Dec 7, 2010
Femi Kuti - Africa For Africa: Reviews
Following closely on from the bombastic 2008 album, Day By Day, Femi Kuti’s latest offering, Africa For Africa, has a similar potency. It is heightened by the fact that rather than being recorded in Europe, it was recorded in Lagos, in the very same studio where the Afrobeat movement was allegedly given birth to by his father, Fela Kuti.
Africa for Africa offers a visceral experience due to Femi's wise decision to move to a live recording approach, which ensures the full utilisation of the band's energy. It also features some of Femi’s most powerful work, such as ‘Politics In Africa’, ‘Nobody Beg’, and ‘Now I See’. Stylistically, it is very in line with the best of Afrobeat and Jazz out there, but what makes this album and artist so exciting is how he infuses the eclectic mix of Western instrumentation and African rhythm, with a reggae undercurrent. The upbeat tonality of the Caribbean brass contrast pointedly as they speed up to the edge of fathomable rhythm while Femi sprays his bitter words with part condemnation and part supplication.
The targets are the supposed political authorities of Africa and the disunity of the great people who can accomplish so much in far-off lands, yet fail to overcome corruption, greed and delusion within their own boundaries. The overbearing theme of the album, permeating every single song, is self empowerment. Kuti’s fire shows no signs of wavering.
by Jarred Keane
NIGERIA'S late great multi-instrumentalist and human rights activist Fela Kuti is now the subject of a new musical at the National Theatre in London. Meanwhile his son Femi Kuti is on tour to promote his new CD, and this week he and his band Positive Force will touch down in Scotland, playing the Edinburgh Picture House on Wednesday and the Arches in Glasgow on Thursday. Musically speaking, this CD is rough-edged: he has made a conscious attempt to avoid the sort of smoothness that would have emasculated its message. While the brass blares and the bass kicks up hot rhythms, Kuti and his singers pound out their aggressive lyrics, whose titles - Nobody beg, Bad government, Can't buy me, and No blame them - tell their own radical story. And if this has got him into hot water with the Nigerian government, that's just fine by him.
Those who attend his Scottish concerts should bear in mind the family history. Kuti's parents split up when he was very young, and he went to live with his mother, but he returned to live with his father - and join his band - when he was in his teens. As his own son now plays saxophone in his band, the apostolic succession is being maintained, as are Fela Kuti's campaigning objectives.
After an absence of four years, Femi delivered a tour de force in 2008 with Day By Day. His new album Africa For Africa has a very similar direction, except for one crucial difference. Day By Day was made in Paris, while this one was recorded in Lagos, in the historic Decca studio where his father Fela recorded some of his classics and where Femi began his career. And you can feel the energetic tension of the Nigerian megacity in every beat of this record, which features some of Femi’s most powerful compositions, such as ‘Politics In Africa’ and the incendiary ‘Now I See’. Femi attacks the African political elite for having no legitimate right to power and for their abuses of the people (‘Nobody Beg’, ‘Bad Government’). There’s a constant sense of urgency here, even on the slower songs, which smoulder with heat (as on the title track). The Kuti flame burns bright.
Like his father before him there is no evidence of a mellowing with age, in fact quite the reverse. This is an album dominated by the bitterness of one who feels he has been had. Had by the government, by the governors and the whole political class. Had by an international system that displays proudly its benevolence towards his continent while stripping its resources bare, shitting on its environment from a height and condemning millions to a carousel of subsistence and death.
As he wonders aloud on ‘Bad Government’ how is it that Africa produces such great footballers, doctors and other individuals while its countries are in a mess? Most of the tracks on this album have the intensity and punch that makes his live shows so unforgettable but perhaps a little more variety in pace would make the album a better listen. On the other hand in this digital age, how much does that matter?
And if a few of the tracks sound familiar that could because — like the opening track ‘Dem Bobo’ — they have appeared on other albums (in this case Africa Shrine).
Hopefully, this album will get into the hands of some of the many who’ll be checking out the Musical Fela during its run at the National Theatre in November, while Femi himself is doing a short tour of the UK at the end of November / the start of December 2010.
by Damian Rafferty
He almost did not wait for the curtain to fall on this year's edition of Felabration, a week-long concert he organises annually together with his elder sister, Yeni, in remembrance of his father, Fela Anikulapo - Kuti, before jetting out of Lagos, Nigeria in continuation of his yearly tour of Europe and America. He had, before the beginning of Felabration, put the tour on hold to take charge of activities at the event which featured Awilo Logomba among others.
Femi Anikulapo-Kuti, who as at the time of filing in this report, was getting set to mount the stage for a show in Italy, has been attracting rave reviews in major newspapers in the UK like The Financial Times, The Times, Guardian.
The reviews are either on his live shows or on his current album, "Africa for Africa," which he is using the tour to promote and which incidentally, is yet to be released in Nigeria. No thanks to the twin issue of lack of record company to do so and the alarming incidence of piracy under the nose of Adebambo Adewopo-led Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC).
