Few musical styles have been so completely defined by their originator as Afrobeat has been by the Nigerian singer, songwriter, band leader, saxophonist, organist, club and record company operator, polemicist and agitator, Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Since Kuti's death in 1997, few musician's other than Kuti's drummer in Afrika 70, Tony Allen, have stepped forward convincingly to either recreate the original root style or recalibrate it for a new era. Until now that is, and Kuti's son Seun's magnificent, floor shaking Many Things
Produced by Martin Meisonnier, who worked with Fela on a couple of projects for the Celluloid label in the mid 1980s, Many Things has all Fela's signature strandstough call and response vocals sung in broken English (the better to reach a pan-tribal, pan-national audience), diamond hard horn arrangements and discursive extended solos, chopping tenor guitars, rock solid drums and percussionand above all his fiery, turbulent spirit. It also has Fela's band, Egypt 80, or at least many members of it, once again under the direction of alto saxophonist Lekan Animasahun.
Meissonnier and Seun have introduced a few updates to Fela's stylethe tempos are faster than his trademark loping power-shuffle, the tracks are shorter (most are eight or nine minutes rather than Fela's characteristic 20-plus), there's a rock guitar solo on "Don't Give That Shit To Me" and a pronounced touch of desert blues in the tenor guitar riff on "Na Oil," even a brief nearly-rap section on "African Problems." But these changes, particularly the faster tempos, make Seun's Afrobeat of today without diminishing the values of yesterday.
Seun, whose vocals already possess much of his father's mature depth and edge, is a songwriter in direct line of succession. He wrote five of the seven tunes hereAnimasahun and baritone saxophonist Adedimeji Fagbemi each wrote anotherand they're all ones his father would have been proud of. Seun doesn't quite match Fela's genius for a telling metaphor or insult, but his subject matterpoverty, corruption, tribalism, Western economic exploitationis precisely the same.
Ultimately, this is both the beauty and the tragedy of Many Things. The beauty is in the music, that leonine and majestic blend of rhythm and fury. The tragedy is thata decade after Fela's death, and three decades after iconic masterpieces like "Everything Scatter," "Noise For Vendor Mouth," "Zombie," "Yellow Fever," "Sorrow Tears And Blood" and "I.T.T. International Thief Thief"the problems facing the Nigerian working and middle classes are perhaps even worse than in Fela's day.
It's easy, after a musician's death, to say he or she would have "loved" a piece of music made in their image. Who knows, for instance, whether trumpeter Miles Davis would have loved producer Bill Laswell's electric-era reimaginings on Panthalassa (Columbia, 1997), as is generally assumed? But we can be certain as certain can be that Fela would have loved Many Things. It's the second coming, and it's been worth the wait.