Stalemate is one of 10 or so albums that Nigerian Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti would release during 1977 alone. In February his compound had been attacked by the army and though later in the year a ban on his performing live had been lifted, though the heavy handed and intimidatory tactics of the government and army rendered any performances impossible and a penniless Fela went into self imposed exile in Ghana.
The 13 minute Stalemate, is very relaxed, almost cocktail afrobeat, minimal, low key, with a gentle groove flowing throughout. It was during this period that Fela was becoming increasingly political and you can hear this on Stalemate, where begins with some spoken word, posing a number of situations that all inevitably end in stalemate. Interestingly, and rarely for Fela, it’s his back up singers who steal the limelight fulfilling the melodic duties, whilst Fela is surprisingly circumspect. The b-side is the fifteen and a half minute Don’t Worry About My Mouth O is again another minimal low key affair that proceeds at a gentle canter. Fela is again just talking, making the music stop when he speaks, resulting in it coming across almost as some kind of skit. The general gist seems to be don’t worry about Fela, he’s been taught well by his African forefathers.
Fear Not For Man perhaps references his recent attack via the artwork in which his face defiantly playing his sax has blood superimposed over it. Released in 1977, it again is another relaxed sunny Afrobeat groove, in which he begins by saying ‘the secret of life is to have no fear, we have to understand that.’ The irony is that for all the lightness this is Fela’s provocation to the military, saying that they could beat him and his people but they’re never going to stop him.
The album ends in a rarity for someone with so much to say – an instrumental called Palm Wine Sound, which has a real cocktail jazz feel. Again like both of these albums it’s quite basic and low key, but it is funky as hell and it’s nice to let the message go and just enjoy the music.
Whilst during this period the politics increasingly found their way into his lyrics, musically everything is simpler, minimal, almost austere, but most of all the tempo and urgency has slowed to a halt, like his focus has now shifted from the urgency and passion of his youth to a more incisive political and social commentary.
Bob Baker Fish