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Femi Kuti, Boulder Theater, Boulder Colorado- 7/24

Back in the 1980s I had the good fortune of seeing a performance by Fela Kuti, the
outspoken political exile from Nigeria and originator of Afrobeat. After witnessing
his son Femi’s performance at the Boulder Theater, it’s clear the apple didn’t fall
far from the tree, but it did roll a slight distance away. Though it took some years
of musical searching before Femi came around to his father’s musical and sociopolitical
ideal, he now admirably carries his father’s torch, both musically and politically.
Unfortunately, the overall dynamism that Fela eschewed is not present in Femi, well,
at least on this night anyway.

That’s not to say this wasn’t a dynamic, soul-searing performance. Kuti’s 13-piece
band, which included three gyrating backup vocalists, a five-piece horn section
and a crack percussionist, was smack on, keeping a steady multi-layered groove pulsing
all night. Many songs began quietly enough with a hypnotic rhythm that slowly built
around Kuti’s vocals or subtle saxophone work, lulling the audience into a false
sense of security, before exploding into a full-on high-octane shake down. This
was the typical pattern for the night, and the near-capacity house responded wildly.
Kuti’s band was locked in synch from the opening note and clearly relished the idea
of using their creative interplay for movement and message.

Unfortunately, much of that message was lost by the over-amped sound and often distorted
vocals. As well, Kuti’s singular, drawn-out keyboard notes often got in the way
of his own music and voice, cluttering up the mix rather than improving it. More
than the vocals and the accompanying message it was the depth of sound that stood
out this evening. It’s hard to find fault in a band that 40 minutes into their set
was just beginning their sixth songand this wasn’t due to open jamming but lengthy,
orchestrated sound collages where each component is carefully timed and filtered
with tasteful solos for the greatest physical and spiritual impact. And if 95 minutes
wasn’t enough, the 30-minute encore, with Kuti trading sax for clarinet, wrapped
things up on a high note.

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