Femi Kuti and the Positive Force @ Paradise Rock Club – January 23
Words: Andrew Bruss
Femi Kuti and the Positive Force vamped through a nearly two hour set at Boston’s Paradise Rock Club that was so authentically Nigerian (minus the English lyrics) that one could almost forget about the sub-arctic temperatures outside the venue.
The eldest son of Fela Kuti, political dissident and founder of the Afrobeat genre, Femi is heir to the throne of the musical kingdom his father created. That means his music fuses funk, big band horns, African polyrhythm’s and political lyrics that make an audience member want to rise up and shed the chains of colonialism (where applicable).
Kuti had a tough time filling The Paradise on a Wednesday night, but the crowd he drew was enthusiastic and happy to participate in the call and response chants coming from the stage.
The set list was checkered with tunes from Kuti’s entire back catalogue but leaned heavily on material from his forthcoming April release. All of Kuti’s music is political, but on the unreleased material, Kuti’s disgust with the status quo is more direct than ever. Nothing To Show speaks to the frustrations Nigerians feel with the corruption in their fledgling democracy following the election of their first president, Olusegun Obasanjo. World Is Changing addresses the rising financial inequalities in the world (“When you see what is going on in the world today, you’ll agree that poverty is winning the game”). The most sped-up of the new tunes, Carry On, Pushing On, operates as Kuti’s own State of Humanity address (“The Arab spring never did bring roses/peace in the middle east won’t ever come easy”).
While Kuti’s lyrics are worth diving into, the best part of the night was the instrumental-ism. The Positive Force features a drummer, percussionist, keyboard player, guitarist, bassist, a three-man horn section and what can only be described as a pair of vocalists/traditional Nigerian booty dancers. As for Kuti himself, when he wasn’t doing his James Brown-meets-Bob Marley thing on the microphone he was rocking the trumpet, alto sax or clarinet.
Kuti’s work on the electric organ was less technically intricate than his use of the sax or trumpet but it was where he made the biggest impact. A Femi Kuti and The Positive Force show is all about the spirituality of music and the power this force brings. While working the organ, Kuti would literally hold down a single chord and let it swirl on top of a foundation laid by his band. The end result had all the high-energy release of “The Note” on a YEM jam but in place of fancy fretwork, a less-is-more philosophy prevailed.
While Kuti has a long way to go before viewed with the same prestige as his father, sets like the one performed at The Paradise proved beyond a doubt that he’s not just another performer with a famous father (looking at you Sean Lennon). Femi Kuti is a one-of-a-kind musically talented performer whose live show is the product of his mind, body and soul. Not his last name.