16 Aug 2016

Live: Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 at WOMAD 2016

From the collecton Womad
Seun Kuti

Seun Kuti Photo: Stan Alley

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 live at WOMAD 2016.

8pm on a beautiful warm Saturday evening saw Nigerian born Seun Kuti and his band Egypt 80 fill the Bowl stage in New Plymouth’s scenic Pukekura Park and deliver a set to an equally warm reception.

The youngest son of legendary afrobeat pioneer, Fela Kuti, who died in 1997, Seun Kuti and his band Egypt 80 previously played WOMAD in 2009.

Seun Kuti, like his father, Fela, and his older brother Femi,is a song-writer and saxophonist with a political conscience, who plays his own inimitable brand of afrobeat. He insists he hasn’t tried to change his father’s musical template. It’s more of a case of letting it evolve. “Music shouldn’t change. It should evolve. …Changing the music isn’t the term I would use to classify what I am doing. And also I wouldn’t say I’m advancing the music...I think terms like that kind of diminish what the art of music is, because now nobody cares about how good you are. The question now is how many records did you sell? Artists are constantly compared to their album sales...I feel that for me it is about the art evolving. I wouldn’t say I’m changing it.”

Afrobeat is a musical form that is still as relevant as it was when Fela Kuti first fused jazz, funk and soul with highlifeand other African rhythms. As a genre, it was starting to break globally just as his father died. The successful Tony Award winning Broadway production of Fela on Broadway, based on music and lyrics by this late father Fela, has helped keep the fire burning.

As Seun says, when Fela was alive, afrobeat was mostly an African message, but he believes that today it is has a global application. Bands from all over the world have adopted the genre to deliver messages that address issues going on in their own individual countries.

Seun’s life is dedicated to the legacy his father. He spent years playing in his father's band and took over as vocalist (aged 14) with the band Egypt 80 following his father's death.

On Stage, it makes for an exhilarating spectacle with a big band of musicians, singers and dancers. Seun is a tall imposing presence who leaps around the stage accompanied by an impressively tight funky band and engages in plenty of rhetoric in-between songs.

In the interview I had with Seun, we concluded our conversation talking about soccer. His career choices were either to be a musician or a professional football player. Even though he continues to live in Lagos, he still monitors English football. He supports Arsenal and when I said I supported Leicester City he vehemently protested. His final words were “there’s eight games to go. Lets see how it goes”.

Seun Kuti is a very charismatic man, an astute musician who, along with his older brother Femi Kuti, maintain their father’s proud afrobeat legacy. 

Recorded by RNZ Music. Recording Engineer William Saunders. Mixed and Produced Darryl Stack.

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