Fela Kuti's son takes Afrobeat into the 21st Century. Modern, funky and righteous.
John Armstrong 2002-11-20
Sometimes in the music world, having a famous father can be a mixed blessing. The expectation is that you'll create something different from your forebears: witness the often halting attempts by artists such as Julian Lennon, Jeff Buckley and Jakob Dylan to distance themselves from their fathers' output.
In West African culture, ancestral continuity is something to be celebrated rather than avoided. Even if your knowledge of African music is virtually nil, you'll have heard of Femi's father Fela Anikulapo Kuti. He was probably the most widely-known African musician ever, whose enduring appeal is political as much as artistic. Femi grew up with both those strands, and the 12 compositions on Fight To Win deftly dovetail Fela's heritage with the best of new black music.
Femi's innovations are mostly designed to make the music more dancefloor, radio and remix friendly. No bad thing for djs hesitant about playing Fela's originals. European and American dancefloors simply aren't used to Fela's often slowish tempos and 18-minute tunes. Thus "Do Your Best" rattles along at a clubbable bpm without sacrificing the percussion and guitar lines that hallmark true Afrobeat.
Rapper Common continues the national bridge-building with the aptly-named "Missing Link". "Traitors of Africa", with its righteous indignation, would be at home on any of Kuti Senior's best sessions, whilst "Walk On The Right Side" is unmistakably modern Afrocentricism. Most importantly, Femi's singing voice makes no unnecessary attempt to conceal the fact that he's his father's son.
Especially effective throughout are the crisp horn and woodwind ensemble playing. Seyi Clegg's occasional baritone sax adds that essential gruffness and 'bottom' that ensures they don't sound too clean. Icing on the cake is the reponsive-but-not-overpowering chorus of Yeni and Funke Kuti and Omolara Eluyode, and of course Samuel Aina's superb kit-drumming: just as effective as Fela's original drummer Tony Allen.
Fight To Win will sound at home on the most urban of modern r&b radio stations, whilst pointing up the obvious truism that any contemporary soul singers roots are as African as Femi's. An excellent showcase of 21st century Afrobeat.
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