Apr 11, 2011

The Day Seun Kuti Stormed Helsinki

During the autumn of every year, Helsinki city celebrates Helsinki day, a celebration that features well planed cultural activities of various types spread over one month. During the celebration many international artistes of repute were often billed to perform and in this year’s celebration, our own Seun Kuti and Fela’s Egypt 80 was one of them. I almost missed the show. A yearly happening like the Helsinki Day celebration does not get detailed advertisement. One has to seek information about the schedule and pick dates and activities one is interested in. I was too busy and forgot the date for the gig as I knew already he was on the bill. One can then imagine my joy when my phone started ringing on the evening of Saturday the 16th day of August. First it was Chudi, ‘Ol’boy where you dey’? I could hear a lot of voices in the background, then Olu. Luckily I was within shot to the venue, and most of all I was in the studio rounding up my Saturday broadcast. I quickly packed up my field kit, recorder, video, still camera etall, and headed to the Hakaniemi beach park, the venue of the concert.

Approaching the parking lot, I could already hear the unmistaken pulsating sound of afrobeat renting the air. Man, was I excited? As I walked through security, a fine lady in security outfit stood there. I smiled at her and even patted her on the shoulder as I danced my way to the entrance of a large tent, venue of the concert. The place was already jam-packed with happy faces and I managed to squeeze my way to the front row, smiling to every face that turned my way, and getting in return broad genuine smiles, a good sign that we are all in for a great evening of fun.

The show was just starting; Fela’s Egypt 80 band was playing the intro with the baritone sax player, Showboy Adedimeji leading the pack upfront, so I have not missed a thing. It was a great pleasure to see the faces of these guys again, the Egypt 80, some of whom had been with Seuns celebrated father of blessed memory, Fela Anikulakpo Kuti (Abamieda), from the days of his early musical carrier, talk of someone like Tajudeen Animasahun (Baba Ani).

The Power of Afrobeat

The power of afrobeat is undisputable. When I started out here on Radio City Helsinki, Finland’s pioneer commercial station in 1989, I clustered the airwave with a myriad of African and Caribbean music genre, and of course, afrobeat was top in my play list. Being the first time hearing an African voice, telling African stuff on Finnish airwave, the reaction from the listeners was magnificent. I remember a caller who told me that when he was a young school leaver in the70s, he went on inter-rail trip, as it is common with European youths, to familiarize himself with the rest of Europe. While in Berlin he saw a poster of Fela’s concert, and for some reason decided to go and see what it was all about, though he had never heard about Fela before. He got to the venue, and after the show according to him, did not continue with his original inter rail travel itinerary, rather he followed Fela and his band’s concert schedule until he ran out of cash and decided it was time to go home. I got to know this guy in person later, and I was amazed by his collection of Afrobeat. He had almost everything Fela ever produced. Such is the power of afrobeat.

In my youth days, I had my first job after secondary school at Lagos. It lasted for one year before I got a place to further my education, and I spent almost every weekend of that year at the shrine. That was in 1974. I sat almost on the same spot in the front row on Fridays, (yabis night), and Sartudays (Comprehensive show). I remember one occasion when I almost broke the rule of ‘no movement’ during the comprehensive show, when Fela goes to do the rituals of offerings in the shrine. He had just finished announcing the commencement of the ritual, with the usual warning that none should move when I emerged from the men’s room heading towards my usual seat, almost in front of him. He pointed towards me and said “una siiam,see dis one, no be de tin I jus dey tök now, dis one….” I quickly raised a black power sign and shouted Babao!. He smiled and said “ hm, una no sometin, dis guy, efry weekend, na for dis same conner him dey tanda, abi u buy dat chair, anyway sha, because of dat I forgive you” and the audience applauded. That was when I realized that he took notice of me, and men, did that feel good?

My retro on Fela while the subject is Seun is not in digression; I say this because seeing Seun felt a little bit like bringing Fela back to life. I guess this had more to do with their striking physical resemblance. Also his moves and the fact that the band is Fela’s Egypt 80 sealed the whole thing. It was my first encounter with Seun. I was involved in Femi Kuti’s first visit to Finland in 1997 for the World Village Festival. During the fest, I was their official host. But for Seun, all I knew about him was from what I got on the net, and had wished to see him perform live. My wish came through during this concert.

The Show

After the band delivered a couple of their repertoire, the band’s baritone sax player, Adedimeji Fagbemi (Showboy) announced Seun, and the crowed of over a thousand people went wild. Seun after greeting the crowed went into business, first delivering the song titled ‘Many things’ a song that highlighted the poor condition of things in Africa, and Nigeria in particular. He went on to the delight of the audience to deliver more of their powerful and polyrhythmic repertoire that Afrobeat is noted for. He sang songs like ‘don’t give that shit’, Fire dance, etc. One of the climaxes was when he did one of Fela’s old songs ‘Suffering and smiling’. The few Nigerians at the venue were as over excited as I was, we were all wriggling to the rhythm. Many people were sited at the beginning of the show, but when the place became supper charged, and the spirit of Afrobeat took over, everyone jumped unto their feet, dancing to the rhythm of the beat. It was one great feeling, one great night to relish.

When the band ended their last repertoire, the crowed refused to bulge. They applauded for a very long time, and when it seemed the band wasn’t coming back, some people started leaving the venue. But suddenly there was a loud roar, and a mad rush as people ran back to the tent. Alas the band was back for an extra.


At the end of the gig, I found my way backstage to comhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifmiserate with Seun and the boys. It was a happy moment for all of us. What interested me most was the simplicity exhibited by the entire crew. Seun had time for everyone, cracking jokes, hugging and shaking hands; giving photo opportunity to anyone who dared to ask. I used the opportunity to chat with the old hands of the band. One of them told me it was a good thing that they were able to keep the band together after Fela passed. According to him, they were worried about their future, but luckily they had Seun whom he called their boy, because he had always been there with them right from when he was a little boy. I was very happy that I did not miss the show, and I am sure that everyone that was there had a great time. This is proved by messages I saw on Seun and the bands site on Myspace, one of which read.

nigeriavillagesquare.com, written by Ikechukwu Ude-Chime

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