Seun Kuti and Egypt 80-Egypt Times.

Label: Strut Records.

Nowadays, one of the most overused word in the English language is legend, which is bandied about all too freely, with faux punks, third-rate Britpop bands and Beatles impersonators being labelled legends by fawning music journalists who hang on their every word. These bands aren’t worthy of being called legends, and in truth, very few bands or artists can truly be referred to as legends. However, one artist who deserves to be called a legend is the late, great Afrobeat pioneer and human rights and political activist Fela Kuti, who passed away in Lagos, Nigeria, on the ‘2nd’ of August 1997, aged just forty-eight. That day, African music lost one of its greats.

By his death in 1977, Fela Kuti was a truly prolific artist, who had recorded over forty albums,and they were part of the rich musical legacy that he left behind. This included many albums of groundbreaking and timeless music, that nowadays, are regarded as Afrobeat classics. Some of these albums were recorded with his band Egypt 80, and after Fela Kuti’s death, many people wondered what would happen to this talented band? 

They never expected Fela Kuti’s youngest son, fourteen year old Seun Kuti to takeover from his father, and lead Egypt 80. For some, this was a totally unexpected development, while others had watched Seun Kuti learn from his father over the past five years.

Seun Kuti was born Oluseun Anikulapo Kuti in Lagos, Nigeria, on the ’11th’ of January 1983, and by the age of nine, told his father Fela Kuti, that he wanted to sing with his band. For Fela Kuti, this was the latest member of his family who was about to follow in his footsteps, and embark upon a musical career in 1992.

By then, Femi Kuti who was the eldest child, was thirty, and already was a successful musician. Seun Kuti knew he had a long way to go before he would enjoy the same success as his brother.  That was all in the future, and Seun Kuti was happy to serve his musical apprenticeship singing with Fela Kuti and Egypt 80. 

Over the next few years, Seun Kuti went to school during the day, and in the evenings and weekends played live with Fela Kuti and Egypt 80. Seun Kuti soon became a valuable member of Egypt 80, but music wasn’t the only thing that he was good at. He was also a talented schoolboy footballer who many thought had the potential and talent to eventually become a professional player. This meant that Seun Kuti had to choose between football and music. However, there was only one winner, and Seun Kuti decided to continue his musical apprentice and learn from his father who by 1997 was regarded as one of the greatest ever African musicians. 

Sadly, Fela Kuti passed away on the ‘2nd’ of August 1997, when Seun Kuti was just fourteen. His death came as a huge shock to his family, and left a massive void including in his band Egypt 80. The big question was it too big a void to fill? 

Many thought that nobody could replace Fela Kuti, but not long after his death, his youngest son Seun Kuti decided to become the lead singer of Egypt 80. The fourteen year old was now leading a band full of seasoned musicians who were among the best in Nigeria.

Initially, Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 started playing covers of his father’s music, including songs from his many albums. This was welcomed by the audience, as Fela Kuti had never played songs from his albums live, and when Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 played like Shuffering and Shmiling, Colonial Mentality and Army Arrangement live this was a first. Fela Kuti’s old fans and Seun Kuti’s new fans welcomed the opportunity to hear classic songs and old favourites.  Gradually, though, Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 started to introduce new songs into their sets, and over the next two years, the young bandleader honed his songs with a view to recording his debut album.

In 2007, Seun Kuti and Africa released the 12” single Think Africa which marked the debut of the twenty-four year old bandleader. A year later, Seun Kuti and Africa returned with their debut album Many Things in 2008, which was produced by Martin Meissonnier, who had previously produced two albums for Fela Kuti. Many Things was released to plaudits and praise and marked the start of a new chapter in the story of the Kuti musical dynasty.

Nearly three years later, Seun Kuti and Africa returned with their sophomore album From Africa With Fury in April 2011. This time, it was recorded in London with Brian Eno, John Reynolds and Seun Kuti. From Africa With Fury was a powerful and politically charged album from Seun Kuti and Africa, it was released to critical acclaim.  

Nine months after the release of From Africa With Fury, Seun Kuti became involved with the Occupy Nigeria protest in his native Nigeria in January 2012. Just like his father, Seun Kuti was already heavily involved and interested in politics and human rights, and protested against the fuel subsidy renewal protest by the Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. Seun Kuti was following in his father’s footsteps not just musically, but with his political activism.

Three years ager the release of From Africa With Fury, Seun Kuti and Africa returned with their much-anticipated third album A Long Way To The Beginning. Just like their previous album From Africa With Fury, A Long Way To The Beginning found favour with critics who hailed the album another ambitious and powerful album.

Following A Long Way To The Beginning, Seun Kuti and Africa spent much of the next couple of years touring, but found time to record the Struggle Sounds EP which was released in 2016. 

Apart from the Struggle EP, nothing more was heard from Seun Kuti and Africa until recently, when they returned with their fourth album Egypt Times, which was released on Strut Records and is their first album in four long years.

Egypt Times was well worth the wait and is undoubtably the most powerful album that Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 have released. The eight tracks were penned by Seun Kuti and find the thirty-five year turn his attention to the problems facing his native Nigeria. Just like his father Fela Kuti, Seun Kuti is determined to provide a voice for the millions of Nigerians who have none. His way of doing this is through the music on Black Times. This includes the seven songs he penned and Kuku Kee Me which he wrote with Rilwan Fagbemi. These eight songs were recorded by Seun Kuti and Egypt 80.

