The GB Album Club 030 - Beasts of No Nation by Fela Kuti

Avatar image for unclejam23
unclejam23

379

Forum Posts

40

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 1

User Lists: 0

Duders! Welcome to the 30th edition of the Unofficial Giant Bomb Album Club! Last week, we rocked the fuck out with Queens of the Stone Age. What did we rock the fuck out to? I don't know because I was too busy rocking the fuck out to read the lyrics. This week, however, we aren't rocking the fuck out so much as jamming the fuck out, and we're jamming the fuck out against Reagan, Thatcher, P.W. Botha, the Nigerian government's oppression of the national populace, and apartheid with Beasts of No Nation by Fela Kuti, chosen by yours truly! Links:

Spotify

Apple Music

Youtube

The Unofficial Giant Bomb Album Club! We threw a bunch of albums into a pool and we pick one at random each week to listen to and discuss. The theme this cycle is Artists You Discovered From Video Game Soundtracks. (Fela Kuti, for example, I discovered from the IF99 radio station in GTA IV.) If you've got your own album you want to submit, pop on over to our Discord and fill out the sheet!

Avatar image for unclejam23
unclejam23

379

Forum Posts

40

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 1

User Lists: 0

First and foremost, let us acknowledge the dope album cover.

No Caption Provided

Secondly, let us briefly lament the lack of a Fela Kuti biopic.

I know Fela's not the most well-known artist and who knows how much capital you'd need to make a Fela movie. However, whereas most music biopics follow the Dewey Cox formula of "rockstar becomes famous, then drugs, then no more drugs," Fela's life involves getting thrown in prison basically every time he put out an album, founded a compound that he declared independent from the Nigerian government, witnessed the murder of his mother that happened as a result of another album he put out, and so much more. It would be a wild movie, is what I'm saying.

As for the album: As I said, I discovered Fela from the GTA IV soundtrack. Beasts of No Nation is not the first Fela album most people go to, but it's not an obscure one either. (Most people would probably go with Expensive Shit or Zombie.) It's also one from much later in his career. Fela's golden age was the '70s, and this is an album from '89. However, it's my personal favorite of his.

Fela had this gift for balancing funk and sorrow. You'll tap along to the melody, but if you don't pay attention to them, you could miss how angry and forlorn they can be, and I think this album/song (the album consists of one 28 minute song) does the best job of finding that balance. The guitar riff that plays throughout the background and so many other elements of the music is gorgeous, and the lyrics are about the feeling that none of the world's leaders truly represent the people and the intense despair that brings, as well as the various traumas he's suffered along the way.

It's heavy stuff, and yet I can't help but sing along. Every time I listen to this, all of the call-and-response parts get stuck in my head and I get so engrossed in the music itself despite all the pain it clearly took to make it. But that's also what makes Fela's music special. He can cover the full spectrum of human emotion in one song, and I think Beasts of No Nation fully captures that ability.

Avatar image for justin258
Justin258

16691

Forum Posts

26

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 11

User Lists: 8

Saying that this album “has no heart” would be patently false and, frankly, offensive to the memory of a man who openly criticized and rebelled against oppressive authorities in as many ways as he could, including his music. That’s not what I want to say. What I want to say, however, is that this album didn’t make me personally feel much of anything.

The entire thing is sung in Pidgin English, which – according to Wikipedia – is a form of English spoken widely throughout Nigeria and seemingly large parts of Africa. Kuti chose to write his lyrics in this language so that he could reach as many Africans as possible. This choice seems to have made Kuti’s music reach the market he wanted to reach. For me, individually, an American at his computer nearly forty years after this album’s release – it means I couldn’t understand much of anything being said. I looked up the lyrics and tried to parse some of it and maybe if I spent a long time doing so, I could figure out what’s being said and how it relates to what Wikipedia says this whole thing is about, but I don’t think that would get me anymore "into" this music. It would just help me understand what it's about a little better.

I don’t need lyrics to make me feel something in music, though, so in terms of the actual music... well, it didn’t affect me all that much either. Rhythmically it feels pretty much the same throughout the entire 28 minute runtime of this single-track album. Sometimes it seemed like the saxophone or guitar or other melodic instruments might start doing something that would have excited me, but those moments were rare. When the vocals kick in, the focus is by and large on them and, as discussed above, I don’t get anything from them because I have no idea what’s being said.

The production on this album, however, sounds great. Everything happening is crystal clear, nothing in the mix sounds more forward or loud than it should, the bass guitar and other “supporting elements” are audible if you’re really listening for them, etc.

In a lot of ways, I think this is the reverse of how @unclejam23 felt about one of my previous picks (Rivers of Nihil’s Where Owls Know My Name). I’m all for the journey that album takes you through, primarily musically, but it doesn’t seem to have affected UncleJam all that much, and here that seems reversed.

Perhaps if the elements of this album were broken down into shorter songs that changed things up a lot I’d be more into it, but this one just fell flat for me.

After reading his Wikipedia page, I probably would also be up for a Fela Kuti movie, though. The right pitch from the right person might be able to get it done. That said, there is a movie that got its name from this album.

Avatar image for unclejam23
unclejam23

379

Forum Posts

40

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 1

User Lists: 0

@justin258: All fair!

I thought there was a chance you might dig it because it is, in admittedly some limited ways, a marriage of the jazz we've talked about in the Discord and the technicals of some of the other stuff we've both enjoyed. (Again, re: the technicals, I know it's not exactly one to one.)

Forgot that the Pidgin might be an obstacle for some. I've listened to it sung and I've read enough of it that I'm used to it by now and I have less trouble understanding it. Not that I can speak it or anything like that, but I don't have all that much trouble deciphering what's being said.

Also the movie's alright. I have the book as well, but I haven't read it. It's one of those cases where you can tell that it's supposed to be very interior and that the source material's probably amazing. Steve McQueen (the guy who did 12 Years a Slave) was supposed to do the Fela biopic at one point with Chiwetel Ejiofor starring but it fell apart.

Avatar image for shindig
Shindig

7077

Forum Posts

0

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 0

I got right behind this. There's a danger with elongated songs that they'll sag before striking back up but this is truly keeps the foot down. Good protest songs should evoke that kind of foot stomping anger and Beasts of No Nation hits it. I couldn't help but caught up in it.

As for Pidgin, I was barely aware of the language until I discovered the BBC's pidgin equivalent. It's not that hard to follow when written but I definitely struggled listening out for the lyrics.

Avatar image for redwing42
redwing42

1069

Forum Posts

2

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 0

User Lists: 2

I was late to the Fela Kuti party, having just heard of him within the last year or so. I'll say that this is not my favorite of his works (I struggle calling this a "song" at over 28 minutes), but I love it all the same. Discounting the lyrics for a moment, I want this music to be the soundtrack to my life. It is tremendous walking around music. It also gives me flashbacks to Jazzpunk , which makes me smile. I'm also a sucker for a prominent bari sax, of which there is plenty here.

Reading about Fela Kuti's life, I was reminded of Harry Belafonte and what a fascinating person he was. Fela seemed to be turned up a few more notches than Belafonte was, but there are interesting parallels. Fela definitely brought more of his political views into his music, but the blend of musicality and lyrical intent is really fantastic.

I'd definitely recommend looking in to some of his 70's works if this one caught your ear.

Avatar image for unclejam23
unclejam23

379

Forum Posts

40

Wiki Points

0

Followers

Reviews: 1

User Lists: 0

@redwing42: Beasts of No Nation's my number one, but the 70s stuff isn't far behind it. I like some more than others, but he's yet to miss for me.