Seun Kuti, afrobeat from the other Kuti heir
New album, A Long Way to the Beginning
On the cover of A Long Way to the Beginning, his third album, Seun Anikulapo Kuti brandishes a raised fist in a sign of revolt, a fist whose silhouette evokes Africa, two themes dear to his Black President father, who passed away in 1997 from AIDS, two themes he combines in afrobeat’s future.
Just like Fela Anikulapo Kuti, his father, Seun (abbreviated from Yoruba Oluseun) isn’t afraid of anything or anyone, and above all not the guardians of the temple. He grew up in Lagos – in the self-proclaimed Kalakuta Republic to which he pays tribute in this album – and was part of Egypt 80 from an early age. Singer and then saxophonist in his father’s ensemble before becoming lead singer at his father’s death, he learned all the inner workings of this music, which is at the crossroads of traditional Yoruba music, funk and jazz.
Today, like his brother Femi, he wants to put his own stamp on afrobeat and to impose his own name next to his surname. So with the complicity of the pianist Robert Glasper, who is in charge of producing this album, he introduces some inventive digressions. If his Ohun Aiye underlines afrobeat’s high-life roots, the rest of the album takes the spectrum of this music a little further which, during his lifetime, Fela always said is the weapon of the future.
During the course of A Long Way to the Beginning, Seun Kuti invited a pair of ready tongues from the hip-hop underground of America’s East Coast: Lavon Alfred, a.k.a. M1 of Dead Prez, who was contacted via Twitter after he made it known in an interview that he would like to collaborate with Kuti, and Blitz The Ambassador. There is also the German-Nigerian singer Nneka and the French vibraphonist David Neerman, noticeable amongst others for his duo with the Malian, Lansiné Kouyaté. These collaborations – you could even say “joint venture” in Blitz’s case, given that Seun is participating in the New Yorker’s of Ghanaian orgin’s next opus – aim to make his approach accessible to the widest audience, all the while beating the paternal afrobeat with urban sounds from third millennium megacities.
These 7 long format titles (between 5 and 9 minutes, which is very reasonable for a Kuti, not pandering to the dictates of FM radios) point to the African continent’s political and social malfunctioning. The saxophonist and singer challenges the I.M.F about the global economic system: I.M.F. for ‘International Mother Fucker’ as well as the International Monetary Fund. He clearly questions the global monetary institution presided over by Christine Lagarde, who is French. This institution is, according to the youngest offspring of afrobeat’s creator, the source of Africa’s woes, and moreover feeds African governments, which he accuses of nepotism and a cruel lack of vision for the primal continent.
In African Airways, the “son of” puts a western pilot and a silly African copilot in control of the plane. For him, such a pair can only end up failing. Just like his father, this militant denounces the effects of neo-colonialism, while wishing that Africans proudly resume control of their destiny.
Seun wishes that this black pride were not so cheaply sold off by women today who straighten their hair, or even with the known risks that it poses to their health, whiten their skin. He has dedicated a song to these women who forget who they are, and on which he has invited his compatriot, the singer Nneka: “I write this song for you… Black women, I love you just the way you are” he unleashes, citing during the song the names of black women whom he admires: Angela Davis, the militant Afro-American from the Civil Rights Movement or the singer Nina Simone…
At the opposite end of bling-bling rap and commercial music in general, he takes advantage of Ohun Aiye (composed by Lekan “Baba An” Animashaun, Egypt 80’s conductor), to remind us that as a Yoruba proverb states, “the things of life end at the same time as life”. He who carries the paternal torch knows the strength of his music. Firmly embracing the present, his music participates in building the world of tomorrow, a world that he humbly acknowledges is only at its beginning.
Seun Kuti & Egypt 80, A Long Way to the Beginning (Knitting Factory Records / Because Music) 2014
In concert 13 March in Lille, 15 March in Aubervilliers, and on tour
Seun Kuti's Facebook Page