As the youngest son of Nigeria’s afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, Seun had some big boots to fill, but stepped into them at the tender age of 14, when he became the frontman for his father’s band Egypt 80. I was more familiar with Fela’s hits from the mid-70s, such as Water No Get Enemy and Zombie, than Seun’s material, but hoped for a similar vibe. The slightly odd addition of Akala, the London rapper and younger brother of Ms. Dynamite, as a special guest, also intrigued me. Although, not so odd when you consider the highly politicised message expounded in Fela and Seun’s music and the increasingly socially conscious hip hop Akala is currently producing.
We just caught the end of support act Prince Fatty with Holly Cook’s light, airy vocals complementing the reggae sounds. This was followed by a fairly long interval before the Egypt 80 band set up, all middle-aged (and older) men on a variety of instruments. They were followed by two (slightly younger) scantily clad and brightly painted backing singers, who spent most of the show wiggling their bums at the audience, which my sister was rather outraged about! Then came the tall, athletic Seun in shiny, grey suit trousers and a shiny, purple shirt, opening with one of his dad’s numbers Opposite People. My sister commented on the fact the men and woman on stage couldn’t be more opposite in appearance, but I felt she was missing the point, especially given that the song was written in the aftermath of the Nigerian army’s brutal attack on Fela’s compound. She also pointed out the men in the band all looked rather grim-faced, which I couldn’t dispute.
They then played a few tracks from his latest album A Long Way to the Beginning, the standout IMF (International Mother Fuckers, not the International Monetary Fund), getting the crowd going and Kuti playing a saxophone solo. It was then time to introduce Akala, who after a bit of a shaky start in his one-wide-leg, zipped trousers, eventually got into his flow, but failed to make himself heard properly above the music, so the lyrics were somewhat lost and I’m not sure he bought much to the table. Kuti meanwhile, having stripped to the waste with the help of one of his backing singers, took up the bongo drums.
Finishing with an energetic rendition of Fela’s Zombie, it was an entertaining set, but I couldn’t help feeling Seun Kuti is still trying to fill the boots of his late father and relying on his music to carry him, rather than establishing himself as an authentic artist in his own right.