Apr 8, 2011

Femi Kuti : Live Review from July, 2005

For a new generation of African popular music listeners, it is understood that few, if any, musicians are be able to match the exuberance, catchiness, and ultimate energy of a Fela Kuti concert. Nevertheless, on Sunday July 17th, 2005, fans braved the inclement weather to enjoy Fela’s son, Femi, as he carried the torch of afrobeat at Central Park ’s Summerstage.

The concert opened with a crowd-pleasing performance by Brazilian Girls who played an hour-long set during which the buckets of rain poured down on the outdoor venue. The torrent ended just as Femi and his band Positive Force were ready to take the stage. The rhythm section, consisting of two percussionists, a drum kit, bass, guitar, and keyboards came on first, laying down a groove to introduce the four-man horn section, three gorgeous, bead-clad dancers, and Femi, who came onstage to the second keyboard. Almost immediately, Femi’s energy was on display for a crowd holding its ground on the muddy, green, rubber astroturf. Femi’s stage antics, surging veins, swinging arms and shaking hips all reflected the surging tempo.

Though Femi’s recording career is a byproduct of his father’s genius, his recent success can largely be attributed to ventures into new territories of sound outside the afrobeat genre. Nevertheless, comparisons to his father are inescapable. The second song of the set was “Stop AIDS,” a symbol of Femi’s intent to couple endless dance grooves with overt politicism, and to differentiate himself from Fela, who was famously dismissive about the threat of HIV. The song’s awesomely funky bassline dropped, soon accompanied by horn harmonies reminiscent of Fela compositions. The lyrics are meant to empower the listeners: “If you love yourself/You’ve got to protect yourself.” For Femi, getting a message to the people is most powerful with music as the weapon and dance as a symbol of activism. This juxtaposition can prove quite difficult to grasp as such heavy sentiments are laid upon a body enjoying itself. The song was an early indication that this music is a live music meant to enrich the mind body and soul. Indeed, Femi escaped the restraints of recording with his wailing saxophone and stage antics. And every time you got the impulse to close your eyes and get lost in the music, the realization that three beautiful Nigerians with such staggering moves are dancing onstage hits you like headlights in the dead of night.

By the fourth song, Femi had established both his presence and saxophone prowess through his dancing and undeniably awesome circular breathing that brought each note forth with a blaring intensity. It was then that he introduced his young son to the stage as a fifth member of the horn section, taking a solo on a tenor saaxophone that loomed large compared to the small body it emanated from. Femi conversed with his son’s horn with his voice and his own saxophone before the youngest generation of the Kuti generation receded to the backstage. Femi’s live performances are always jaw-droppingly vigorous, but there was definitely something missing this time around. Perhaps the outdoor atmosphere of sultry, humid weather made it hard for the crowd to match Femi’s intensity. In addition, the explosive and dynamic outpouring of the heart that Femi’s music has come to represent cannot come with every single performance from any artist. The music that Femi has decided to create carries the torch of afrobeat, but, to the dismay of many hardcore afrobeat and Fela fans, it incorporates modern dj and house influences and is overall a much more uptempo, driving genre than Fela’s fare. Staying in tune with Femi is always a delight. However, keeping pace with him (and his dancers) can prove quite daunting, especially while soaking up the fresh mud at Central Park 's Summerstage. As Femi fights to win against the unjust world that we live in, his music and message ring loud at frequencies with an intensity that can blur the clarity that political music must strive for in its call to arms.

afropop.org, Review by Andrew Aprile

1 comment:

  1. I was there. It was one of my favorite NYC experiences dancing in the rain!