Afrobeat on the Upswing

Seun Kuti - From Africa With Fury: Rise
Seun Anikulapo Kuti & Egypt 80

From Africa with Fury: Rise (Knitting Factory Records KFR1110CD, 2011)

Seun Anikulapo Kuti, son of Nigerian Afrobeat creator and icon Fela, began performing with his father’s Egypt 80 band before he even hit his double digits. So it wasn’t a matter of simple hereditary entitlement when Seun took over as front man of Egypt 80 following Fela’s 1997 death; he was a natural for the job despite his tender years. He’s been at it ever since, and on his and Egypt 80’s new CD From Africa with Fury: Rise, the classic Afrobeat style Fela pioneered and many have copied is very much in evidence. Even the graphics on the front and inner pages of the CD booklet resemble the artwork that made many of Fela’s albums so visually striking. Still, as obvious as the similarities between father and son are, the differences are just as significant.

Seun may be singing about the same government corruption, militaristic brutality and corporate greed that the old man lashed out at years ago, but his songs are tighter, more focused and more to the point than the often epic-length pieces on which Fela rambled with a mixture of insightful concern and deliberate flaunting of musical convention and public expectations.

Seun is not nearly as indulgent in terms of song durations or steadfast anti-commercialism. What the younger Kuti has held fast to is the elder’s fearlessness in confronting and challenging authority, be it the diamond and petroleum companies who continue to exploit Africa’s resources, leaders who can’t face up to their ineptitude or positions of power questionably attained. And the music with which he does so is as furious as the title promises: relentlessly tight drums and percussion, blazing horns and unflagging support from guitars, bass and keyboards combine the best of African rhythm and Western-influenced soul/funk, a mighty foundation over which Seun’s sung/shouted proclamations jolt call-and-response vocal patterns into action.

The disc was, interestingly enough, recorded mainly in Rio de Janeiro with Brian Eno, not exactly noted for this sort of music, as one of the producers. I guess that goes to show how international Afrobeat has gone. Fela helped get it there, and Seun is seeing to it that his own rousing and inspirational music keeps the feet of the world dancing and the ears, eyes and minds of its people open.

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