Jul 20, 2011
Fela Kuti - No Agreement (1977)/ Shuffering and Shmiling (1978)
1977′s Shuffering and Shmiling really highlights the genius of Nigerian Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti. It clocks in at 21minutes, a typically energetic Afrobeat groove, chugging funky bass, stabbing horns with an extended Fela sax solo at the beginning that actually predicts the coming vocal melody. When it finally does come at about the nine minute mark it’s Fela the schoolmaster, reverend perhaps, taking us into his confidence and teaching us a lesson. He’s very much aware of his audience leading us into ‘any goddamn church or any goddamn mosque.’ On the cover he poses a question ‘Why Not African Religion,’ and this is the central premise of one his angriest and most provocative songs. It’s a denouncement of the religions of Nigeria’s previous colonial masters, Christianity and Islam, touching upon the violence at the time that was occurring between Nigerian Christians and Muslims. Fela believed that this had little to do with Africa and had little do with the life of working Nigerians. Whilst Fela had ridiculed his government, religion is of course a different matter, questioning why people needed to suffer on earth to find happiness in heaven whilst the clergy who peddles these beliefs live in opulence. Fela of course was never afraid of a little social critique.
The genius however is that it really is an incredible song, everything works from its melodies, to its groove to its sentiment. It’s also the one song that kids pick up on thanks to it’s repeated Amen’s from his back up singers, not realising the deeper context. Though that’s probably true of much of Fela’s music where the message can be obscured by his pidgin English and mischievous wordplays masking the anger and despair at the heart of his message.
No Agreement, another 1977 release is another example of Fela at the peak of his powers. Charging funk with sax and organ solos. The guitar riff itself is the kind of taut repetitive style Jb’s funk and everything just bounces off it. The brass is particularly potent thanks to the inclusion of Lester Bowie (Art Ensemble of Chicago) who spent three months living with and sitting in with Fela. It’s really interesting about seven minutes in it seems to stop, turn on its head and start up again. It’s a really weird technique but it really works at building the dynamic. Over the throbbing groove the sax and trumpet solos come closer to free-jazz than ever before. He begins singing at about 11 minutes in and as you can imagine it’s Fela letting us know that he’s in the fight for the long haul. ‘No agreement today No agreement tomorrow,” he offers before his backup singers pick up the mantra. Great short sharp horns stabs too.
The album ends with a rare instrumental called Dog eat Dog, and it’s a taut slab of Afro funk, kind of relaxed 5 minute workout where you can hear Fela (as also on No Agreement), counting out the tempo changes to the band. It’s a great tune and it caps off an inspired pairing of two of his more provocative political agitations from a time when the band were at their peak. This is some of the best music he made.
cyclicdefrost.com, written by Bob Baker Fish
Recorded in 1977, No Agreement follows the Afro-beat template to a masterful level: amazingly catchy guitar lines that replicate a bass guitar in their construction, a second guitarist to add some JB's funk power, driving horn section proclamations, intricate saxophone, trumpet and organ improv solos, and then Fela Anikulopo Kuti's wit and message for the people. Even though Fela had vowed to speak his mind, he turns in a song where he proclaims to keep his mouth shut if it means that he will harm his brothers and sisters in the population (not that he actually does, as some of his most scathing songs have yet to come). "No Agreement" is decidedly some of the most interesting instrumentation that he had turned in. With help from Art Ensemble of Chicago trumpeter extradordinare Lester Bowie (Bowie turned in a tenure of about a year with Fela), the solos are magically inspired and the rhythm section rolls on with the power of a steamroller. "Dog Days," the instrumental B-side, sounds more like "No Agreement" part two; it does, however, carry its own weight -- again with the help from Bowie.
