African Soul Rebels 2011 – Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 / Donso

It might have been the last night of the tour but as the Afrobeat message beats loud again, this was one not to be missed, as Gilles Peterson said earlier this year, “If you ever get the chance to see Seun Kuti live, you’ve got to go!”

Given that we pretty much agree with everything Mr. Peterson says and Seun Kuti’s two albums to-date are exceptional, the debut album Many Things and the latest From Africa With Fury: Rise, this was the gig of the year on the south coast.
Not that we needed much encouragement from Peterson or that there’s a Kuti family member on stage as the support band are the Franco-Malian hybrid of Donso. Donso apparently means ‘hunter’ and after the release of their debut album, also called Donso (as reviewed HERE), we were keen to see them live on manoeuvres seeking out prey who want to experience great music that merges electronica with traditional rhythms that get you dancing.
Just to rewind a bit, 11 years ago when The Gotan Project merged electronica with tango it seemed such an obvious match made in clubland heaven that you wondered why it hasn’t been done before as news and sales rocketed around the world. Now I suspect most of the audience last night were aware of all things Malian that have been so inspirational on the World scene from the desert blues of Tinariwen or the Vincent Segal collaboration with Ballak?© Sissoko to the much delayed Afrocubism project but could they take on board traditional Malian vocals (by G?©d?©on Papa Diarra), Thomas Guillaume (drums and Donso N’goni), the guitar of Guimba Kouyat?© and Ed Banger label producer KrazyBaldhead (aka Pierre-Antoine Grison) who had the vision to create Donso.
After G?©d?©on set the show off with the glorious opener ‘Konya’, I spotted four women walking out from the seats near the front getting up midway through the second song (‘Mogoya’). I thought that was a bit hasty to get a drink. But hang on, these girls were not off to the bar, they were dancing at the back with a few more like minded souls.
The electronic elements of ‘Mogoya’ live sound even better live than on the CD and even that didn’t prepare you for ‘Kono’ as the big drop after the intro is huge and Kouyat?©’s guitar is evocative of a rockin’ John McLaughlin/Jeff Beck.
In fact Kouyat?©’s guitar has many flavours as there’s so blue room Ibiza chill to ‘Hunters’, tinges of Grant Green, some Ebo Taylor rockin’ aswell and on ‘Juru’, was that Dwane Eddy?
Now you might have thought this Kouyat?© was the star on the basis of the above but G?©d?©on Papa Diarra’s sweet voice and beaming smile when dancing in his own ballet style was the big star of the show. Although when Seun’s trumpet player joined them for their last song, ‘Djandigui’, that was a bit special I can tell you.
I can’t remember hearing such a positive reception from a crowd for a support band in a very long time (possibly ever) and there’s definitely a live album in these guys to be had; perhaps if they get Seun’s producer, Brian Eno to get involved in their next album they could be even better than they are now; and they are brilliant now!
Everyone needed a recuperative break after that and on the subject of brilliant, Guy ‘Yam Yam‘ Morley was my guide in the interval to tour related matters. Whilst the troubles of North Africa are high in the bands’ consciousness (as in the album’s title track ‘Rise’) matters at home are equally important with the recent post-election problems. We also had a quick reminisce of some of his Big Chill highlight when he was of that manor, notably Leonard Cohen, David Byrne and Phoarah Sanders to mention just three. Seun and Donso would be magical at Old Deer Park as the first names on this year’s line-up has been announced this week with brother Femi Kuti, Mulatu Astatke, Quantic’s Combo Barbaro, Brand Brauer Frick Ensemble catching the eye more than Kanye West, see HERE for further details.
Back in Poole for the second half, previous African Soul Rebel tours have had a review style formula of three varying bands on the line up but there is no doubting 2011 is a full-on Afrobeat show. If Donso represent the nu-breed of Afrobeat fusion, the headliner act firmly has its roots in the origins of Fela Kuti/Tony Allen with Fela’s son Seun Kuti and his Dad’s Egypt 80 band.
And early on we got a taste of his Dad’s defiant spirit as he told us his manifesto on cursing before paying respect to his Dad by doing a version of ‘Original Sufferhead’ that was one of the first tracks he released as Egypt 80 band.
Today’s Eygpt 80 certainly don’t go far from the tradition of Fela and why should they? Seun has performed with this band since he was 8, although the dancing backing singers were not around at that time you wouldn’t have thought, and 20 years on, he’s undeniably the frontman: you can only wonder, why has it taken so long for this to be his first ever UK tour.
