Seeing this release announced as music for "squares" or gated communities, unlikely to appeal to your "woke friends" made me approach it as one might any potential minefield. Learning that Julian Warner, aka Fehler Kuti, is a cultural anthropologist, actor, writer, editor, speaker, art festival curator and producer didn‚Äôt lighten the mood much as I feared an onslaught of dry polemic. What a relief then to simply get hooked by these hypnotic tunes - several of which were lullabies for Warner‚Äôs newborn child. Professional People reveals as a transcultural concept album, lightly touched with softly spoken wit, 8-bit space jazz, cosmic Euro-pulse, pan, chant, Afro-neon groove, wordless harmony, and melancholic synth. Some of the song titles can act as political signposts, but lyrics are few, mostly oblique, and any message subliminal: hidden in plain sight amid references to bureaucracy, cars, office buildings, home, leisure, gardens, and security. There is no holy indigestible agitprop, no denial of anyone else‚Äôs struggle, and Warner leaves academic language and analyses of class, race, and history for the books. He‚Äôs razor sharp, but kind, and rather than cutting with words he sprinkles sardonic humor and personal history in with broader observations. The whole record invites everyone to swing along together in our various states of alienated inclusion. Phew. I won‚Äôt hear many more enjoyable albums this year.
With the aid of stalwarts from The Notwist, Fehler Kuti builds a laid back sound with drive but also plenty of breathing space. Markus Acher's brilliant drumming is key, and Micha Acher adds sousaphone and trumpet flourishes. Equally, Sascha Schwegeler's steel drum helps make "Transatlantic Ideology" a standout track. Here Kuti gently references a popcultural and socio-theoretical Afro-Americanophilia in Germany that must be addressed as it deflects from anti-racist movements and away from other racist exploitations (systematic exclusion of Romani people, capitalist exploitation of eastern European migrant laborers). Off record he points out that Black Germans do not make up a racialized labor underclass, so in this sense the leftist fetish of the African American plight is devoid of its revolutionary potential when directed at the Black German. I say "gently" but, as with several stunning lines laid into the fabric of this album "Is a black man humanoid?" made me jump. I uncomfortably recalled the satirical essay "Are The Jews Human?" which got that awkward old stick Wyndham Lewis into a spot of critical bother. Whereas Lewis was brilliant but easily depicted as a brute, Warner‚Äôs unflinching honesty about his own status as a professional "manager of color" is his calling card. He insists his class are using the paradigm of diversity as a tool to escape their fate, without changing the class relations as a whole. Who better, then, to warn us: "This song is a song to end all ties, to say goodbye to old, and say hello to new, lies." If that sounds heavy, it‚Äôs actually as catchy as The Bonzo Dog Band doing "Terry Keeps His Clips On."