By Dave Pehling
OAKLAND (CBS SF) — As the pioneer of a musical style that would eventually be known as Afrobeat, Nigerian musician and political firebrand Fela Kuti emerged in the early ’70s as one of the most important figures in African music. While he spent much of the ’60s producing a jazzy style of highlife (an uptempo style that first surfaced in Ghana) with his group Koola Lobitos, a stay in Los Angeles near the end of the decade led Kuti to radically change his music and politics.
Activated by the revolutionary stance of the Black Panthers and the propulsive funk sound of James Brown, Kuti returned to Nigeria, renamed his band Africa ’70 and began to focus on social and political messages. Recording fiery, hard-grooving salvos indicting the corrupt government and military leaders working with corporations to exploit Africa, Kuti rose to become not only a force on the growing world music scene but a political force in his native country. Despite intense government persecution that culminated with an attack on his compound that left Kuti’s mother dead, the musician would maintain his rebellious stance throughout his career until his death from AIDS in 1997.
Kuti’s music would inspire legions of imitators and a hit Broadway musical, but his legacy has largely been carried on by his two sons, Femi and Seun Kuti. Younger brother Seun was already performing onstage with Fela as a member of his latter era band Egypt ’80 before he even entered his teens. He took over leadership of the band — which featured a number of players with a history dating back to the Africa ’70s days — when he was 14 after Fela died.
While the group toured regularly, it would be another decade before Seun Kuti would record his first album in 2008, That debut effort, entitled Many Things, was produced by Martin Meissonnier, who had already worked with Fela on two albums. Where his brother Femi would introduce elements of hip hop and electronic music into his modernized style of Afrobeat, Seun would hew closer to his father’s sound and politics.
His follow up albums — From Africa With Fury: Rise in 2011 and A Long Way To the Beginning three years later — would both be hailed for their blazing political rhetoric and kinetic energy. Live, the younger Kuti continues to uphold his father’s tradition of putting on sweat-drenched marathon stage performances. For this Sunday night show at the New Parish in Oakland, the Afrobeat heir will be joined by DJ heyLove*
Seun Kuti and Egypt 80
Sunday, July 23, 8 p.m. $17-$20
The New Parish