Live Concert Photography: Fela Kuti Tribute at SummerStage Rumsey Playfield 7/16/17 feat. Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 Roy Ayers and Underground System
Now, if you’ve been frequenting this site or my various social media accounts, you’d recall that this past summer has been busy in the JOVM world, and unsurprisingly, I’ve been busily catching up whenever I can. Back in July, I was at SummerStage Rumsey Playfield to catch a special Fela Kuti Tribute Show featuring Suen Kuti and Egypt 80, the legendary Roy Ayers and up-and-coming local collective Underground System. Check out photos from an incredible show below.
Lagos, Nigeria-born and-raised multi-instrumentalist, bandleader and singer/songwriter Seun Kuti is the youngest son of the legendary and controversial Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti. And as the story goes when Seun was nine, he expressed a desire to perform with his father — and within a short time, Seun started performing with his band and his father’s backing band Egypt 80. Much like his older brother, Femi, Seun Kuti has followed the political and social ethos of his late father, continuing to push their father’s political and social messages to wider, international audiences.
When their father Fela died in 1997, Femi was 35 and Suen was just 14, and upon Fela’s death, Seun took over frontman duties — and interestingly enough, not only does the current Egypt 80 lineup feature members from Fela Kuti’s original band (many, who were arrested and harassed by the authorities with Fela back in the day), Seun’s 2008 debut effort Many Things was produced by Martin Meissonnier, who produced two of Fela’s albums.
Live, Seun Kuti has developed a reputation for sets being a fair mix of his own original material, along with covers of his father’s material, and because his father rarely (if ever) performed songs he recorded in the studio live, Seun covering his father’s material is often seen as an opportunity for fans to hear songs like “Water Get No Enemy,” “Shuffering and Shmiling,” “Colonial Mentality” and “Army Arrangement” live — and with a dynamism that rivals that of his late father.
Roy Ayers is a Los Angeles, CA-born funk, soul and jazz composer and vibraphone player who can trace the earliest origins of his musical career to growing up in a musical father, where his father played trombone and his mother played piano. As the story goes, Lionel Hampton gave Ayers his first pair of vibraphone mallets and by the time he was in high school Ayers sang in the church choir and fronted a band called The Latin Lyrics, in which he played steel guitar and piano; in fact, his high school Thomas Jefferson High School managed to produce some of that era’s finest and most revered musiciass, including Dexter Gordon.
Ayers’ recording career began in earnest when he began picking up gigs as a bebop sideman in 1962, but he rose to prominence when he joined Herbie Mann‘s backing band in 1966; however, by the early 1970s Ayers started his own band, Roy Ayers Ubiquity with whom, Ayers became one of the pioneers of jazz-funk and later, the godfather of neo soul and hip hop, as his work has influenced and/or been sampled by the likes of Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Ed O.G. and the Bulldogs, Dr. Dre, A Tribe Called Quest and others; but he’s best known for “Everybody Loves the Sunshine,” “Running Away,” “Searching” “Don’t Stop the Feeling,” his only Billboard Top 10 single and others.
Interestingly enough, in the late 70s Ayers toured Nigeria for six weeks with Seun’s father with the result being 1980’s collaborative effort Music of Many Colors, which featured one side led by Ayers and his band and other led by Kuti and Africa 70 — and the SummerStage Rumsey Park show wound up being not just a celebration of Fela Kuti’s extraordinary life, shortly before the 20th anniversary of his passing, but a celebration of the legendary collaboration as well.
If you’ve been frequenting this site at some point over the past three years or so, you may have come across a post or two featuring Underground System, the Brooklyn-based multicultural collective featuring Peter Matson, Domenica Fossati, Jon Granola, Maria Eisen, Olatunji Tunji, Yoshio Kobayashi, and Lollise Mbi, as well as a rotating cast of collaborators and friends. The act has won attention both locally and elsewhere for being prominently led by two women, for a decidedly contemporary take on Afrobeat, as their sound reportedly draws from Fela Kuti, ESG and XTC, as well as others and lastly for a rousingly energetic live set