A Long Way to the Beginning
Seun Kuti + Egypt 80
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.