Last Night Femi Kuti @ the Showbox
posted by July 27 at 8:29 AMon
A palpable whoosh hit the room as Femi Kuti and the Postive Force took the stage, the collective gale expelled by five horn players, two percussionists, three costumed dancers, a rhythm section, a guitarist, and a keyboardist. And then Femi stoically marched to center stage and grabbed the mic. Behind him, the massive band erupted thunder, and a two-hour session of Motherland-made Afrobeat descended on the Showbox.
The band was insanely tight. And loud. And funky as hell. Five horns—baritone and tenor sax, trumpets, and trombone—locked in instantly, punching out syncopated blasts or wailing long melodic lines. As the rhythm section—a conga/bongo player and kit drummer—smashed out driving beats, the horns waited til the most precipitous moment… waited as the guitarist snaked his way through chicki-chicki syncopation… while the bassist built a steady pulse… while Femi chanted and crooned huskily… and then WRAAAAAAAAAAH would rush in all at once, sending the audience into a frenzy every single time.
With his second song Femi showed exactly how distinct he is from dear old dad. Where Femi clunked and blustered his way through the clunky, blustery sloganeering of “Stop AIDS,” Fela would’ve dismantled the entire African socio-medical industry with a song about a pair of pants. Femi is far less metaphoric than his father, and the song mired the set early on, when it should’ve been ascending.
But he recovered quickly. During a sax solo on the next song, Femi held his note for a good three minutes or so, circular breathing while the rest of the horns bopped and roared behind him. It was an extended moment of trance-like blues.
Later on, Femi’s didacticism finally worked in his favor, as he chanted the chorus of his international hit “Beng Beng Beng”—“Don’t come too fast.” It was an appropriately raw lyric for a style of music that’s undeniably sexual, sensual. The almost-sold-out crowd, diverse in age, color, and dress code—ate it up.
Through it all, Femi conducted the band like a classical conductor turned shirtless heartthrob, imperious in his control and dignified in his between-song banter. One thing the man certainly inherited from his father: he knows how to run a stage.
Femi’s breed of Afrobeat is cleaner, more globalized than Fela’s. His equipment is better, lacking the cranky, crackling, lo-fi scuzz that makes so much of Fela’s music so dark and harrowing. No doubt Femi has a broader vocal range; he’s probably a better sax player too. He lacks the intellectual venom of Fela, but perhaps that stems from a displomacy, an ability to communicate with a larger audience, that his father lacked, that his father could only pave the way for. There’s little chance of son being the same innovator as father, but he has the opportunity to bring about a greater influence.
Photos by Morgan Keuler