Another lovely weekend night brought us to the Fox Theatre in Boulder for the musical stylings of Femi Kuti. For those who do not know this master of the African beat, he is the son of legendary Nigerian Fela Kuti, a master sax player who had a huge influence on most, if not all, African musicians, not to mention the rest of the world. Much like his father, Femi uses a massive brass and percussion section to produce his unique sound of tribal music. It was Robert Walter, in a conversation one night who introduced me to the music of his father, and I thank him for that every day. Fela plays the type of music that makes everyone happy and want to get up on his or her feet and dance. He used his brass section as a backdrop for his hard lyrics and booming percussion section. So, on this night we were to be treated to a musical dynasty that will hopefully go beyond two generations.
With no opening band on this Sunday night, we knew we had to get their fairly early to make sure we could get tickets and find a good spot in the small club. The setup as we walked in looked like what Parliament would look like if they were from the Motherland. There were three drummers and percussionists, (which is always fun because the drums are the backbone of any good show, especially one that has so many tribal beats). The brass section was very impressive in my opinion, seeing how much I love the sound of just about any horn. It consisted of a baritone saxophone, alto saxophone, trumpet and trombone, with Femi coming in occasionally on tenor. His presence, and the fact that he let his horn players get their own time in the spotlight were two of my favorite aspects of the show. The player I liked best in the band was the trombonist, who looked like he was having the time of his life up there. It was great to see someone who is a secondary player in a band be so happy and ready to please the crowd. His attitude and the music that followed were what made this night so great for me and for all those who saw the show.
The stage was set, the musicians in place, and the evening progressed with nothing but great music and some fine dancing on stage. The other musicians this evening were an excellent keyboard player, bass, and three lovely African dancers that seemed to get everyone into their groove. From the first song, this show gave me exactly the thing I have been lacking with most of the shows I had seen recently, noise and lots of it. Since Phish has fallen off the face of the planet, the decibel level at each show seems to have dropped significantly. I had been in need of some real noise at a show for a while, and Femi brought me just that. The nice thing about the Fox is that the sound is crystal clear throughout the building; all of the musicians could be heard perfectly. The bad thing is that you can not smoke anywhere inside in the city of Boulder, which has been a burden for me being from the smoking friendly environment of Chicago. But I have grown a great fondness for this venue making it my local “Double Door” because of its great sound. With 13 musicians on stage and everyone getting their props, the first half of this set was dynamite. The flow between Femi and everyone around him was evident and very nice to see at a show. It appeared that the beginning of the set was dedicated to his new album, Life/The Struggle Within, and featured the brilliant horn player primarily on vocals. The meanings of some these songs were extremely powerful, with references being made to his family, current situations around the world, and especially to his homeland of Nigeria. The music was beautiful with each song overlapping and each message spreading throughout the mind frame of each person listening. The best song, in my opinion, was the fifth of the set, a eulogy to his mother with beautiful lyrics and the horn section blowing at full blast to what was a great tribute. I love songs about lineage, especially to a mother because I myself have been trying to master the perfect tribute to my mother via poetry and have not found it yet. Maybe it is something that only comes with time and the relationship that two adults hold and not that of a child and their elder. Anyway, the message came through beautifully to me, and this was the song of the evening for emotional and pure playing value. By the way, the song smoked also. The horns were beautiful throughout his vocals, playing right into the hands of the audience and making me smile inside for all mothers out there. With no set break we were treated to one set of about two hours. The other thing that stuck in my mind for the evening was that there was not one taper in the house. This is a common sight among the jam scene, and probably the first show I’ve seen in a long time where I did not notice a taper. This is only noted because I would love to get a copy of the show.
The second part of the set was laden more with pure musical ability than any kind of written message. The horns were the best part of the music, and each member was able to taste the lime light. The best part, to me, was every time Femi picked up his horn. Now for those who love the saxophone, you are aware of such giants in our field of music like Karl Denson, Topaz, Jeff Coffin, Jessica Lurie, etc. But this man blew me away when he picked up his beautiful tenor and played with a grace and style unlike anyone in the field today. He just possessed a sound probably similar to his father, and it brought a smile to my face, and I hope to everyone else in the crowd. The whole set was just a beautiful tribute to the music of Africa and all of the soul and grace it possesses. The concept was that of a speaker for the people getting the voice of the public out. His words seemed to possess a certain dignity, which, for an American can be hard to find in a public figure. His lyrics brought a certain heroic aura around him and all of his fellow countrymen who fought each day to survive through conditions that no headie could ever go through. Like all good speakers, he had a message behind his words; his being, his music and the beats seem to keep him alive. This is important to me because I only dream of what it would be like to be a speaker for one’s generation, and the fact that he plays beautiful music behind him gives Femi a great advantage over most poets and writers. His music was not the focal point for me, but his lyrical values and what he had to say were. This show was beautiful for me as a writer, and it will help me throughout whatever life may have for me. His message was for peace, which he brought out even while refering to 9-11. He stressed that people should be able to live their lives in freedom and honor, and not have to hide in the fear of a looming shadow, but prosper no matter what the conditions. With the message now embedded in my head, I was grateful that we were treated to a fantastic cover for the encore. The song was “Zombie,” a Fela Kuti classic from the album with the same name. This was a stellar version that had to have made his father tear up wherever his soul may be. The horn section, Femi, and the singers did a fantastic job recreating the sound of his father with his own unique blend of talent and style. The band gave their all, and everyone that was there should have come out with a smile, a new respect for political lyrics, and the strength they can carry in this grave time.
For those who read this and have not seen the likes of this great musician please go, we almost did not, and I’m incredibly glad that we did. This was a great show for all those who attended, and to all those that did not, please go see Femi Kuti in your area any time you can. If not for me, go for your own musical delights.
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