After the 1977 police attack on Fela's Kalakuta Republic, where his mother and about 80 members of his entourage and band were injured and arrested, he set out to light a fire underneath the authority figures and his various other enemies that were causing him and, in his eyes, the people of Nigeria to suffer in the form of harassment, oppression, and economic devastation. Shuffering and Shmiling is one of those comments. While continuing along in his tradition of savvy instrumental innovation, "Shuffering and Shmiling" plays out with the same intensity and voracious soloing that mark other great Africa 70 performances like Confusion, Gentleman, and No Agreement; but the point of departure here is the outward remarks he makes on a touchy topic: religion. Fela had become increasingly concerned about the growing influence of non-traditional religions fracturing African countries. He believed that these divisions had created a population unable to unify and stand up for themselves and instead had them living in conditions that forced "them go pack themselves in like sardine (into a bus): Suffering and smiling," and without trying to change things he says they "Suffer suffer for world/Enjoy for heaven." Shuffering and Shmiling is another highly recommended Fela Kuti and Africa 70 release.
“Shuffering & Smiling Pts 1-2″ is one of Fela’s most recognizable songs. From the start, the interlocking guitars set the mood for the song with Fela’s improvisational keyboard lines gliding over the backdrop of guitar and percussion. The first ten minutes of the song is composed entirely of an instrumental backdrop with solos from different members of the ensemble interjecting throughout. Fela then begins the vocal section of the song with a request, “You Africans, please listen to me as Africans. You non-Africans, please listen with an open mind.” He then goes on to decry the double-standards and hypocrisies of organized religion, Islam and Christianity in particular, the two religions that have had the most widespread impact on Nigerian culture. He claims that religion causes people to suffer with a smile on their face, all the while believing they have a reward coming in their afterlife. He calls into question their beliefs by accusing them of blindly following the flock.
Nigerian musician Fela Anikulapo Kuti specialized in the percolating jam, peppered with idiosyncratic horn stabs and political chants, underpinned with sinuous, interweaving guitar and bass lines, and propelled by Tony Allen's Afrobeat percussion, blending traditional Yoruban rhythms and contemporary James Brown beats. SHUFFERING AND SHMILING is trademark Fela, mixing several lengthy, irresistibly danceable tracks (including "Dog Eat Dog," a collaboration with Art Ensemble of Chicago trumpeter Lester Bowie) with the bandleader's polemics against government injustice and the exploitation of his people by political and racial forces. In the hands of a lesser artist, such political sermonizing would quickly pall; here, it's icing on the cake. Taking the socially aware stance of late-'60s and early-'70s James Brown to its logical musical and political conclusion, Fela's music was both an inspirational rallying cry for his people and a constant thorn in the side of the Nigerian authorities. The latter habitually responded with brutal force, the decades-long war of attrition only ending with the master musician's death from AIDS-related causes in 1997.
No Agreement (1977)
“No Agreement” showcases some of Fela and the Africa 70’s highest caliber work within the signature Afrobeat genre. Smooth guitar parts and a pronounced brass section (which included the addition of Art Ensemble of Chicago trumpeter Lester Bowie), improv solos on the sax, and backed by excellent organ and trumpet and Fela’s keen lyrical insight, “No Agreement” hits all the right parts. Lyrically the track “No Agreement” can be likened to Peter Tosh’s “Never Gonna Give Up” – Fela will never reach an agreement or compromise with the oppressive forces that fight against progressive social change and the psychological liberation of post-colonial Africans. Fela asks himself, essentially, “how can I remain silent when my brother is hungry and homeless?” His answer: I cannot. The album concludes with Dog Eat Dog, an instrumental piece whose name refers to the metaphorical rat race.
Written by Mabinuori Kayode Idowu
1. No Agreement 15:31
2. Dog Eat Dog (Instrumental)
Shuffering and Shmiling (1978)
As Fela progressed as an artist, he evolved into a political and social tour de force in Nigeria. In “Shuffering and Shmiling”, an expansive track spanning two sides and reaching over 20 minutes in length, Fela takes on the subject of religion, denouncing the two religions of the colonial masters, Christianity and Islam, which he believed helped sustain passivity in the downtrodden masses. Fela rejects the idea of suffering on earth with the hope of finding happiness in heaven, and points out that the leaders who espouse these beliefs often live hypocritically in opulence. Instead, Fela urges the embrace of traditional African beliefs.
Written by Mabinuori Kayode Idowu
1. Shuffering And Shmiling (Part 1)
2. Shuffering And Shmiling (Part 2)