Femi Kuti at the Cedar Cultural Center 6/26/13
Photo courtesy of Knitting Factory Records
Femi Kuti and Positive Force
Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
A Femi Kuti concert is unlike any other concert. The dancing, the shaking, the emotions that start on stage and infiltrate the audience with an almighty power. It's the kind of thing that gets a huge crowd at the Cedar twisting around itself, and it's an experience you get lost in, like an exceptionally enthralling dream.
The two-plus-hour show Kuti put on last night at the Cedar was certainly one of those experiences. Kuti's band, Positive Force, took over the stage with expert shimmying and unison swaying. The three costumed back-up dancers/vocalists didn't once stop their gyrating, their smiles never breaking, as they moved with the beats of Kuti's powerful songs. The crowd followed their lead from the first moment on -- with growing enthusiasm.
"This is Africa," said Kuti early on in the show. "This is Afrobeat!" It would prove a mantra for the rest of the night.
Indeed, Kuti's Afrobeat is a spectacular blend of sounds. Based on the music founded by his father, Fela Kuti, in the '70s in Nigeria, the son has continued the tradition with staggering intuition and deft arrangements. His sixth full-length album, No Place for My Dream, is an album made in the true spirit of Afrobeat, blending funk, reggae, and jazz into the lifeline of African folk. It is probably Kuti's most political album yet - -and its songs are less Africa-centric and more globally inspired, as Kuti boldly tackles the worldwide recession, political corruption, and issues of poverty.
"We sing about love and peace and friendship," announced Kuti a few songs in. "And while we sing about pain, it is the objective of our true dreams that we want the world to be a better place for all."
This mission statement was met with fervent cheers. As a frontman, Kuti is a remarkable force of nature -- the sort of man who, by sheer will, inspires an incredibly emotional audience response.
"As I rack my brain/Trying to understand politics/Again and again/Politicians use the same tactics," sings Kuti on the charged "Politics Na Big Business," a pulsing horn section and fierce rhythm backing him up.
"In spite all the problems that you face, in spite all the problems that real people face... the so-called middle class... without them, there is no balance," declared Kuti, leaning down into the crowd from the stage. At times, he got so close that he looked as if he were going to dive off. "Despite all the problems, you still find the will to continue pushing on."
This was met with cheers, and Kuti introduced "No Work No Job No Money," a reggae-ified, funky jazz tune that displays Kuti's fine high vocals. "No work/No job/No money/See the suffering of the people/They hungry/And they getting nothing," he laments.
Perhaps the most striking thing about Kuti's set last night was how the nature of his music -- sad and tragic as it is -- was met with such joyful responses. The band, the singers, the audience, and Kuti himself were filled with a sort if jubilance you just don't see everyday. It was as though by introducing this music, music that is born out of conflict and sorrow, the issues are that much closer to being solved. Perhaps that is the true spirit of Afrobeat, the heart of Kuti's message.
Critic's bias: I'm no dancer -- more of a shadow-and-sidelines kind of girl -- but even I was moving (albeit very unsuccessfully) throughout most of the show.
The crowd: Cross-generational, very enthusiastic. There was really no defining characteristic to this crowd. Hugely eclectic, and all very happy.
Overheard in the crowd: "Feel the love! Feel the loooooove!" said some guy next to me to his companions. He was wearing a Bob Marley shirt and might have been slightly confused.
Setlist: Apologies. Most of these songs blended together rather seamlessly, and half the time I forgot I was supposed to be taking notes.
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