Live concert photography of Ibeyi with Sudan Archives at Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival at Prospect Park Bandshell earlier this month.
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 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 pro-Black, pan-African/pan-African Diaspora, anti-colonialist, sociopolitical messages to wider, international audiences. Oddly enough, during Fela’s life, he was in many ways the bane of the Nigerian political establishment, as he bravely called out the hypocrisy, inequality, inequity, corruption and brutality that they and their fellow countrymen faced on a daily basis — while pointing out that corruption and brutality is always the same.
However, with increasing international attention on both Fela and his sons over the past 20 years, the Kutis have managed to walk a careful tightrope of siding with the little guy and courageous speaking truth to power at all costs, including risk of life and limb while also becoming unofficial ambassadors to Nigeria, their proud and beautiful people and their culture. Around the time, I started this site, I caught Femi Kuti and Positive Force at Irving Plaza and there was a proud contingency of Nigerians, who spoke of Femi and his father with proud, reverential terms, at one point referring to Femi as “Professor!” “Speak Professor, Speak!” They would exclaim whenever Femi would say something that resonated with them. In some way, I was reminded of how older Jamaicans speak of Bob Marley.
Fela died in 1997 when Femi was 35 and Seun was just 14. Almost immediately upon his father’s death, Seun took over the frontperson duties of his father’s legendary backing band, a band that features members of his father’s backing bands Afrika ’70 and Egypt 80 — many of whom were with Fela, when he was speaking out about the Nigerian government at a time, when doing so could mean risking jail, brutal beatings an/or death. And interestingly enough, Seun’s 2008 debut effort Many Things was produced by Martin Meissonnier, who produced two of Fela’s albums.
Now, as you may know 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.
Seun Kuti’s fourth album with Egypt 80, Black Times is slated for a March 2, 2018 release through British label Strut Records, and the new album reportedly finds Seun and company honoring the revolutionaries who have come and gone before while being a much needed rallying cry for the torchbearers to come. And to further emphasize that theme, the album finds Seun and the legendary Egypt 80 collaborating with a list of acclaimed musicians and artists, including Carlos Santana and Robert Glasper, among others. As Seun Kuti explains in press notes, Black Times is a true reflection of my political and social beliefs. It is an album for anybody who believes in change and understands the duty we have to rise up and come together. The elites always try to divide the working class and the poor people of the world. The same oppression felt by workers in Flint, Michigan is felt by workers in Lagos and Johannesburg.
The funky yet blistering album title track and first single “Black Times” features the imitable guitar work of Carlos Santana in a song that’s meant to shine a black light on society, exposing its rot, immorality and hypocrisy while pointing out the need for Black folk all over the world to band together and demand justice and inequality for all people. But beyond that it suggests that everyone needs to take a serious look at themselves and their world in order to truly begin to change it — and while it may be hard work, it’s necessary work to make the world better.