Femi Kuti @ Barbican 15/02/07

Now in its third year the African Soul Rebels tour goes from strength to strength. Three of Africa’s finest take turns to shake up the staid atmosphere but stunning sound of the Barbican Centre: Akli D from Algeria, Ba Cissoko from Guinea Bissau, and top of the bill Nigeria’s Femi Kuti.

If there’s a natural heir to the kind of barn storming grand show that James Brown produced its the Afrobeat funk of Femi. Just as his father Fela influenced and was influenced by The Godfather, Femi’s band Positive Force begin the show in theatric fashion. Building up the sound and the excitement, first the drummer, the keys, and guitarists take to the stage. That familiar Afrobeat groove takes over and in single file on dance the half a dozen strong brass section beaming with delight, before stepping back to build things further with blasting horns. Next up 3 dancers in beaded costumes move to the edge of the stage and do their best to make Beyonce look like a uptight amateur. Only now with the crowd on its feet in feverish anticipation does Femi himself bound on, immediately setting to work on Keyboards, before launching into the first song.

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Its almost 10 years since his charismatic, and controversial father passed away, and Femi has long since stepped out of his shadow, subtly updating his fathers Afrobeat template complete with its unerring ability to get people on their feet.

Fela was famously an implacable foe of Nigeria’s numerous dictatorships, and Kuti Jnr while mellower and less intense is nevertheless true to his political blood. Jokingly offering to take over from Tony Blair as British PM given that he can’t be any less popular throughout the world, his songs cover AIDS, and the forces that have laid his country and continent low over the years. The storming black pride anthem “Blackman Know Yourself” is a typical example of his winning mix of social message and funky as hell groove.

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Femi knows how to have fun too, although in 1999 that fun got his track “Beng Beng Beng” banned by Nigerian State Radio on the grounds of indecency. It gets one of the loudest responses of the evening as Femi moves front stage to playfully deliver the nudge nudge lyrics “To the left now, don’t slow down now, To the right now, don’t come too fast“.

Having started the evening in a black outfit with fire like patterns at his feet, and waist he ends it without his top, dripping with sweat as he alternates between furiously playing his keyboard or demonstrating his formidable Sax playing. His fathers 11 minute classic “Water No Get Enemy” gets an airing in all its magnificent finery.

Each song sounds as if it could be stretched out into the kind of 30 minute grooves Fela made famous, but tonight’s show is sadly short at around an hour. So by the time he manages to coax every member of the Barbican from their comfy seats its gone 11, and time for him to take an admittedly triumphant departure. The Barbican therefore never quite transforms into Lagos’s Shrine but that’s an unfortunate consequence of packing three superb African acts into one amazing evening.

Femi Kuti

Listen:

Femi Kuti – “Beng Beng Beng” (MP3)

Femi Kuti – “Sorry Sorry [Old School Afro Dub]” (MP3)

Fela Kuti – “Water No Get Enemy” (MP3)

Femi Kuti talks to the Guardian Podcast: MP3

Femi Kuti on the Phil Jupitus Breakfast show: Stream

Buy:

Femi Kuti – “The Definitive Collection- Best of…

Femi Kuti – Shoki Shoki, Shoki Shoki Remixed, & Fight To win @ Amazon.

Femi Kuti – Live @ The Shrine DVD

Read:

Guardian review of Barbican gig

Blogger Gruffexterior “wouldn’t have begrudged him playing for hours

Femi interviewed in the Guardian, about among other things Madonna’s adoption

Fela Kuti berates Paul McCartney

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Ba Cissoko

Having missed the opening act Akli D, I fortunately arrived just in time to add another favourite to my admittedly shoddy “World music” collection. Ba Cissoko are named after the lead singer and Kora harp player, who’s joined by fellow Kora player Sekou Kouyaté, bass player Kourou Kouyaté, and Ibrahima Bah on percussion. Playing traditional instruments in an untraditional way seems to be Ba Sissoko’s mission.

With a clenched fist Kourou Kouyate literally thumps a huge round drum resembling a huge bald head creating a booming bass sound not unlike hearing an 808 drum machine down the bottom of a 30ft well. On top of this backing Ba plays acoustic Kora, while Sekou Kouyaté takes the non conformist approach and plugs his Kora into an effects pedal. Wearing his Kora down as low as his jeans, he produces an amazing sound switching between different pedal effects like an African Jimi Hendrix, only Hendrix never had 21 strings to pluck.

Live the sound is magical, and Ba Cissoko soon have the crowd singing along despite not sharing the same tongue. Gesturing and talking in French he signals for everyone to get to their feet, proceeding to teach them to sing along with something like “Si-Ali Oowkozajaima“. By now won over, the Barbican rises as one, and when the moment comes and the music drops low ready for the audience to have their turn, we sweetly coo “Si-Ali“, before an embarrassed mumble of “Oowkozajaima“. Cissoko chuckles to himself, and helps out. language may not be universal, but on tonight’s performance his music is.

Ba Cissoko: Website

Listen:

Ba Cissoko – “King Kora” (MP3)

Buy:

Ba Cissoko – “Electric Griot Land” for a tenner @ Amazon.