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Seun Kuti & Fela's Egypt 80 - Seun Kuti & Fela's Egypt 80

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Artist: Seun Kuti & Fela's Egypt 80

Album: Seun Kuti & Fela's Egypt 80

Label: Disorient

Review date: Jul. 18, 2008

The second bandleader to spring from the loins of one of Africa's most original and uncompromising ambassadors has finally released his debut album, Seun Kuti & Fela's Egypt 80. Pronounced SHAY-oon, the younger son of Fela brings a tougher funk than his older brother, Femi Kuti, whose sometimes softer version of Afro-Beat has borne more resemblence to the kind of jazz fusion that caused so much fuss in the Marsalis clan.

Seun and his gigantic band (largely inherited from Fela) tackle the compositions on this eponymous debut with unparalleled energy, with a little help from French producer Martin Meissonnier, who absolutely blew open the gates of world music with the seminal Juju Music by King Sunny Ade. On Juju Music, Meissonnier prepared American listeners (actually, the entire world outside of the African continent) for a tidal wave of top-shelf African music – sprawling, intricate, and melodically dynamic jams that hadn't been imagined before. Meissonnier's organic, dub-inspired approach added depth to Ade's almost byzantine arrangements, but on Seun Kuti & Fela's Egypt 80, he surprisingly lays off, letting Fela’s progeny set the agenda.

Just as his father did before him (and, to be fair, as his older brother does as well), Seun carries the Kuti torch in lockstep with the family tradition of mixing hard, martial afro-funk with only the most thinly disguised political and social rants, giving no quarter to any subject. This works because there is nowhere else to look when a band plays every note as if it was military strategy: long, simmering brass charts; dizzying layers of staccato guitar; electrified bursts of call-and-response chorus. Riveted to the groove, you can't help but register every word of Kuti's rapid fire pidgin.

Still, some of the album’s notable traits, and those which help differentiate Seun's album from the work of his father, have Meissonnier’s fingerprints all over them: a seamlessly integrated speech by former Nigerian president and Kuti family enemy Olusegun Obasanjo in the opening of "Many Things” (Obasanjo’s raid on their compound resulted in Fela’s mother’s death), a swell of synthesizer here and there, and the buzzing mosquito sound in "Mosquito Song," part of an anti-malaria campaign with Tony Allen and Manu Dibango. "Mosquito Song" is the most up-tempo song here, almost twice the speed of anything else on the album, and while it may not hit as hard as the driving funk of the other numbers, it does represent an attempt on Seun's part to introduce something different to his family’s musical legacy. There are other new colors and vibes as well, including the acoustic guitar counterpoint in "Africa Problems" and the distorted horns in the beginning of "Think Africa.”

Seun Kuti has not only inherited his father's band; he has shown himself to be rightful heir to Egypt 80. With a voice that's gruffer than his father's and a similar swagger, Seun may not be completely his own man, but even moreso than Femi, he's definitely his father's son.

By Andy Freivogel

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