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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - Tony Hil­lier

A Long Way to the Be­gin­ning

Seun Kuti + Egypt 80

Cartell Mu­sic

FELA Kuti may have shuf­fled off to meet his maker back in the late 1990s, but the Nige­rian Afrobeat flame he ig­nited burns brighter than ever on the world stage, cour­tesy of two of his sons, a small army of in­ter­na­tional acts that have emerged in their wake and a hit Broad­way show based on the in­de­fati­ga­ble multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist, band­leader and ac­tivist’s mu­sic and life. Fired by reg­u­lar vis­its from the Kuti sib­lings, the Afrobeat phe­nom­e­non has cer­tainly en­gulfed Aus­tralian au­di­ences. Last month, Fela Kuti’s el­dest son, Femi, brought WOMADe­laide to a cor­us­cat­ing con­clu­sion per­form­ing songs from his lat­est al­bum, No Place for My Dream, with Pos­i­tive Force. The pa­tri­arch’s youngest son Seun had the hon­our of clos­ing the open­ing two nights of Blues­fest this weekend with works from his new al­bum, fea­tur­ing Egypt 80, a band he in­her­ited as a 14-yearold fol­low­ing his fa­ther’s death in 1997. Per­haps weighed down by the re­spon­si­bil­ity of keep­ing an es­teemed legacy alive at such a ten­der age, the young man took time to find his feet, de­fer­ring the record­ing of his de­but al­bum un­til 2008. Even so, Many Things was a ten­ta­tive first step. The 2011 fol­low-up,

Rise, was more as­sertive and as­sured, closer to the spirit of his pa­ter, who had pi­o­neered and per­fected the James Brown-in­spired amal­gam of funk, soul, jazz, tribal rhythm and so­ciopo­lit­i­cal com­men­tary back in the 70s. A

Long Way to the Be­gin­ning pro­vides ir­refutable ev­i­dence of fur­ther de­vel­op­ment. With his most au­thor­i­ta­tive and ac­com­plished al­bum, the La­gos-based scion also ac­knowl­edges the fact Afrobeat is an au­then­tic global move­ment with a sig­nif­i­cant fol­low­ing in the US. Work­ing with Grammy award-win­ning Amer­i­can pro­ducer-jazz pi­anist Robert Glasper and sev­eral hip-hop stars has added pal­pa­ble colour and clout to his and Egypt 80’s sound. Po­lit­i­cally speak­ing, Kuti cuts to the chase from the getgo in IMF, lam­bast­ing the joint machi­na­tions of that fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tion and the Nige­rian govern­ment in the ver­nac­u­lar, with an­gry honks from his alto sax, rap­ping from Dead Prez’s M-1 and caus­tic lines such as: “We call it poverty pimpin’/ They bootlick­ing the people, the vic­tim”. Else­where, in tag-team mode with rap­per Blitz the Am­bas­sador, Kuti urges his com­pa­tri­ots to ig­nore “the fire mon­sters” and smoke­screens. As he ex­claims know­ingly in the siz­zling, ul­tra-soul­ful Kalakuta Boy: “I show no fear ’cos the great man trained me.” The satir­i­cal African Air­ways has a more hu­mor­ous res­o­nance. A philo­soph­i­cal song de­liv­ered in Yoruban is en­cased in jaunty high­life rhythm. A mel­liflu­ous paean to lo­cal wom­an­hood fea­tures Ger­man-Nige­rian diva Nneka’s sooth­ing vo­cals and cool vi­bra­phone. The play­ing through­out is po­tent, in the pro­tracted in­tros that are a char­ac­ter­is­tic of Afrobeat and in the pen­e­trat­ing horn stabs, pump­ing bass, gui­tar fills and riv­et­ing brass so­los and ex­changes that in­ter­twine with clipped chants and call-and-re­sponse vo­cals.

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