SEUN KUTI AND EGYPT 80
We have spoken in these pages before about the difficulty of following in the footsteps of a famous father (Julians Marley and Lennon spring to mind), but if ever there was a man who seems entirely unburdened by his father’s legacy it is surely SEUN KUTI. Perhaps, having played in Fela’s band from the age of nine and, following his father’s untimely death when Seun was only 14, taken over the mantle of band leader, he is now entirely comfortable in the role. Whatever the reason, he seems, judging by tonight’s performance, to be able to carry his father’s legacy whilst remaining entirely his own man.
However, before we get the chance to witness Kuti and his band, Egypt 80, we are treated to a stirring set from Brighton based LAKUTA. The opener, Batu Boy, from recent album Brothers And Sisters, lays down the template for the evening with its refrain “we will not stand for this, we will say yes, no more”. The sound from the nine-piece band is full-on; brassy, ballsy, beaty, a mixture of Afro, Latin, funk and soul which immediately has the crowd dancing and smiling. Singer Siggi Mwasote has the presence and vocal dynamism to front all this, whether it be leading a chanted African chorus or evoking the soul/gospel feel of 70s American protest music.
Much more than a warm up, they are implored to return and, unusually for a support act, they do, to a delighted audience.
In traditional bandleader style, Kuti waits in the wings as Egypt 80 take to the stage. Backing vocalists in vivid batik are immediately laying down some great moves to highlife guitar, explosive brass and scattering percussion. Kuti finally strides in sync with a low funk groove, a vision in yellow and black, an immediately commanding presence. Suddenly they’re swinging like the Count Basie Orchestra, and the crowd don’t need any further encouragement. In no time the IWF is once more a sea of bobbing heads and dancing feet.
Kuti introduces Gimme My Vote Back (C.P.C.D.), jokingly telling us that the initials stand for “the new name for government – Complete Public Control Department” and we are never allowed to forget (nor should we) that the Kuti legacy is not just a musical one. Seun has picked up the political baton as well as the grooves and the evening is laced with polemic. “I digress,” says Kuti on several occasions as his passionate denunciation of everything from Russian expansionism to the Resurrection, via Fox News, is given an airing. As each digression ends, Egypt 80, several of whom are veterans of Fela’s band, are straight back on it.
Kuti is, by turns, lithely athletic, back arched bow-like, or gripped by an urgent, jerky possession, in the manner of reggae performer Nicky Thomas. Lyrical, jazzy sax solos float out atop punchy brass, funky bass, glittering guitar lines and a battery of Afro and Latin rhythms delivered from a myriad of percussion instruments. The playing and timings are superb; at several times songs build in intensity before dropping off in an instant to leave the percussion rolling along. There’s no rush here, all the musicians are given the chance to solo, which they take with alacrity. The backing singers deliver hypnotic, repeated call and response chants and gospel infused excursions in equal measure.
The hooks are well and truly under the skins of the audience, who look like they could dance until dawn. Let’s hope the lyrical hooks of African Dreams remain there also: “war, war, war, why, why, why?”