July in San Francisco means the sunny skies and warmth give way to chilly fog as the difference between the inland and ocean temperatures increases. It also means that Femi Kuti comes to town as part of the Fillmore Jazz Festival. I had the privilege of seeing him last year as well, in what I can say was probably the best concert I’ve ever been to. This year did not disappoint either.
For those of you unfamiliar:
“No one knows who first used the word [Afrobeat], but as far as history is concerned, it belongs to Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the late Nigerian giant through whom any understanding of the sound of 1970s Africa must pass. In the most limited sense, you could say that Afrobeat is the cinematic, polyrhythmic, symphonic funk sound that Fela developed with superhuman drummer Tony Allen” (From the Africa 100 Liner Notes)
Femi Kuti is one of Fela’s many sons and he has carried the torch of Authentic Afrobeat. Even as he approaches 50, his stage presence is dynamic and engaging. To set the scene: his band, the aptly named Positive Force, consists of four horns, guitarist, bassist, drummer, and keyboardist. Femi himself plays sax, keyboard, and occasionally other instruments. And then he has his chorus of three dancers/backup singers. The energy and vibe was immediately infectious and remains so for the two hour set (no breaks for these tireless performers). This was then followed by a 30 minute encore.
Femi played his usual hits and like all great jam bands, used the arrangements on the studio albums as starting points to build up improvised and extended versions on stage. Each musician got a few chances to show off with some solo improvisations. He even left with promises of a new studio album in 2011.
As luck would have it, I attended an Antibalas show at the Great American Music Hall in The Loin a few weeks later. While I really enjoyed the music, and the more modern interpretation and Latin influences in their sound, I left feeling even luckier to have seen the Real Thing. I can’t wait until next summer.