(HUDSON, N.Y.) – Seun Kuti’s father, the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti, was nearly synonymous with “Afrobeat.” The son carries on the father’s legacy, combining swirling African rhythms and gritty textures with horn-laced funk in songs laced with social and political messages performed by Egypt 80, the combo formerly fronted by Fela Kuti, at Club Helsinki on Saturday, April 7, 2012, at 9pm.
His new release, Africa With Fury: Rise, follows Seun Kuti’s critically praised debut, 2008’s Many Things, which was unanimously hailed for continuing his father’s musical legacy. Produced by visionary Brian Eno (Talking Heads, David Bowie, U2), From Africa With Fury: Rise sees Kuti finding his own idiosyncratic voice as songwriter, singer, and band leader, with the scorching rhythms and kinetic funk energy that has earned the band 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.
Born in 1983, Seun Kuti first began performing with Egypt 80 at the age of nine, warming up audiences with renditions of his father’s songs. After Fela Kuti’s death in 1997, Seun Kuti 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 overstated, 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,” Seun 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.”
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. Kuti compels 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, Seun’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.
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 Kuti, it is that no one has greater impact on hearts and mind than the true artist. As such, his powerhouse protest music found 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.
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