PARTISAN RECORDS 5th February, 2021
“Legacy +” is a two album package from Femi Kuti – one of Fela Kuti’s sons – and Made Kuti – Femi’s son. We hear two generations of Nigerian afrobeat development.
Femi Kuti – Stop The Hate
Now in his late fifties, Femi Kuti is distinctively his father’s son. Sing-speaking on top of funky afrobeats, with organ and horns, the groovy struggle goes on. Femi sings messages of the need for keeping on with the struggle against oppression. It doesn’t hurt that he had a musical education and played in his Dad’s band, working the groove alongside Tony Allen and others. His sax is a fluid yet forceful presence and his voice helps propel things, much as he experienced in his younger life. He has a tight band and I imagine he learnt the leadership somewhere close to home too. If you want to hear that sax hit jazzy, heady improv heights, dip into the eight-minute ‘Young Boy, Young Girl’, where he gets into a winding yet driven journey.
Whereas Kuti Senior liked to play vinyl side-long workouts, where five minutes was just getting started, Kuti Junior is rather more succinct, capable of wrapping things up in four or five minutes. It’s still just as capable of making you jiggle and bop, wherever you are. I’m in a swivel chair, at a desk, and my feet and shoulders are going at it hard. Lyrical messages aren’t over-complicated; the title track tells us that most people want to live in peace, which isn’t news but sometimes it helps to hear it and remind us, amidst the shit-stirring over Brexit, Black Lives Matter, facist presidents, etc. Other messgaes are more parochial and the short ‘Stop The Land Grab’ probably needs a bit of Nigerian context to grasp it.
I remind myself that English isn’t Femi’s first language and enjoy his own take; ‘Na Bigmanism Spoil Government’ is an easy message to get hold of and sometimes it helps to know you’re not alone – especially if punchy horns, a driving organ and killer beats are pushing the message. There’s definitely bitterness here as well as righteous anger. In ‘Pa Pa Pa’ he tells us that governments must not waste our time – when they waste our time, they waste our lives. And you just know he is thinking about his father’s ongoing struggle against the powers of Nigeria and his relatively early death at 59. At 57, that has to toll a bell in his ear.
Songs like ‘Show Of Shame’ reach my feet but he intends them to reach the ear of the people of Lagos, who, he says are unaware that not everyone lives with corruption and that “that the rest of the world doesn’t suffer every day from power outages and water shortage”. ‘Privatisation’ and the evils he describes aren’t exactly news in the West but like a frog slowly boiling in a pan, we need to be reminded the water is getting too damn hot instead of getting accustomed to it. By the end of the album you’ll be on message with the six-minute closer – ‘Set Your Minds And Souls Free’ as much as Funkadelic’s Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow. The chittering guitar recalls Eddie Roberts of The New Mastersounds and the groove is, by now, nigh on unstoppable.
The key takeaway is that these slices of foot-shifting afrobeat are just what you need to remind you that the struggle will never stop till everyone is free and that the dance will never stop so long as someone needs that groove.
Made Kuti – For(e)ward
Full of speedy beats derived from the afrobeat his Grandfather, Fela Kuti, and father Femi Kuti played, this is constantly moving and jiggling busily. The difference is that, instead of a band, Made plays everything here and perhaps that is the reason that, though I admire the material, it doesn’t set me bopping as I type this review.
Opening with ‘Free Your Mind’ (and set your soul free), which is just where his Dad’s album left off, the punchy horns and bouncing beat are present and forward. The social conscience is the same and the demands for change, though there is a greater variety of beats. Check out ‘Higher You’ll Find’ for some marching jazz drums. Sound clips are used and themes such as the police and corruption are explored. Made seems to have a more nuanced and modern understanding of sexism than his Grandad, perhaps reflecting his Great-Gran’s politics.
The overall effect is good, just not great, as yet. If Made decides to harness the energy of the live interaction of a band, we are likely to hear some exciting stuff.