Joining alto saxophonist, keyboardist and vocalist Seun Kuti are Egypt 80. Their rhythm section included drummer Shinan Abiodun, bassist Kunle Justice and rhythm guitarist Alade Oluwagbemiga. They were joined by lead guitarist David Obanyedo, percussionist Wale Toriola, Kola Onasanya on congas and Okon Iyamba on shakers. The horn section features baritone saxophonist Adebowale Osunnibu, tenor saxophonist Samuel Ojo David and trumpeter Oladimeji Akinyele, while Iyabo Adeniran and Joy Opara added backing vocals as the album was recorded at Jet Studio, in Brussels, during April 2017. However, it wasn’t until the spring of 2018 that Black Times was released.

Although it’s nearly four years since Seun Kuti and Egypt 80’s previous album, Black Times was well worth the wait. It’s a powerful and politically charged album that features Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 are in full flight. 

Black Times explodes into life with Last Revolutionary, with drums crack and horns power the arrangement along while soulful harmonies make a brief appearance before chirping guitars encircle, awaiting Seun Kuti’s vocal. He’s speaking to and speaking for the downtrodden people of Nigeria and those that don’t have a voice and is: “the walking, talking struggle of my people.”  All the time, backing vocalists accompany Seun Kuti as Egypt 80 provide an urgent backdrop on this powerful and politically charged song.

Carlos Santana features on Black Times and his guitar weaves in and out of the arrangement as a backing vocalists accompany  Seun Kuti and they sing soulfully. When they drop out blazing horns join with the rhythm section and percussion as Carlos Santana unleashes a guitar masterclass. It veers between bluesy and funky to rocky, as it soars above the arrangement before Seun Kuti delivers a tender, soulful and later powerful vocal as he sings of learning from history, and trying to achieve physical and spiritual of freedom. He’s joined by backing vocalist who add a soulfulness to this ten minute genre-melting epic that is thought-provoking and cerebral.

Horns open Corporate Public Control Department (C.P.C.D.), as keyboards and funky guitar join hissing hi-hats, shakers. Soon, and soon, blazing horns that join with the rhythm section and power the funky arrangement along and features a bubbling bass.When Seun Kuti’s vocal enters, it’s emotive and sometimes full of anger and frustration as he castigates politicians of all colours  and sings: “promise to give me peace and you give me war, you promise me justice and then you jail the poor, you promise jobs and you close the factory.” Later, backing vocalists accompany Seun Kuti, answering his call on this soulful, funky slice of Afrobeat with a social conscience.

The tempo briefly drops on Kuku Kee Me as the rhythm and horn section combine with a chirping guitar, and soon the tempo rises and Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 are in full flight. It’s a glorious sound as this talented and experienced showcase their skills and stretch their legs. Before Seun Kuti’s vocal enters, the horns take centre-stage, after that, they reply to his call as the bass and guitar repeat the same motif. Later, backing vocalists reply to Seun Kuti’s urgent vocal, matching him every step of the way as the horns continue to play their part in what’s funky, soulful Afrobeat.

Punchy horns soar above the keyboards on Bad Man Lighter (B.M.L.), before the arrangement is almost stripped bare and the bass takes centre-stage. Soon, Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 are in full flight, before gradually they seems to be leaving room for the vocal. However, Egypt 80 toy with the listener and still there’s no sign as the vocal and they continue to combine elements of Afrobeat and funk before Seun Kuti enters and delivers a tough, swaggering vocal, singing call and response with the backing vocalists. They add a much-needed soulfulness as braying horns punctuate the arrangement which still features keyboards. They’re all part of this heady and tantalising musical brew.

A big, bold bass and guitar combine with shakers as gradually, African Dreams reveals its secrets. Soon, a chirping guitar is added to the dramatic arrangement before braying horns are added. Eventually, a frustrated, angry and despairing Seun Kuti rages against his countrymen who end up chasing the American dream, and often this affects their welfare and causes them to lose sight of their own heritage. Seun Kuti is at his most soulful as he delivers a heartfelt and emotive vocal on another poignant, powerful and thought-provoking song. 

Brisk stabs of rasping horns are matched by drums that create a 4/4 on Struggle Sounds while Seun Kuti vamps his way through the song, seemingly drawing inspiration from James Brown as his backing vocalist match him every step of the way. Soon, his vocal drops out and Afrobeat and funk are combined by Egypt 80 who put all their years of experience to good use. Later, Seun Kuti returns and unleashes another vampish vocal as he sings: “I make that struggle music as the voice of the people, struggle sound like the weapon of the future.” Just like his late father, Seun Kuti’s music is politically charged, and speaks to and for the people of Nigeria, who he wants justice and better life for.

Closing Black Times is the explosive Theory Of Goat And Yam which literally bursts into life, blazing horns to the fore as the rhythm section and powers the arrangement along. It also features percussion, rapid fire drums and chiming guitars. Soon, Seun Kuti is delivering an equally urgent vocal and unleashes the lyrics which were inspired by the  former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. Somehow, he managed to justify embezzling public money by comparing it to goats gulping down yams which were left too close to them. There’s disgust in Seun Kuti’s angry, urgent vocal, while the backing vocals again provide the perfect foil to his vocal. Together with Egypt 80 in full flight they play their part in this powerful tale of greed, corruption by a self-serving politician.

After a four-year wait, Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 returned recently with their fourth album Black Times, which was released by Strut Records. Black Times finds Seun Kuti and Egypt combining Afrobeat, funk, soul and sometimes blues, jazz and rock on eight new songs. These are songs that Seun Kuti’s father Fela Kuti would be proud of, as his son speaks to and for his fellow countryman in his native Nigeria. 

Thirty-five year old Seun Kuti whose spent the last twenty-one playing live and recording with Egypt 80 reaches news heights ob Black Times, which is a career-defining album from the Last Revolutionary, Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 who provide the accompaniment on this poignant, powerful and politically charged album of cerebral and thought-provoking protest music. 

Seun Kuti and Egypt 80-Egypt Times.

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