Seun Kuti Carries the Afrobeat Torch


It’s hard to know what Seun Kuti makes of high-profile celebrity adoptions of impoverished African children, à la Madonna or Brangelina. It seems the youngest son of Nigerian Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti (and bro to Femi, a prominent talent in his own right) would think the problem of Africa is its own to solve. To him, those babies might be lost warriors in the fight against the corruption and genocide that have oppressed his brothers and sisters for so long. On “African Problems,” off the 26-year-old’s thrilling debut, Seun bears his burden: “I must try to teach the peoples a new mentality/Make ‘dem appreciate Africa’s superiority.” Giving momentum to his empowering diatribes is Egypt 80, the second incarnation of his father’s classic band—their percussion, keys, guitars, and horns (including Seun’s own sax) locking and loading effortlessly into sultry, long-form jazz and funk jams as reminiscent of the J.B.’s as his own father’s work.

Indeed, Seun takes what his father did best—rampant politicizing and infinite grooving—and updates it by beefing up his English and adding occasional samples, like bustling cityscapes. But he’s still fighting the same fight, against the same enemy. See, three decades ago, his father’s polygamist commune was pillaged by Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo because Fela’s song “Zombie” called out Obasanjo’s troops. Nowadays, Seun finds himself in the same predicament: waiting for reprisal from Obasanjo after railing against him on cuts like “Mosquito Song,” which addresses the government’s failure to thwart malaria by neglecting to teach Nigerians about basic hygiene. That scathing criticism takes a stirring call-and-response form on “Don’t Give That Shit to Me,” a nine-minute romp wherein Seun and his bandmates trade shout-outs: “Disunity/In Africa/Disadvantage/ Among Africans/Dishonesty/In my country.” Given this democratic approach to rabble-rousing, Seun clearly realizes that the revolution needs all the help it can get, and while he’s probably appreciative of celebrity aid and the awareness it can bring, he no doubt wants those adoptees to return home once they realize how badly Africa needs them.

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 play Central Park Summerstage July 6