If you saw the band on Later…with Jools Holland, that was lame by comparision to a full live set as you don’t want truncated versions of ‘Rise’ and my current favourite jogging track, ‘You Can Run’. Especially on a sprung floor which gives your dancing that touch of added bounce.
‘Slave Masters’, ‘The Good Leaf’ and ‘Mr Big Thief’ kept the crowd and the “We Africa girls” gyrating and the band was as tight as you’d imagine.
And on a bit of house keeping, I’m afraid that the photo isn’t the greatest but Mr. Kuti doesn’t stay still on stage that much, especially on ‘You Can Run’ which ended the show. Well until the crowd got the encore they wanted, ‘Mosquito Song’ from the first album for which they were joined on stage by Donso’s still impressive Kouyat?©.
Other things you should also be aware of is that Knitting Factory Records’ are reissuing a whole load of Fela records including a six album vinyl box set curated by The Roots’ Questlove.
Also, on the subject of Dad, on Peterson’s interview with Seun, GP said to Seun that he should play the role of his Dad in the planned film of his Fela’s story life following the success of Sahr Ngaujah in Fela! The Musical. I thought that was a bit harsh on the guy who actually has played Fela in the show but now I’ve seen Seun live, I can see what he means. From the singing, sax playing, band leading and overall performance down to the shirt stripping (and patterned trouser with matching shoes!), the acorn hasn’t fallen far from “the most influential African musician of our time” tree, as they say.
And if you hadn’t had enough by then, the ‘After Party’ was a bit manic with a pre-Good Friday crowd out late into the night but it’s where I found out that there’s a Bob ‘MakeItFunky‘ Baker interview with Seun coming soon; and classic DJ sets by Simon S and Martin G as usual.
Nobody could ever conceive for a moment that you’d find any semblance of Fela’s legendary Shrine (now in Femi’s custodianship in a new location) at Poole Lighthouse but there were numerous a moments last night when the whole crowd (yes it was everyone) were up on thier feet dancing when, just for a minute, I believed there was a spirit in the building. As Seun, emphasised, this is “ORIGINAL African Music’ and it moves you to a higher place – wouldn’t have missed it for the world!
Donso: Konya, Mogoya, Kono, Hunters, Juru, Tile Ban, Space Goni, Djandjigui
Seun Kuti & Egypt 80: Giants Of Africa, Original Suffer Head, Slave Master, Good Leaf, Rise, Mr. Big Thief, You Can Run encore ‘Mosquito Song’
Photo by Gerry Hectic 21.4.2011
Links: Rise release date 4th April 2011
9 June 2010 02:00-04:00 BBC Radio 1 Loads of new music!
Donso – Diya (Comet Records)
Gilles Peterson 30th March 2011 02:00-04:00 BBC Radio 1 Words & Music from Words & Music from Seun Kuti “If you ever get the chance to see Seun Kuti live, you’ve got to go” Gilles Peterson 30th March 2011
Seun Kuti & ’s 80 – You Can Run (Knitting Factory/Because)
Seun Kuti & Fela’s Egypt 80 – Rise (Knitting Factory/Because)
Seun Kuti & Fela’s Egypt 80 – The Good Leaf (Knitting Factory/Because)
Fela Kuti – Look And Laugh (Barclay)
Seun Kuti & Fela’s Egypt 80 – Mr Big Thief (Knitting Factory/Because)
Seun Kuti & Fela’s Egypt 80 – African Solider (Knitting Factory/Because)
“The Funky African”: The Root’s ?uestlove on FelaPosted: Sunday, March 21, 2010
FELA! digital programme
Festival Republic presents The Big Chill 2011 – 4th to 7th August at Eastnor Castle Deer Park, Malvern Hills, Ledbury, Herefordshire.
Jazz Chronicles with Simon S, Martin Gordon and Gerry Hectic every first Saturday of the month – next up: 7th May at 3:00pm @ Sixty Million Postcards, Bournemouth
Mai Tai Lounge Bar, 18 Bournemouth Road, Poole, Dorset BH14 0ES, tel: 01202 733 881
Open Fri-Sat 4pm-2am; Sun 4pm-11pm Simon S (Futuristica Music) and Martin Gordon (Brownswood) Every Thursday 9pm to 1am