When they talk about how the roots of funk started in Africa, this is what they mean. Femi Kuti is a true honor to his father, Fela Kuti. Fela, the patriarch and godfather of Afro-Beat, recently passed away. Like Ziggy Marley, who played here on Friday, Femi truly does his father justice.

Since Femi was named the crown prince of Afro-Beat, he has slowly been building a serious buzz. Recently on the cover interview with Downbeat magazine, Femi Kuti and the Positive Force of Nigeria was aural and visual satisfaction.

I fell for it too. I started my journey to the Congo Stage this winter, when the Antibalas Orchestra played in Montreal. The picture on the cover of the Montreal Mirror, a fifteen-piece band playing Fela covers, caught my eye. Though the Montreal show was sold out, I could only look through the window. I still had the name Fela on the mind.

That's when I saw the Femi interview in Downbeat. The pictures of the backup singers were enough to get me. So when I saw Femi on the list for the Congo Stage, they were on my list too. When I said Femi was pure aural and visual pleasure, I meant it.

The band comes out one at a time, all wearing beautiful bright green and purple African clothing. After each member came out, you could almost hear the crowd saying to themselves oh shit. A steady beat began to pervade, then a funky bass line, then the horns, then a percussionist with the biggest drums I have ever seen.

Then the backup singers: three gorgeous women in the most colorful clothing I have ever seen. And oh boy can they shake it, pure visual pleasure. Eye candy, too be short. Word is that these women are all Femi's wives. Well, then Femi Kuti is the luckiest man in Africa.

When Femi arrives to the stage, both the crowd and the band are excited. Femi is a true bandleader, the way James Brown used to lead bands. This is the only way a band can jam so loose and free, and still bring it all together so tight. Femi plays saxophone, but a funkier, younger generation, flavor of Afro-Beat than his more experimental and jazzy father Fela. Femi could easily be the most popular sex symbol on the stage if it wasn't for his backup girls. This band was pleasurable for men and women, pure entertainment.

Femi's lyrics are actually more profound than the light and cheery atmosphere he creates on stage. Like Bob Marley rose as a symbol of resistance to oppression in Jamaica, I could easily see Femi's rise in Nigeria for the same reason.

In one song, Femi speaks out about the prosperity of culture and trade in Nigeria that was destroyed by colonialization. He goes to the heart of the reason why people are oppressed in Africa, saying Black Americans used to teach in the schools and be the doctors. Today, the white man has taken the culture away.

Femi's lyrics aren't always dreary. In his song, "Bang, Bang," Femi talks about what we all want to talk about, making love. Femi proceeded to take off his shirt and get the whole crowd, which had accumulated to more than five thousand, jumping up and down.

Femi succeeds in bringing that African pride back to the true roots of funk. He breaks it down like I've rarely seen. His horn section can really take the band over. Every once and a while, his trumpet player or trombone player would step to the front at Femi's place, Those parts were some of my favorite parts. It really reminded me of the way Maceo would take James' place and just bring down the house.

Overall the saddest part about the concert was that I didn't have tickets for Femi as he opens up for String Cheese Incident at the Saenger Theater on May 3. Instead, I chose Mike Clark's Perscription Renewal as my entertainment for the evening. But that's the way Jazz Fest in New Orleans goes. I'm just glad I got a chance to catch them at the Congo Square. Those with tickets for String Cheese are going to be very pleasantly surprised. See you next weekend!

Adam Rosenbloom
JamBase JazzFest Correspondent
Go See Live Music!

[Published on: 5/1/01]

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