Seun Kuti, the son of Afrobeat legend Fela, jammed at the Variety Playhouse last night, playing songs from his father's discography mixed with some of his own from his 2011 album From Africa With Fury: Rise. After backing band, Egypt 80, which still includes many of the same musicians who played with his father, warmed up the stage, Kuti came out and opened up the set by performing the Fela classic "Zombie."
"I start my shows off like this as a sign of respect to my father, the man," said Kuti, who punctuated his performance with sax solos, alternating between a fusion of horns, drums, rhythm section, and traditional African percussion from the other 13 musicians and two dancers/background singers. Kuti threw himself all over the stage, taking off his sweat-drenched shirt at one point to reveal a thick tattoo on his back that read "Fela Lives." Kuti loosely acted out the lyrics in many of the songs. While performing his ode to marijuana, "The Good Leaf," he broke open a water bottle as if he was irrigating the crop. During another song, Kuti tightened his saxophone strap like a tie, mocking the uptight people who won't dance to Afrobeat.
But casual listeners were in the overwhelming minority last night. At one point, a man ran up and threw dollar bills onto the stage. It was the first time it happened during the tour, according to Kuti's booking agent, who described it as an African custom. "Paying for live music in Africa used to be like this, it's not so common now," the agent wrote in a follow-up email. "It also means it was done by Nigerians. Americans don't do this sort of thing." Kuti thanked the crowd but told them to put their money to better use by donating to a charity in his name.
It was truly a mixed crowd at the half-full Variety Playhouse. At one point I stood next to an African man in a suit, an old man with dreads, and a jam-band kid with hemp bracelets. Like his father before him, Seun's songs were sprawling instrumental-driven pieces, compared to his older brother Femi Kuti's shorter more pop-infused songs [See photos of Femi Kuti's last Atlanta performance]. But they both exist in a similar musical world, playing saxophone as their dad did, and mixing Fela-inspired political speeches into their high energy shows.
"Our differences are superficial because government doesn't represent the people, man, they represent big business," he said during an interlude. He talked about the similarities between Nigeria's dysfunctional economy and America's: "They don't give you poverty and hunger, they give you credit," he said, inciting laughter. "If you sleep on the street, they arrest you," he said, critiquing his homeland. "In Lagos, you don't even have the right to be poor no more." [Read Seun Kuti's pre-show Q&A.]
Watching Seun and Egypt 80 perform a set mixed with Fela classics was made all the sweeter considering that Fela rarely, if ever, performed his recorded material live during his lifetime. At times, it felt like Seun was channeling Bob Marley as much as he was his father. It was a good night, indeed.
Check out video of Seun's encore below. Sound is muted due to poor audio quality.
Ed note: An earlier version of this post made incorrect reference to Fela Kuti's live performance history. He did perform previously recorded material during live shows, in addition to recording live shows for future releases.
ooooohhhh, I'm so excited!! I can't wait to see them together!
come on man you know you got a bromance. you probably still rock that OutKast…
Yes, 14 is the correct answer. I'll pass your info along to the group's manager,…
That was January of 2007, and they are 21 now, so I'm guessing 14?