It must take a rare kind of resolve to continue to lay down the marker with daring political views as Afrobeat masters BANTU have done over the years, particularly on their latest record What Is Your Breaking Point?
The 13-piece collective’s new album, a brazen 10-track manifesto following 2020’s Everybody Get Agenda and2017’s Agberos International, not only strips back dire social circumstances that have bedevilled [insert African country] but also works as the soundtrack to an impending revolution.
What Is Your Breaking Point? is rooted in traditions originally plotted by Fela Kuti, and sees BANTU devotedly playing to the strengths and identity of Afrobeat. Mainly via the charisma of frontman Adé Bantu’s voice, the project bursts with the quintessential Fela-esque fury yet hopeful vision of Nigeria, driven by frantic percussion work, charged horn sections and biting allegories conveyed in English, West African pidgin, and Yoruba.
Shorn of filler verbiage or breathers, the collection invites listeners to engage with Africa’s dynamic political landscape while underscoring the transformative muscle of music, diving headfirst into the key issues: corruption, blind imitation of Western culture, the troubling perpetuation of gender norms and the danger of remaining silent.
Largely, when Afrobeat takes on the ‘S’, it paints a vain and glamorous picture preoccupied with love, sex and other nightlife rituals. Take the consonant away, and it’s serious business. What Is Your Breaking Point?, whose only guest is African-American rapper Akua Naru, does precisely this.
The feverishly paced ‘Wayo and Division’ kicks things off, tackling an integrity deficit among Africa’s leadership, which is often characterised by a strategy of deceit and division. ‘Japa’ is a cautionary tale against the mass exodus of Africans to the West, highlighting the perils of illegal migration and the illusory promise of greener pastures. “You just dey run from frying pan to fire,” a line goes.
‘Ten Times Backwards’ rues the crippling of many an African dream by regressive structures, while ‘Worm and Grass’ returns to the topics of duplicity and manipulation among the ruling class. ‘Borrow Borrow’ examines the aftereffects of Western imperialism, while sobering revelations on ‘Africa for Sale’ summon more troubled sighs.
How much longer must this continue? When do we collectively decide that enough is enough? This is the focus of ‘Breaking Point’, and the question that shines throughout the project.
Focus track ‘Your Silence’, a sublime and reflective highlife (or Afrobeats) offering, resonates with the sentiments of German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller, invoking a connection to Niemöller’s famous quote on the Nazi atrocities. “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me,” Niemöller mourns.
The song prompts introspection and encourages listeners to consider the consequences of silence in the face of injustice. “The silence no go protect you,” is how BANTU puts it.
The project closes out with ‘We No Go Gree’, which retains the urgent ardour it commences 45 minutes earlier. “The political elites have only been concerned with short-term benefits,” Adé declares in his parting message, although if you are an African, this goes without saying. “We must take back our freedom, our voices and our future.”
These days, commentary surrounding governance on the continent can feel like a broken record, seeing how poorly a number of African countries have been run for decades. And so, while this new project, a fearless Afrobeat album of political resilience, represents an urgent and valuable perspective on the problem with Africa’s administration, I wonder how many more BANTU albums must arrive in the coming years to catalyse true transformation. As Sam Cooke once sang, “A change is gon’ come”, but when?
The answer remains vague, but until then, the struggle continues. Aluta continua!