Having seen Seun previously at WOMAD last summer, I knew I was in for a treat. This afrobeat pioneer is renowned for charismatic and energetic performances, and this Friday night -essentially a release party for his new album ‘Black Times’, his first full LP in over five years- was no different.
The cavernous Electric Brixton suited Seun’s performance style. His big personality managed to emanate out to all corners and separate viewing platforms as he danced around the stage, nonchalantly switching between vocals, saxophone and keyboard.
The new album is, in my opinion, his greatest work. Black Times is energetic, fresh and with all the political fervour we have come to expect from a member of the Kuti family. To hear it with Egypt 80 in full swing was an invigorating experience. The older members retaining their vague looks of casual disinterest whilst grounding the piece with their metronomic precision, and the vitality of the newer, more youthful members propelling the performance.
The highlight track for me was ‘Bad Man Lighter’. It is a moody piece with some excellent horn sections, interspersed with bubbling guitars lines that pop out of the rolling drums and rhythms section. After an extended introduction the call and response between Seun and the dancers/backing vocalists hits with satisfaction. This song also displays Seun’s humorous side. As he told me in an interview a few days before, ‘Bad Man Lighter’ is not the expected call-to-arms, but an anthem about smoking weed anywhere you want to. As he pointed out, there are worse things in the world than ignoring ‘no-smoking’ signs. These light-hearted moments were interrupted by Seun’s more serious side, namely his Pan-Africanism and determined anti-capitalist ideals. It was entertaining to watch as he tangentially discussed various contemporary political and cultural happenings in-between sets.
It seems reductive to draw a comparison between Seun and Fela or James Brown, but it does succinctly draw a clear image of how he and his orchestra interact. The slightest hip movement, shoulder wiggle or sweeping gesture by Seun, as he waltzed across the stage in his three-piece peacock-feather printed outfit, seemed to conduct each and every instrument, making it seem as if the music actually came from his body. The whole set was choreographed to finest detail – I could have spent the whole evening watching only one member of the band. This was a truly exciting display of musical dynamism.
By Nick Hann, BA Global Popular Music