Picks and Pans Review: Beasts of No Nation
updated 05/14/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 05/14/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT
This 51-year-old dissident Nigerian bandleader and singer has been laying down his Afro-beat music—an infectious blend of African polyrhythms. high-life, jazz and James Brown-inspired funk—for more than 20 years. Spiked with militant protest lyrics sung in Yoruba and Africanized English, Fela's lengthy compositions float and then jab. creating whorls of horn charts and R&B riffs on top of a vibrant, insistent pulse.
The title cut was written after then South African Prime Minister P.W. Botha threatened in a speech that any uprisings against apartheid would bring out "the beast in us." Singing above a horn-punched groove that includes two bass lines, Fela refers to his many jailings over the years in Nigeria (for political offenses). "Dem jail me five years/I no do nothing." while calling those who put him there "animals in human skin."
In the course of his long and controversial career, Fela has made more than 50 albums and played with such diverse musicians as Paul McCartney and Ginger Baker. While some of the earlier, live nightclub recordings with his Africa 70 band best capture his raw-yet-regal performance prowess, you can still count on Fela's music to be both melodic and message-filled, the kind that makes you want to dance and do the right thing. (Shanachie)