Brian Eno co-produces Kuti’s second international LP of muscular Afrobeat.
Jon Lusk 2011-04-04
How times change. Fela Kuti would probably have put out around 10 albums in the time that has passed between his son Seun’s first and second international releases. But in almost every other way, Seun is continuing his father’s legacy.
Most obviously he’s still using Fela’s band Egypt 80 as his own. The sleeve design by Lemi Ghariokwu (whose chaotically busy, subversive art graced around half of Fela’s albums) is another conscious echo – even if the inadequate detail afforded by the tiny CD format underlines its limitations when compared with the old 12" vinyl covers. Seun has even taken on his dad’s ‘Anikulapo’ moniker, which means "he who carries death in his pouch". He’s also adopted more of Fela’s vocal mannerisms, and as the title of this confident new album suggests, his lyrics are just as concerned with "kicking against the pricks".
And in Nigeria, as in the rest of Africa (see Ivory Coast, Libya, Zimbabwe) it’s very much a case of new pricks, but old tricks, as the striking opener African Soldier spells out in a fiery tirade against former soldiers who become dictators for 20, 30, or even 50 years. Penned by Rilwan Fagbemi, it’s a lean and muscular update of the Afrobeat template, setting the pace of this largely up-tempo record, which only really slows down on its epic centrepiece/title-track Rise. This finds Seun railing against multinational oil and diamond companies as well as Mosanto (sic) and Halliburton. The other standout track is Mr Big Thief, mainly for the snappy interplay between Seun’s alto sax and the brass section, as well as his sharp vocal sparring with the female chorus singers.
Brian Eno has long been an enthusiastic champion of Afrobeat, so he’s an appropriate choice as co-producer (with John Reynolds and Seun himself) although it’s not easy to hear any radical departures instigated by Brand Eno that really distinguish it from the fine work of Martin Meissonnier on Seun’s 2008 debut, Many Things. However, Seun is singing with more confidence – or perhaps, authority – and Egypt 80 are firing on all cylinders.
The album is not without filler, with Slave Masters and For Dem Eye making rather less of an impression. Some may find the relative lack of slower tempos a disappointment, but dancers may well disagree. Overall, then, From Africa With Fury: Rise is a pretty solid second effort.