Writing in Novermber 13 edition of The Times, David Hutcheon simply described Africa for Africa as a monster.
"In a month when Fela Kuti's 40-plus Afrobeat albums have been re-issued and the Southbank has reverberated to a musical about his life, his eldest son returns to the fray with what might be his own finest outing. It's a thrilling dash from first to last, with precious few stops to catch your breath; and whenever you try, some humungous horn riff or drum break will pile more intensity into the mix. Highlights include "Nobody Beg," "Yeparipa" and "Bad Government," but cherry-picking would only dilute the effect. This is a monster," Hutcheon wrote.
In the same breath, David Honigmann of The Financial Times has this to say after watching the only Nigerian home- grown musician to be nominated twice for Grammy awards at the Barbican Hall.
"A couple of miles across town, the National Theatre continued to host its airbrushed version of the life of Fela Kuti. His son, Femi, whipped a similar mixture of drumming and brass and politics and sex - 'You can't talk about politics without talking about sex' - into a high-energy show at the Barbican.
'This is Lagos,' he declared confidently. 'This is Africa.' There were Yoruba shouts from the audience. 'I can hear a lot of my people from the western part of Africa here.' Not mentioning Nigeria was deliberate: 'Borders are lies to keep us separated. I want to remove the lines drawn by slave traders and colonialists,' he said.
The Kuti home base in Lagos is a nightclub called The Shrine, and the concert had the feel of a religious service. Red, gold and green spotlights poured down like sunlight through stained glass. Music was interspersed with sermonising alalalalala, called Kuti, and the faithful responded with shouts of ororororoo!"
The infuential UK's Guardian was not left out as it wrote this about the new album.
"His waxcloth was more like a jester's motley than a priest's robes, but he manned his Hammond organ like a pulpit. Afrobeat is a cult of personality or it is nothing, and Kuti has a big enough personality to front it. On Obasanjo Don Play You Wayo, he railed without a hint of shame against nepotism in Nigeria's public life. In the midst of Beng Beng Beng, his dancers vibrating in a way that went beyond the lascivious into the aerobic, he gave graphic instructions on avoiding premature ejaculation, to squeals of appreciation from half the crowd.
"But whereas old-school Afrobeat songs unfolded over a leisurely half-hour or so, his reached their climax after five minutes. Apart from a maundering Inside Religion, the songs were tight and punchy, the juggernaut rumble of the drums set off by sharp percussive cracks and the powerhouse of the brass section blowing as one.
"During Africa for Africa came Kuti's main sermon: 'Economic problems in Europe show that corruption isn't just an African problem. In Britain you don't even know who your president is.'
Then it was back to the music: a run through
Sorry-Sorry and Action Time, energy still unflagging even if the dancers had to retreat behind a speaker stack to gulp water. 'Africa can excel!' Kuti shouted. 'Africa can excel!'
More than just a simple musician, the 48-year old composer has become a true African Ambassador, in its most honorable sense. Indeed the album recording had to be arranged around his busy schedule. For example, Femi was in Johannesburg to sing for Africa the opening ceremony for the Football World Cup. There he sang one of his hits 'Beng Beng Beng', and took the opportunity to meet a few of the anti-Apartheid heroes. Shortly after, he was heading off to New York to see the famous and very successful Broadway musical about Fela, where he also got to appear on stage, invited by the actors at the end of the show. «It's truly extraordinary, they really understood my father's struggle and his mindset This show has got to travel the world, and come down to the Shrine», he says naturally.
Will we see Femi carrying out this project throughout the world? Maybe. In the meantime, his Shrine still carries the torch week in week out, so much so it has become one of the only last dynamic temples for live African music. Erykah Badu, Damon Albarn, Hugh Masekala have recently made appearances, as have the Lagos Police, who regularly raid the place, picking up and frightening off the local crowd, as they try to close down this highly regarded resistance venue. For the Shrine's 10th anniversary, coming this winter, Femi has plans to organize there an exceptional festival, following which he will be promoting his new album on stage.
With younger brother Seun making his impressive debut out the front of dad’s old band Egypt 80 (of which Femi was a member before his father’s death), Femi Kuti has stepped up to the plate with his new album Africa for Africa. While Seun displayed a youthful aggression, Femi takes a cooler, yet no less aggressive approach to his songs. Musically Femi works from his roots, taking his father’s jazz infused Afro-beat and occasionally adding a reggae-tinged Caribbean element. But lyrically the oldest son, like his father, is not mellowing with age. With a verve that fringes on bitterness, Femi looks at his proud homeland, the world’s oldest continent, and asks how they can produce great artists, sportspeople, doctors, yet be let down by their political leaders – Bad Government. While some of these tracks like Dem Bobo have appeared before, Africa for Africa benefits from a back to basics, less produced, more live recording approach, that lets the band cook the sort of brew that makes their live shows irresistible. Femi Kuti and the Positive Force will be playing this Saturday at The Metro.
Labels: Femi Kuti