Seun Kuti stands self-confidently on his own capacities, building on his fathers legacy. Back by the legendary musicians of Egypt 80 and stellar production he stands at the frontlines of Afro-beat, world fusion and political dissent. He calls for people to rise up and put an end to repressive regimes, corrupt elites and indigence.
When I saw Seun Kuti in Festival Mundial 2008 in Tilburg, the Netherlands, I did not know much about him so it was some kind of a shock. The sound was too familiar, the stage performance, the clothes, the attitude, everything. It took me some time to recover and enjoy the music, because it was hard to accept that a young artist is so identical to his father.
Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 – ‘Rise’:
I still get a strange feeling when dealing with offspring of influential figures, because Fela Kuti was a powerful icon not only a groundbreaking artist. I hope you are all familiar of his musical, social and political legacy. The reason is that people try to exploit in one way or another for their advantage the resonance and diachronic impact of something great.
There are many ways to do that: you can keep putting out box sets, best of albums and keep profiting from the work of legacies. This is the case with countless successful artists (rock, reggae etc.). You can also sell memorabilia like in the case of Che Guevara – his face is everywhere…I have seen it on T-shirts of wealthy white adolescents as well as on stickers of half-wrecked mini-buses in Kathmandu.
In the case of Bob Marley the exploitation is even more systematic – it is a growing business. Check the Marley’s Mellow Mood ‘relaxation’ drinks and the Marley Coffee assortments or the careers his sons built up under his banner. From now on one needs to pay royalties when using Bob’s name to the Marley family since his name is ‘patented’. It is a bit too much, isn’t it? Personally, I feel awkward when I see Bob’s face on a tin, to sell a product.
Seun Kuti has been playing with his father since he was nine years old, opening for him at the shows with his voice and sax. From a very young age he knew that he wants to play music like his father. Although he considered getting involved with other genres of music, he finally decided to ‘accept his fate’ and take up from where his father stopped. He has also embraced his father’s political standpoints and he is conscious about building on his father’s legacy.
Going back to Seun Kuti’s performance I attended back in 2008, I can explain why the looks and sounds were nearly identical: it was a conscious decision. Well, there is a reason to mention all this: ‘From Africa With Fury: Rise’ is an amazing album and that is the point of the present article.
The album’s starter, ‘African soldiers’, comes with a ‘dictating’ guitar riff to build up the afrobeat sound with drums and percussion and finally take off with the grandiose horn melody delivered with fury and command. There is no moment left loose to doubt about the orientation of the album: high-octane afrobeat of the Kuti tradition.
‘Rise’ is an inspiring song, full-fledged with vocal harmonies, guitar melodies and laid back grooves that render it memorable. Nonetheless, have no doubts: there is weak song here. Lyrically, Seun Kuti, wants to rouse the spirit of the people in Africa and beyond. He is singing about corrupt African governments comprised by wealthy elites, who are backed up by the West to carry out neo-colonialist projects. He also sings about how TransNational Corprorations like Monsanto and Halliburton, leading players in the neo-colonialist arena, tap local resources leaving only pollution and despair for the local population.
It is remarkable that exactly the same group people is ruling Nigeria since Fela Kuti’s social and political struggles in the 1970s; a heritage of the military general Olusegun Obasanjo. It is actually no exaggeration to say that much of Africa is still run by repressive regimes. At the same time Central Africa is the poorest region in the world with the highest percentages of chronic hunger, disease infections etc.
Everything that makes good afrobeat music so unique and captivating is there: the enchanting repetitive melodies and beats, funky grooves, the rough brass section, the African vocals, the fact that songs can go pleasantly on and on…Seun Kuti has recruited many of the legendary musicians that accompanied Fela, like Lekan Animashaun (baritone saxophone) who is playing 46 years (!) with Egypt 80.
The outstanding production of John Reynolds and Brian Eno (respect!) gives that extra kick to the album to place it among the classics of the genre. They really ‘studied’ the afrobeat sound to magnify it delivering a result both original and with a modern cut. They took care to create a bright and crisp sound that is not polished but boosted with edge.
Seun Kuti’s music and words are as relevant as ever. We need people that have the inner strength to speak out and pinpoint at injustice and corruption. With the highest numbers of hunger since global records exist in 2010 we clearly need action, positive work and social change. We need all arts and sciences to motivate us and Seun Kuti is at the frontlines.
Seun Kuti has marked a big step with this album from being merely his father’s son to establishing his own individual artistry. Afrobeat sounds strong and roaring in 2011 and we can only hope it is going progress further in the years to come.