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Femi Kuti is one of the veritable superstars popular for his native Afro-beat which is a blend of the American Jazz and funk. This style was pioneered by his father Fela Kuti during the early 70s. A brief history of Kuti is that he was born in London in the year 1962 but raised in his native home in Lagos Nigeria. Kuti started of singing at an early age and later age and later became the leader of his father’s band. However, Femi went on to form his own band following his father’s afro beat traditions while incorporating more modern sound techniques such as hip hop soul and modern dance.
Just like his father, Femi Kuti’s music has always been seen to spark a lot of controversy since the main themes in the songs are such as politically charged commentaries, corruption, international neglect of Africa and African suffering as a result of poverty. As a result of this, Femi has taken a different perspective in life particularly after the release of his first album Africa for Africa. In this, Femi articulates a raw and forceful call to the long tradition of afro beat. Kuti was previously a member of the Cool Cats specifically as a singer in the highlife band. This led to the development of his style of music known as the highlife band. Within a short period of time, Kuti’s music had been promoted in the almost all the states in the US. Kuti has always admitted of having been influenced by the America Jazz style the reason why his music takes the approach of afro-jazz.
I attended a recent live concert of Femi Kuti and the Positive Force at Bimbo’s 365 Club in San Francisco, CA, US. From the beginning, one could tell that this was going to be a magnificent performance and I dint want to be left out. The live band was met with cheers from the ecstatic crowd. Fela Kuti’s band largely comprise of singers, dancers, saxophonists, trumpeters, drummers, and percussionists as well as numerous guitarist blending African rhythms and jazz horns. His type of music is that of afro-jazz blending in African traditional contemporary with modern sound techniques.
During the concert, Kuti used the contemporary polyphonic approach where the harmonic progression of music was secondary to the progression of the relatively independent voices from the rest of the band. The development of the polyphonic technique of contemporary jazz is such that the effect is a simple imitation where one voice states the melody and the rest of the voices echo back the same. I quite loved the performance as it reminded me of Josquin Des Pres who is arguably one of the most influential individual in the world of polyphony.
Modern day jazz is slowly incorporating polyphony contrary to the previous years. Kuti particularly during the specific concert had a way of combining independent melodic lines without the concern of exact concordance. Some of the songs that were performed by the band during the concert were such as the famous; why black man dey suffer, stratavarious, open & close, Confusion Break Bones, Just Like That, Underground System and Coffin for Head of State. The music performed by Fela is one that incorporates jazz, funk, psychedelic rock, and traditional African chants and rhythms. The result of this is a string of jazz-like rhythms characterized by African-style percussion and vocals.
Fela has also his own way of adding to the sound effects as seen throughout the concert through the use of various music equipments such as the drums, shekere, muted guitar, bass guitar and others. This goes well with African influenced music styles. One of the most notable characteristics throughout the performance is that of the call and respond used by Fela and the rest of the band to actively engage the audience in the music. Most of the songs were performed for a period of relatively ten minutes or less. However, most of the unreleased tracks were performed for up to forty five minutes during the concert.