It isn't often that one can see a band where the lead singer has been crooning since age eight, but that is the case with Seun Kuti, who is very much is father's son.
Seun's dad was Fela Kuti, the dynamo singer, songwriter, saxophonist and controversial social activist who enervated the Lagos, Nigeria of the 1970s. Fela founded the genre of "Afrobeat" which has spawned bands such as Albino! and has informed the music of sons Seun and Femi.
And this band is the Egypt 80, Fela's final group, and one which still features bandleader-keyboardist Lekan Animasahun. Many of its twelve performers are from that era as well.
Seun is very much his father's son, a fact which is quite evident when he takes the stage at Zellerbach Auditorium at the University of California Berkeley campus. Throughout the 90-minute performance, Seun seared and sizzled, prancing back and forth on the stage, one hand behind his back at times — flailing his hands in the air at others, blowing his sax forcefully, a clarion call to take action. Trim and thin, he sports a bluish dress shirt and elegant gray trousers with inlaid designs.
For action and social activism was in very much the core of his music. I still remember decades back, when Fela was scheduled to appear at Zellerbach, and, he was detained at the airport for "currency violations," his son Femi took on the roles of vocalist and sax player and declaimed from the stage that "I don't care if they put me into jail or kill me for what for saying this. Nigeria is worse than (apartheid) South Africa."
Similarly, Seun raged against the system, launching into a cogent (if heavily Nigerian English-accented) indictment of our corrupt system: "I appreciate your all coming out. We are all going through the same shit man! Around the world, our governments do not care about the people! They care about two things: big business and money....The economy has already collapsed. Obama...They stole the money too.... The banks give you credit cards. You've got to take some shit from your boss in order to pay the money back."
Later on, he tries to teach the audience a few words of pidgeon, the transliteration of "plant it and let it grow," the chorus of "the Good Leaf," a song about the need to free the seed, namely marijuana. "I'm going to teach you how to speak some pigeon, at least one sentence, he exclaims. He largely succeeds.
The band is taut and provides a powerful backing for Seun's political lyrics. During the punchy Rise, from his new CD, he declares "I cry for my country when I see am in the hands of these people; Dem dey sell am every day and dem dey bring the people down (them dey bring us down);
Our children no dey chop and we still no get work"
Everyone seems to be having a fantastic time on stage, including the two identically dressed female singers who shake their booties. (Females playing instruments in African music in general and in Afrobeat in particular are few and far between).
Other highlights of the evening are "Mr. Big Thief," Fela's "Zombie" and the finale of "Mosquito," during which Seun sheds his shirt and struts around the stage as everyone dances in the aisles while a select few join him in a bacchanalistic frenzy on the stage.