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LIVE REPORT: Seun Kuti & Egypt 80
Clyde Macfarlane , September 24th, 2015 09:35

Clyde Macfarlane enjoys a high-energy night of hip hop fused with afrobeat at Brighton Dome, as Seun Kuti and Akala perform alongside Egypt 80

Photo by Iain Lauder

You could take the fact that Seun Kuti, not his older brother Femi, heads Egypt 80 as conclusive evidence that he is the baton-bearer for Fela Kuti's legacy. But this would be neglecting Fela's importance beyond music. Both brothers remain thorns in the side of the Nigerian government, and the differences in their activism are reflected on record and in live performances.

 Seun takes to the Brighton Dome stage in a crisp purple shirt and disco-shiny trousers. No Yoruba face paint, no bare chest; think more jazzman than afrobeat pioneer. Contrast this to Femi, who seems to be morphing into an image of his father as the years pass. He may still be younger than Fela was when he died, but Femi's wise demeanor could easily lead him to be mistaken for Fela at an age he failed to reach. Femi does lack Fela's impish twinkle, and you could argue lacking the related hot-headedness makes him more of a diplomat, less of a revolutionary than Seun or his father. Where Femi became an Amnesty Ambassador in 2012, Seun took up a more frontline political role in the Occupy Nigeria protests. Like Fela, Seun also considers himself more Yoruba than Nigerian, the latter being a term that overlooks the distinct cultural groups in the country.

Seun struts past the Egypt 80 horns - where a sax is propped up by an empty microphone stand - to jumpstart the keyboard hook of 'Opposite People', a Fela track in its most infectious guise. "I start all shows like this out of respect for my father" was his preamble, a much-applauded acknowledgement that propped up a set of originals that flowed from jazz to hip-hop via a solid afrobeat backing. As with contemporary jazz, Seun makes his take on afrobeat applicable to hip hop by tearing down all restrictions. The horns are no longer militant slick, nor does the percussion dictate the pace. In Brighton the band are joined on stage by rapper, poet and journalist Akala, whose socially conscious outpourings won him the 2006 MOBO award for best hip hop artist.

The hip hop works much better live than on Seun's new album, A Long Way To The Beginning, which features rappers M-1 and Blitz the Ambassador. All afrobeat-ish musical onslaughts had to be toned down to accommodate on record, but on stage, Akala reinforces the belief that high-energy should forever be the mantra of afrobeat; one thing, then another, then another, louder and louder, swelling into a roar of horns, conga drums and call and response vocals. The inevitable rendition of 'Zombie' is seamless, with Akala bouncing off Seun's direction to veer off on a freestyle tangent.

 As the youngest son of Fela Kuti, hip hop is Seun's generation; his adaptations to afrobeat could be comparable to Damian Marley's to reggae. Perhaps it's this ambition to push afrobeat to new places that makes him most suited to front Egypt 80. Hip hop can pack one hell of an angry punch, and Seun and Akala's slamming of the IMF- "International Mother Fuckers"- is the moment where politics, music and attitude came together with maximum explosive power. 'Black Woman', the stand out track on A Long Way To The Beginning, heralded a return to the kind of sultry grooves Fela wallowed in, and makes a perfect closing statement. Afrobeat's premier band are still a huge force.