFFER, are amongst their finest achievements. These albums were released soon after Fela's life-changing `late `60s apprenticeship on the London jazz scene, and though they outline musical and lyrical themes that Fela Kuti would revisit ceaselessly throughout his long and fruitful career, they burn with the intensity of Fela's newfound inspiration. The massed horns, relentless grooves, and bold improvising that would come to define Fela's aesthetic sound positively revolutionary on these essential early recordings.


The tracks on this album commemorate his passing, celebrate his musical legacy and perfectly encapsulate his life's work: Alagbon Close graphically describes the goings-on in that infamous Lagos police station and jail. Why Black Man Dey Suffer, railing against colonialism. Ikoyi Mentality Versus Mushin Mentality, lambasting the attitude of the African bourgeoisie. I No Get Eye For Back proclaiming that we may not be masters of our own destinies.


Alagbon Close (1974)

Fela wrote Alagabon Close to lampoon the police after he was detained at the police station — which, not coincidentally, is located in a cul de sac of the same name. In this deeply anti-establishment song, Fela describes the harsh tactics that the police employ to control society, detailing their favoritism of the wealthy elite and their mistreatment of the poor. In Alagbon Close, Fela tells us, you can be detained indefinitely, you will be brutalized, you will be treated as an animal — the police have no respect for human beings. The song represents one of the first times anyone had directly taken on the Nigerian authorities in such a overt, brash manner. “I No Get Eye For Back”, a song emanating from a lyric in “Alagbon Close”, is a more melodic, instrumentally focused piece.

Written by Mabinuori Kayode Idowu


01. Alagbon Close
02. I Know Get Eye for Back

Why Black Man Dey Suffer (1974)

Why Black Man Dey Suffer, recorded in 1971, was originally deemed too controversial for release by EMI, his label at the time. Having recently been schooled in the American black power movement and having taken on a new Pan-African worldview, this album served as one of Fela’s first musical soapboxes on which he challenged the colonial injustices and corruption of the ruling elites of his time. The title track “Why Black Man Dey Suffer” is a history lesson on the oppression of the African man. It details the litany of abuses the black man has suffered — from being taken as slaves, to having an alien people impose a new culture upon them, take their land, fight them, and set them against one another. The following track, “Ikoyi Mentality”, firmly expresses Fela’s identification with the downtrodden masses and his rejection of the ways of the ruling class inhabitants of the Ikoyi neighborhood in Lagos.

Written by Mabinuori Kayode Idowu


01. Why Black Man Dey Suffer
02. Ikoyi Mentality Versus Mushin Mentality

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