Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 at SFJazz, San Francisco

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Seun Kuti and Egypt 80
SFJazz
San Francisco, California
June 19, 2014

A popular aphorism maintains that "the apple never falls fall from the tree." That certainly holds true for Seun Kuti, the son of the legendary saxophonist, songwriter, social activist and political rebel Fela Kuti. The roots run deep. While apples are not indigenous to Nigeria, neither is the Afro Beat music which Fela Kuti developed and popularized, a legacy which his son continues. It isn't often that one can see a band where the lead singer has been crooning since age eight, but that is the case with Seun Kuti. And this band is the Egypt 80 Orchestra, Fela's final group, and one which still features bandleader, saxophonist (and sometimes keyboardist) Lekan Animasahun. Many of its fifteen performers are from that era as well. The band's cohesive sound is the result of years of camaraderie (including a shared legacy of intense and sustained political persecution by the Nigerian government) and concerts.

Kuti is very much his father's son as became quite evident when he took the stage of the SF Jazz Center in San Francisco. Throughout the 90-minute performance, Kuti seared and sizzled, pranced back and forth on the stage (with one hand behind his back at times and flailing his hands in the air on other occasions), leaned geometrically, leapt back and forth from one side of the stage to another, and blew his sax forcefully, as if it were a clarion call to take action. Trim and thin, he sported a white shirt with elegant black-and-white trousers with fancy geometric designs and shoes to match.

Taut as a stretched rubber band, Egypt 80's powerful wall of sound provided the perfect backdrop for Kuti's politically charged lyrics. A perfect example of this are these powerfully-worded excerpts from "IMF" from the CD A Long Way to the Beginning (KFR, 2014), which proved to be one of the evening's scorchers:

"You bring suffering
People power
So much lying from the IMF
So much stealing from the IMF
So much killing from the IMF
Manipulation from the IMF
Intimidation from the IMF
Very dangerous people IMF
The president take the money and hide it!
Over here we call it poverty pimpin'
The bootlicking
The people, the victim, kissing the ass of white power
International mother shut your mouth."

Everyone appeared to have had a fantastic time on stage, including the two identically dressed female singers who shook their booties. And the celebratory mood extended to the audience, whose members descended to the front of the hall and danced, at times to the consternation of those whose views of the band were thereby blocked.

Introducing the powerful new song "Woman," Kuti quoted Mitt Romney ("I have a binder full of women") and urged women to "not be distracted":

"I don't talk about your hair or your shoes or the clothes that you wear
I talk about your mind
I talk about your courage
I talk about your strength and how you manage to achieve so much
When they give you so little
Caught in a vicious cycle
Victim of every battle."

After a searing "Kalakuta Boy" (which included Kuti videotaping the audience; a first for the reviewer) the ensemble exited, and a standing ovation brought them back for "You Can Run," and then a transcendent evening of what Kuti calls "original African music" came to a close.

The Band:

Seun Kuti—alto saxophone, vocals
Alade Oluwagbemiga—guitar
David Obanyedo—guitar
Lekan "Baba Ani" Animasahun—alto saxophone
Oyinade Adeniran—tenor saxophone
Adedimeji Fagbemi—baritone saxophone
Olugbade Okunade—trumpet
Emmanuel Kunnuji—trumpet
Kunle Justice—keyboards
Kayode Kuti—bass
Adebiyi Ajayi—drums
Wale Toriola—percussion
Chief Udoh Essiet—percussion
Bolande Kamson—vocals
Iyabo Adeniran—vocals
Moturayo Anikulapo Kuti— vocals

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