»I no be gentleman at all/I be Africa man original«. In his reckoning with British colonialism on »Gentleman«, Mr Afrobeat Fela Kuti sums up in a few words on the title track how British rule in Nigeria continues to affect the country’s people even after liberation in 1960. Fifty years ago, he created an early highlight of his career with his band Afrika 70 – named in the spirit of pan-Africanism – with »Gentleman«. Fela Kuti had only recently picked up the saxophone, on which he held his own effortlessly alongside the electric piano, which he continued to play. The call-and-response vocals, the typically shrill horn sections, the rhythm section underneath, spreading its subtly interwoven polyrhythms like a tapestry woven with elaborate flourishes, provide a flexible, stable foundation. Funk without the sprawling gestures, but full of energy, earthy and at the same time almost defying gravity in its unstoppable forward thrust: »Gentleman« is hailed as Fela Kuti’s best album. With over 50 records to his name, some of which can be confidently described as masterpieces, this is a somewhat precarious judgement. Whatever the verdict, there is no way around »Gentleman«. And why? Because life is poorer without it.
Betty & The Code Red