LP – “Black Times”
Artist – Seun Kuti
Record Label – Strut (2018)
Duration – 41 minutes
Seun Kuti is a firebrand campaigner. His soul is empathetic, his music deeply protestant, and his drive, tenacious.
He learned from the best. The 35-year-old singer, bandleader and saxophonist, is one of the sons of legendary Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti. When Fela passed away in 1997, Seun – only 14 years old at the time – became the lead singer of his father’s band, Egypt 80. Now Seun leads that band, and – along with his older brother Femi – he’s continued the music and protest culture, where his father left off via death.
Black Times is further proof that Fela’s message runs deep, and as things continue to change in Nigeria and Africa, everything stays the same. There’s still a need for heroes and an external conscience. The struggle of Africans in Africa has only exacerbated, with poverty, bad governance, capitalism and corruption still contributing to stifle growth.
Via syncopated percussion, blaring multi-layered horns, and the pounding congas, opener ‘Last Revolutionary’ brings to mind the few authentic leaders who have been bright spots in the continent’s history. Kwame Nkrumah, Thomas Sankara, Patrice Lumumba, Abder Nasser, Marcus Garvey, Shaka Zulu and Fela Kuti are all inspirational heroes in the struggle.
Carlos Santana and his legendary guitars grittily lend considerable dynamism on the title track, which is extended to nine minutes, of great grooves, and expert solo takes. ‘Theory of Goats and Yams’ is inspired by the ex-Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan who attempted to justify corruption by the likening it to animals unable to help themselves in the presence of food. ‘Struggle sounds’ defines his drive for the people, a sonic manifesto of his abilities and the soul of why he makes protest music. “Corporate Public Control Department (CPCD)” addresses selfish politicians with no iota of service in their roles.
“Promise to give me peace and you give me war,” Seun fires. “You promise me justice and then you jail the poor/You promise jobs and you close the factory/But there’s always work in the penitentiary.”
For the music, Seun Kuti is changing things and improving on arrangements. His guests are used with potent effect, and there is experimentation woven into the making of many records, with the call-and-response applied in more ways than before. It’s a chip off the old block in the thematic communication, but the music is expanding the skill is updated. “Black Times” is both a delight and a reminder that Africa can be better.