Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Fela

  • Black President [Arista, 1981] B+
  • Shuffering and Shmiling [Celluloid, 1985] B

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Black President [Arista, 1981]
Building steadily off unpolyrhythmic traps, underpinning/undermining the beat with multiple drums, stating and embellishing horn phrases and then stating and embellishing them again, repeating verbal taglines countless times again or varying them by a few words to strengthen his points, Fela has constructed Afrobeat, which to my ear is as like and unlike any competing African pop style as it is like and unlike any American pop style. It's just Fela, instantly recognizable, although not always instantly distinguished from other Fela. Distinguishing themselves here are "I.T.T." ("international thief thief") and "Sorrow Tears and Blood" ("dem regular trademark"). That's three-quarters of the record. B+

Shuffering and Shmiling [Celluloid, 1985]
Circa 1977, shortly after the Army torched his compound, an incorrigible troublemaker raps about the limits of God, sometimes in outrageous mock Arabic. Only one drawback: label's marketing the 12:21-minute song plus 9:47-minute version as an $8.98-list LP. As a single, this makes my top twenty-five. As an album it's docked two notches for forced format. B