Sinkane and Femi Kuti at Rumsey Playfield, Summerstage 6/23/13

Sinkane and Femi Kuti

Rumsey Playfield, Summerstage

June 23, 2013

Last Sunday afternoon was a gorgeous summer afternoon – incredibly, bright sunlight, with cerulean blue skies and puffy clouds but uncomfortably hot. I think that has to do with the fact that Rumsey Playfield doesn’t have a lot of shade. So the sun would beat down right on top of you. And because of Rumsey Playfield’s location, when the sun set, if you stood at certain angles, you’d be blinded by the sunlight … Still even with that, I was excited to catch Sinkane play a full set, and I was even more excited to catch Femi Kuti and the Positive Force. (i caught about half of Sinkane’s set at last year’s Afropunk Festival but with an extremely packed photographer’s pit, you had to often leave a set, to make sure that you can cover someone else’s set halfway across the park. Hey such is life, right? And I had last seen Femi and the Positive Force several years ago at Irving Plaza.) 

Some brief thoughts about the sights and sounds of the day though. 

Sonically, the Brooklyn-based Sinkane’s material reminded me a little bit of TV on the Radio, in the sense that the material manages to have an eerie atmospheric, and at times droning minimalism. You can obviously hear elements of dub and funk in their sound, and in fact their material is funkier and much more dance-friendlier. A lot of the material used synthesizers, reverb, thick bass lines, vocoder and other effects to create a very trippy feel. For a trio, i was impressed by how tight they sounded. And with that in mind, I think it makes their material a bit warmer, actually – and a fitting band for a summer day. 

  Oddly enough, i couldn’t help but notice that the crowd was lethargic during the first few songs of Sinkane’s set – thanks in part to the heat – but they started to respond about half way through the set, and the crowd started getting down to their brand of funk. 

This proud Nigerian man was so enthusiastic that every photographer stopped what they were doing, and reached for their cameras to take a photo of him.

I think this photo shows how family-orientated a great deal of the crowd was. 

No Place for My Dream, Femi Kuti’s latest album, which saw it’s official release the other day, reveals in a very subtle way that Femi and Seun Kuti are both in an unusual place that they both would never have expected. Much like their legendary father, Fela Kuti, the godfather of Afrobeat, both Kutis were frequently viewed by the Nigerian government as troublesome muckrakers. And the government did anything within their power to intimidate all of the Kutis to silence. I can still remember Femi Kuti telling the Irving Plaza crowd that he couldn’t go back to his native country without fear of getting arrested or worse – for the crime of speaking out against a hopelessly corrupt government that oppressed and brutalized its people. That’s right for having a political viewpoint that went against his government, not for selling drugs, possessing drugs, murder, tax evasion or anything else like that.

But within the last few years, thanks in part to Afrobeat’s increasing popularity in the West, the Kuti family have been informally canonized as a vital part of Nigerian culture, and as one of Nigeria’s most important exports to the West. But instead of accepting accolades and laurels, Femi Kuti continues to be on the side of the little guy. And considering the larger geopolitical and economical situation across much of the globe, the little guy needs a few folks on his side.  The new album, which comprised a good half of his live set, still covers some familiar territory – righteously railing against corrupt governments is a particularly big part of his work. But the material is more incisive and the album’s concerns and themes should be familiar to most Westerners. “Politics Na Big Business” discusses how modern politics are influenced not by what’s right or through a sense of healthy and realistic compromise towards what’s right, but influenced by greed, and the interests of big business – often at the expense of the little guy. Another song in the set pleaded for African leaders and his fellow Africans to look for peaceful methods to solve disputes because right now, they’re destroying their homeland.  And he ended his set with a cover of one of his father’s signature songs, “Water Get No Enemy,” and it included a guest appearance by Common, who did one of the stranger freestyle 12 bars or so that I’ve heard in some time. (If you’re curious how this could have come about: years ago, Common contributed on a Fela Kuti tribute album.)

  The band is incredibly tight, and probably one of the world’s funkiest bands. It’s also an incredible large ensemble of about 10-12 musicians, backing vocalists/dancers. But if there’s one unfair thing, Femi will always be compared to his legendary father. Fela was a larger than life, dynamic presence who managed to be controversial, complex and contradictory. And although Femi is dynamic, he’s not as dynamic as his father; nor is his life as wildly messy. But Femi makes his father very proud – the same messages that his father expressed more than 40 years ago, are still (sadly) relevant and as powerful. 

You can check out more photos from this afternoon of funk, by checking out the Flickr set here: