Monday, June 23, 2008

The Kuti Dynasty Lives On! Stern Grove, SF, California

On Sunday, Seun Anikulapo Kuti took his father’s band Egypt 80 and its fusion of American Jazz and Funk with traditional West African Highlife to San Francisco.

At this point in time however, the strictly afro-beat music that was heard in the grove Sunday sounded completely traditional, even more so than the brand that was played there by his half-brother Femi in 2000. Seun Kuti, Fela’s youngest son, has been leading his band Egypt 80 since 1997, when he was 15 years old.

Seun Kuti seemed to embody the sound and physicality of his father, “the black president” Fela Anikulapo Kuti. As the capable band-leader of Egypt 80, it was like the Grove was transported back to 1979 to hear the continuation of the afro-beat style he almost exclusively pioneered with Afrika 70. One almost wonders if Seun also has a bevy of "queens" at his modern-day compound. He certainly looked the part with high-waisted lemon colored stretch pants and muscular, bare upper body flanked by a brilliant horn section, 2 backing vocalists, a percussionist relentlessly playing wood block, bassist, drummer, guitarist and keyboardist.

While Femi has collaborated with current musicians such as Common and Mos Def, Seun has taken a more traditional path, presenting the music in its purest form (if it can be called that) the way his father created it. A full two-thirds of the original Egypt 80 remain in the band as was seen on Sunday. One of the original alumnus, 70 year old Lekan Animasahun, nicknamed Baba Ani, originally the Baritone Saxophone player, now directs the Egypt 80 orchestra behind his keyboards.

The band certainly sounded like one that has been together for over twenty years, bringing the hard funk and glorious sounds of 70's Nigeria to this eucalyptus-fragrant Stern Grove. Stern Grove should be applauded for bringing this wonderful free concert series to SF. Past highlights have been Os Mutantes, Femi Kuti, Youssou N'Dour and the Funk Brothers.

The only complaint that one might have is that the music felt like it was over too soon. At nearly an hour and a half, the music felt half as long. With extended jams that last into ten minutes and more, this is one of the original forms of trance music, played by a human ensemble that blends the raw, humane soul with the exhilirating joy of machine music.

The Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 album is available here.
For now, Seun audio tracks on the net are scarce, but enjoy this youtube video of "Colonial Mentality".

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