Seun Kuti began performing onstage with his father, the legendary Fela Kuti, at the age of nine and continues to carry forward the Afrobeat mantle of extended jams, tight horn sections, political savvy, and social consciousness. And it’s perhaps his penchant for extended jams that separates him most distinctly from his brother, Femi, at least on recent recordings. Many songs recorded by Seun Kuti clock in near the eight minute mark while Femi Kuti’s latest recording avoids prolonged durations (which was more prominent in his earlier recordings). Perhaps this is due to Seun Kuti’s band, Egypt 80, which features many players who originally played with his father. Fela recorded many songs that he never was able to perform in his lifetime, and Egypt 80 keep these compositions alive, like the inimitable “Shuffering and Shmiling,” a call-to-arms critique of religion and plea for rational thinking.
Duration seems important in discussing Fela Kuti’s music, as his concerts often lasted all night and into the daylight. In that sense, his music seemed to attempt a replacement of regular life, of everyday life, with a new musical state-of-mind that could encompass all waking hours. For him, “music is the weapon.” It is interesting to compare Fela Kuti to Bob Marley, contemporaneous music stars who used their celebrity for political purposes and who also played a huge part in popularizing their respective musical traditions. Both died of terminal illnesses. Whatever their similarities, Fela was undoubtedly more aggressive with his musical visions. His vocal performances were stranger, often veering towards avant/religious glossolalia. In the wake of his explosive musical utopia, it only makes sense that two of his children would find a rich legacy to continue on and reinterpret for present times.
Seun Kuti may not be his father, but the musical likenesses are intentional. So if you go to the Cedar on Saturday, don’t be surprised to hear Afrobeat, or even some Fela songs. The tradition lives on.