Shakara is one of a clutch of early 1970s albums – also among them this box’s Fela’s London Scene and Afrodisiac – on which Fela’s Afrobeat transitioned from foetal stage to something approaching full-grown form.
Shakara (1971) includes three of mature Afrobeat’s signature ingredients. There are two guitarists, rhythm guitarist Tutu Shoronmu and tenor guitarist Segun Edo. The pair’s repetitive, interlocking riffs - part melody, part rhythm - play a similar role to the rhythm and mi-solo guitars used in contemporary Congolese rumba. Fela’s Broken English lyrics extend his music’s audience beyond Yoruba speakers and make his words understandable across Anglophone Africa. And female backing vocalists echo Fela’s lead vocals in what was to become Afrobeat’s trademark call-and-response pattern.
On release, Shakara’s B-side, “Lady,” was jumped on by the Nigerian press as Fela’s contribution to a “war between the sexes.” “I want tell you about lady-o,” Fela sang. “She go want take cigar before anybody, she go want make you open the door for am, she go want the man wash plate for her for kitchen, she want sit down for table before anybody.” By contrast: “Africa woman, she know the man na master, she go cook for him, she go do anything for him….But lady no be so, lady na master.”
“Lady,” like 1975’s “Mattress,” has been interpreted by some as “anti-women.” It was certainly in conflict with European feminist thought. However the lyric is interpreted, Fela was arguing from the particular in order to highlight the general: the adoption of European social habits to the detriment of African culture. Fela would address African men in similar fashion in “Gentleman” in 1973, lampooning their adoption of European suits, shoes and ties – which caused them to “smell like shit” in the African heat - before returning to the women in 1976 in “Yellow Fever,” a song about the fashion for skin whitening creams.
“Shakara” is a mainly instrumental track, with a brief lyric, sung in Yoruba, warning against boasters and braggarts. Up-tempo, with a suitably turbulent horn arrangement, it includes strong solos from Fela on keyboards and the fearsome Igo Chico on tenor saxophone.