Album Review: Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 – Black Times [Strut Records; 2nd March 2018]

Black Times opens with warm congas, followed by afro-typical cyclical riffs on the guitar, layered with repetitive female chorus, the introduction of bass and full drum kit, then a short break before bursting full power back into the groove – this time with an added horn section of trumpet, tenor and alto sax. This album certainly feels a lot like afrobeat – African rhythms, jùjú and highlife – combined with American jazz, funk and soul.

In true afrobeat fashion, it takes a full two minutes of jazzy musical jiving, and flirtations here and there from Nigerian Seun Kuti’s alto sax, before the powerful deep voice of Kuti enters ‘Last Revolutionary’.

I be the pain of the revolutionary, I be the memory of the fallen warrior, I be the walking talking struggle of the people

The album’s opening lyrics strongly represent its content and aims. One could deduce from the title Black Times, and the historical connection afro-beat has to political activism, that this album would fit suitably in continuing to champion the legacy left by Seun Kuti’s father – and innovator of afro-beat – Fela Kuti. However, the album boasts the recognisably original sound that only Seun Kuti adds to his afro-beat; a modernisation of meaning and his funky style. Seun Kuti succeeds in bursting out of Fela’s shadow, torch blazing, storming forward with purpose and meaning.

Seun Kuti’s lyrics throughout the album are unwaveringly forthright, factual and fearless, as each song on the album illustrates a familiarity with the global Black experience, whilst lyrically specifying the experience in “corrupt” West Africa.

In the title track of the album, ‘Black Times’, a funky, playful exchange between female vocals asking repetitively, “Are you ready to rise, to be free?”, between spurts of guitar and horns feels almost like an emotional call to arms, whilst Corporate Public Control Department forwardly attacks those accused; “promise to give me peace and you give me war, you promise the justice, then you jail the poor”, etc. The entire song, and thus album, reads as a campaign against corrupt governments.

Black Times stands as an honest, open understanding, and refuses to be polite or pretty, rather funky and fierce.