SOUNDTRACKING the revolution is hard enough.
Fanning those flames in the shadow of an iconic father is even more difficult. Yet, in the face of almost impossible expectations, sons try. More often than not, the world responds with a shrug.
Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Bob Marley—not only iconic songwriters, but purveyors of radical politics—have produced artistic progeny that are little more than quaint or cringe-worthy. That familiar trend, however, has been upended by the sons of Fela Kuti.
To be sure, Seun and Femi Kuti lug burdens into music the same as Jakob, Sean, Julian, and the myriad of Marleys. But the Kuti clan yields distinct passage: They don't go it alone.
Afrobeat (the genre birthed by the Kutis' father) is, as much as any musical style left of classical, dependent on community—not only for its political inspiration, but its execution. Afrobeat bands are big: horns, guitars, bass, percussion, singers, and more. Seven, minimum; even better, 12 or 13.
Fela Kuti immersed himself in both the band and community. He grew up among the affluent, but found a home in the Nigerian slums well after he became famous. He opened the Shrine, a club that, although it has moved from its original location, remains entwined to its religious namesake. It was, and is, a spiritual gathering place.
Growing up, Seun Kuti—Fela's youngest son—played saxophone in his father's band, Egypt 80. When Fela died in 1997, Seun, then 14 years old, essentially inherited the group. (At the time, Fela's eldest son, Femi, fronted his own group.) A significant number of those players remain with Seun today.
Though both Seun and Femi have not fallen too far from the family's musical tree, there are subtle differences. Femi's offerings are slightly more traditional. And while Seun flirts with modern influences—including passages from Dead Prez's M-1, and Blitz the Ambassador (on the just-released A Long Way to the Beginning)—he, too, is firmly rooted in Afrobeat's bright, galloping polyrhythms, call-and-response vocals, and revolutionary directives.
But make no mistake: Though a bit more charging, Seun Kuti remains marvelously a child of not only Fela, but of Afrobeat itself. He's got the people—and the band—behind him, and onstage they explode like a Molotov cocktail at the palace gates.