On Saturday, 17 November, the Afrobeat star, Femi Kuti and his Positive Force band performed at the Young African Art Market (YAAM) in East Berlin. Our Contributing Editor, Michael Nnaji witnessed the event and reports on the high and low points of the memory night.
Femi Kuti and his Positive Force band raised the temperature of the Berlin audience on a cold winter night, wowing the appreciative crowd with some fine tracks and on-stage performance.
Femi, the scion of Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, is on a European tour promoting his new album “One People One World”. The show was not only unique for being the first time the group would be performing in Berlin, but also for the unveiling of Femi’s eldest son, Omorinmade to audiences here.
The 22-year-old who has toured with his father since the age of 8, started out the memorable night as the base guitarist, the pivot of the rhythm section, wonderfully setting not just the tone of the music but also literally the stage for the rest of the group who stormed in on a wonderful bass rendition of “Truth Don Die”, the signature track of the Femi’s 1998 classic album “Shoki Shoki“.
With the hall packed to the rafters, Femi began by expressing his gratitude to the crowd while expressing his “surprise” that so many of his countrymen and women were in attendance on the night. He couldn’t help but have a dig at those of them living in London where the turnout for his recent show was apparently poor.
He pleaded jokingly with Nigerians in the audience to “keep a lid on their emotions”. But this was rather easier said than done, with the night suffused with fine Afrobeat music and with Femi himself teasing the crowd at every opportunity with the interactive call-and-response format that was made popular by his father.
For many, the climax of the night might have been the moment Femi struck out on his own with his now famous long-winding saxophone note aided by the so-called “circular breathing” (he is reportedly the world record holder at 51 minutes!).
But for this writer it was the laid-back elegant base strokes of Omorinmade Kuti, whose solo to “Truth don Die” provides some inklings of the future of Modern Afrobeat. It also served to again highlight the genius of his grandfather, Fela, the core of whose music can serve as the basis of practically any form of music – from jazz, hip-hop, rhythm & blues, gospel music and what-have-you.
Omorinmade would later join his father on tenor saxophone when both thrilled the audience with notes reminiscent of John Coltrane’s “sheaths of sound”, a complex sequence of notes that intoxicate the musical sensibilities. There was no mistaking the paternal pride on show, as both high-fived and chest-bumped at the interval.
Femi, just like his father before him, showed that he was more than a musician when he put on his hat as a political activist, railing against the injustices of governmental corruption, nepotism, war and neo-colonialism. There was a feeling, though, that he sometimes overlaboured the point in the light of the composition of his audience (mainly students, working middle-class folks, black and white).
There were some fine tracks from the new album, with the title track “One People One World” and “Corruption na Stealing”, the obvious picks of the pack. The rendition of the other tracks on the new album showed that at least the live performances were still a work in progress, with the band apparently yet to fully warm to the music. This was most obvious especially with Femi’s vocals, which was sometimes under par (the low point of the night).
In marked contrast, you could feel the enthusiasm that could be mustered in a flash, from the rhythm section to the back-up singers cum dancers when the classics “sorry sorry” and “Truth Don Die” (both from the album Shoki Shoki) as well as the aforementioned “Water No get Enemy” were being performed. They even managed to transmit some of the energy to the crowd who seemed to be enjoying every moment of it.
All in all, it was a fine evening with well-behaved guests and hospitable hosts. Femi and his crew took time to interact with fans after the show signing autographs and posing for photographs.