“With his dad’s old band Egypt 80 behind him, [Seun Kuti] is a force to be reckoned with.” —BBC Music
Minneapolis, March 27, 2012— Son of legendary Afrobeat king Fela Kuti, saxophonist Seun Kuti comes to Minnesota for the first time, already acclaimed globally as an African music hero for a new generation. Combining the pulsating African funk/jazz pioneered by his father with a passion for R&B and the blunt realism of hip-hop, Kuti has found his own voice. Seun Kuti and the Egypt 80 perform on Saturday, April 14, at 8 pm at the Cedar. Doors open at 7 pm. His latest release, the Brian Eno–produced From Africa with Fury: Rise, is “a sharp, intense and funky set [that] offers a state-of-the-continent address that builds on Kuti’s legacy ” (Spinner.com). Kuti is joined by Fela’s 16-piece Egypt 80 band for this all-standing clublike concert. Copresented with the Cedar, located at 416 Cedar Avenue in Minneapolis.
With the mighty new From Africa with Fury: Rise, Seun Anikulapo Kuti heads up Egypt 80, the extraordinary combo first fronted by his renowned father. The album follows Kuti’s critically praised debut, 2008’s Many Things, which was unanimously hailed for continuing Fela’s musical legacy. From Africa with Fury: Rise sees Kuti finding his own idiosyncratic voice as songwriter, singer, and band leader, its songs and sonic approach marked by provocative edge and mature self-assurance.
Produced by Brian Eno, John Reynolds, and Kuti, with additional production by Godwin Logie, and mixed by John Reynolds and Tim Oliver, the album captures Kuti and Egypt 80’s extraordinary power, fraught with the scorching rhythms and kinetic funk energy that has earned the band—as ever, under the leadership of musical director/keyboardist Lekan Animashaun—worldwide acclaim as one of today’s most incendiary live acts. With Kuti’s booming vocal stylings at the forefront, songs like African Soldiers and Mr. Big Thief are fueled by call-and-response hooks, breakneck tempos, and combative, topical lyricism which firmly sets the classic Egypt 80 sound in the modern era.
“I wanted to do something completely different,” Kuti says. “Not different by trying to be American or European with my sound, just trying to make a very different album from my last album. My last album, it was my first time in control, I was not as confident as in saying what I wanted. This time, I said, ‘Okay, I can be more confident in how I express myself, I can say what I want, be as complex as I want.'”
Kuti was concerned that studios in his hometown of Lagos, Nigeria were not up to the job, so the album’s basic tracks were recorded at Rio de Janiero’s Cia Dos Tecnicos Studios with veteran producer/mixer Godwin Logie (Steel Pulse, Horace Andy) behind the board. In the fall of 2010, Kuti made two visits to London where he mixed the record alongside legendary producers Brian Eno and John Reynolds. Eno —an avowed fan who had previously invited Kuti and his band to perform at Sydney’s Luminous Festival 2009 and the UK’s Brighton Festival 2010 — has nothing but the highest praise for him and his band, hailing them for “making some of the biggest, wildest, livest music on the planet.”
Co-producer Reynolds (whose work as musician, producer, and mixer spans such artists as Sinéad O’Connor, U2, and Natacha Atlas) agrees, applauding Kuti and Egypt 80’s distinctive Afrobeat as “a musical adrenaline rush.”
Eno, Reynolds, and Kuti sought tension and release in the Rio recordings, incorporating breathing room and sonic space into the intricate rhythms and melodies. Further tracks – performed by Eno, Reynolds, guitarist Justin Adams (Robert Plant, Tinariwen), keyboardist Julian Wilson (Grand Drive, Belinda Carlisle), and guitarist Leo Abrahams (Florence + The Machine, Brett Anderson, Bryan Ferry) – were cut to lend further musical flavors to Egypt 80’s archetypal Afrobeat. While Kuti has nothing but the highest praise for his collaborators, he is equally quick to note that the songs of From Africa With Fury: Rise had been written more than a year prior to recording and had long been featured in live performance. Despite the studio craftsmanship, Kuti sees the recording process as merely a means to an end, a way of capturing his music’s magic for posterity.
“Afrobeat has to go from stage to studio, not studio to stage,” he says. “I don’t believe in going into the studio to write songs. You create music in the world, outside, in the environment. You create music with nature, not in the studio. You go to the studio to record, that’s it. Music created in the studio is commercial music, music that only wants to sell, that has nothing to do with the world.”
Born in 1983, Kuti first began performing with Egypt 80 at the age of nine, warming up audiences with renditions of his father’s songs. After Fela’s death in 1997, he stepped up to the front of the band, leading the celebrated combo as both lead vocalist and saxophonist. While his father’s influence cannot be understated, Kuti was determined to cut his own distinctive musical path, incorporating contemporary influences into the traditional Afrobeat approach.
“What inspires me is the time that I live in,” Kuti says. “Basically what is happening today in Africa are the same things that were happening 40 years ago, when my father was songwriting, but they’re happening in different ways. So when I write my music, it’s from the perspective of a 27-year-old man living in 2011, instead of a 30-year-old man living in the 1970s.”
Sadly, Kuti finds himself challenging many of the same injustices his father fought in his heyday, from corporate greedheads to militaristic leaders to the ever-futile war on drugs. Perhaps the album’s most unequivocal battle cry is the blistering Rise, in which Kuti impels listeners to fight “the petroleum companies” that “use our oil to destroy our land,” “the diamond companies” that “use our brothers as slaves for the stone,” and “companies like Monsanto and Halliburton which “use their food to make my people hungry.” But where Fela’s work often featured an explicit call to revolution, Kuti’s goal is subtler. He sees his role as that of an educator, speaking truth to power in order to provoke awareness and debate throughout his beloved homeland.
“In Africa today, most people are struggling in silence,” Kuti says. “The systematic oppression of the people has made them blinded to their reality. Everybody’s just thinking about survival. Nobody wants to stand up for anything, everybody just wants to toe the line. So I’m trying to make people think about these things that they are forgetting. I want to inspire people to want things to change.”
Seun Kuti is determined to speak to the new generation of young Africans born after his father’s glory days. If he learned but one lesson from Fela, it is that that no one has greater impact on hearts and mind than the true artist. As such, the powerhouse protest music found on From Africa with Fury: Rise serves as a kind of musical antidote to the corporate pop that he feels is polluting Africa’s airwaves, distracting its citizens from the things that truly matter.
“Music has great impact on people’s feelings,” Kuti says. “That’s what music should be. Pop music today is all about me, me, me. Nobody is singing about we. But nothing can change if we don’t look out for our brothers and sisters.”
Tickets to Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 are $30 ($25 Walker members) in advance; $35 ($30) day of show. Tickets are available at 612.375.7600 and walkerart.org/tickets.
Support provided by The McKnight Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.