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Seun Kuti and Africa 80 at Brick & Mortar

Harry S. Pariser By

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Seun Kuti and Egypt 80
Brick & Mortar
San Francisco, California
February 23, 2019

The youngest son of legendary saxophonist, songwriter, social activist and political rebel Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Oluseun Anikulapo Kuti aka Seun Kuti is a force of nature. He has been unstoppable since being placed in command of his late father's band Egypt 80 two decades ago.

Anticipation was in the air prior to Kuti's performance before a packed Saturday night house at Brick & Mortar in San Francisco. Eleven members took the stage and played a warmup number before Kuti came front and center on "Kuku Kee Me," which is based on a Nigerian expression.

The Fela Kuti classic "Army Arrangement," which deals with corruption and neocolonialism, was next: Few people dey fat with big money, And the rest dey hungry Call and response between Kuti and the female dancer/singers added sizzle to the mix. Prancing back and forth on the stage, at times holding one hand behind his back and flailing his hands in the air on other occasions, Kuti leaned geometrically, leapt back and forth from one side of the stage to another, conducted the band and blew his saxophone fervently.

"You Can Run," another harsh indictment of the Nigerian government, followed with dynamic percussion, waves of background vocals, and horn choruses accompanied by intense dance pyrotechnics from Kuti—a man who seldom stands still. "Corporate Public Control Department (C.P.C.D)" or "I Want My Vote Back" (referred to as "the new name for the government") featured piercing sax, background vocals by the undulating face-painted singer/dancers and cries of "justice" and "authority." In interviews, Kuti has stated that, "Government is all about controlling the elite's profit and the corporate profit. They are no longer a government but a CPDC, because their duty is to keep the people in check while the elite and the corporations do as they please." As the song declaims, "There's always work in the penitentiary."

Next up was "Bad Man Lighter," an anthem for smoking marijuana that doubles as a denouncement of duplicity by those in power. An extended, opinion-laden, sometimes difficult to follow but frequently endearing monologue followed. "I'm not surprised anymore by the USA," Kuti opined. He then went on to discuss past presidents ("Bush lied"), Emory Till, Bill Cosby, the concept that everyone in the world should vote for the US president and an indictment of the fashion industry (which he admitted once buying into): "Fashion is racist!...I spent a lot of money on that shit....I [can] declare myself president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria....The banks and Wall Street are more racist than Trump."

"African Dreams" was another searing epic, critiquing fashion and materialism while mentioning leaders such as the assassinated Patrick Lumumba. As Kuti has stated in interviews, "It is a song against imperialism of all sorts, against the abuse of our own value system and the imposition of false values that are destroying us today." Kuti's luscious, soulful tenor was supplemented by baritone. He then switched to the KORG keyboard at stage left while a giant drum, engraved with the name "Fela Ransome Kuti," and shekere (a West African percussion instrument) added to the percussive stew.

Kuti then introduced the catchy "Struggle Sounds," maintaining "Class struggle is the ultimate struggle for humanity." Fists were pumped into the air onstage. "We have had fake news for 400 years," Kuti stated before introducing "Black Times" featuring soulful baritone sax. Removing his shirt, Kuti plunged into "Theory Of Goat And Yam,'" a tune inspired by former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, who claimed that one cannot put a goat near a yam and expect the goat not to eat the yam i.e. corruption is inevitable. Bassist Kunle Justice held down the bottom while Kuti waved his shirt and shekere player Okon Iyamba waved a white cloth: "Because of yam, dem forget to be men, Dem chop all the yam and forget to remain 'na goat, Dey chop everything 'na think about the children..." More sax, extended jams, dancing and singing brought this tune and a stellar evening of music to a boisterous conclusion.

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