new music: the revolutionary seun kuti and egypt 80’s lp ‘a long way to the beginning’ #soundcheck

May 23, 2014

Family legacies are almost unheard of in the musical world. All too often, the children of famous musicians at best coast on the fact that they sort of look and sound like their dearly missed parents. (I’m looking at you, Julian Lennon, Ziggy Marley, and debatably Jakob Dylan…) It’s no surprise that some of the most successful children of musicians have deliberately veered away from their parents’ territory (shout out to Neneh Cherry). For Seun Kuti, the youngest son of Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti, the challenge is double. In the Afrobeat world, no-one’s shadow looms larger than Fela’s, and Seun Kuti has spent almost his entire life leading his father’s band, the great Egypt 80 ensemble. But rather than coast on Fela’s legacy and simply maintain Egypt 80 as a tribute act, on his latest record A Long Way To The Beginning, Seun Kuti picks up where his father left off, pushing the Afrobeat sound into new and exciting directions.

By Nathan Leigh, AFROPUNK Contributor

Opening with the scathing “IMF,” Seun Kuti makes it clear that he’s got the same political and social consciousness as his father. The title alternately stands for “International Money Fund” and “International Motherfucker.” Though maybe less subtle than Fela, Seun pulls no punches. Dead Prez’s M1 drops in for a guest verse that all but calls for armed international revolution. On “Higher Consciousness,” he links the populist and anti-corporate movements that have been sweeping the world from Tahir Square to Ukraine to the Occupy Movement including his own Occupy Nigeria. The Occupy Movement has notoriously struggled finding anthems of our own, instead borrowing them from previous generations. It looks like Seun Kuti is taking the tragically empty mantle of movement songwriter. If “Higher Consciousness” is any indication, there’s no-one more qualified for the role.

But this is Egypt 80, and three quarters of the membership remains from Fela Kuti’s day, so this album lives and thrives on the beat. The genius of the Kuti family seems to be their ability to blend political and social criticism with undeniable dance beats. Producer (and talented composer and bandleader in his own right) Robert Glasper pops in for a piano solo on the infectious “Ohun Aiye.” The record closes with the downtempo “Black Woman” featuring the German-Nigerian singer Nneka. On a record full of bombastic horns, relentless beats, and revolutionary slogans, Seun Kuti ends with a heartfelt ode to the strength and power of the women of Africa. While it may not have the fire and righteous fury of “African Smoke,” its sincerity and message is no less revolutionary.

The full album is streaming now on NPR.