Fela Kuti, the pioneer of Afrobeat, left quite a legacy behind when he died of AIDS in 1997. Besides his impressive contributions to music, the Nigerian multi-instrumentalist and composer was a serious human rights activist. Fela had a huge number of incredibly dedicated fans—people who love his music and value his passions outside of it—but he also left a more physical legacy: his son. Seun Kuti, Fela’s youngest son, has made no secret of his desire to continue what his father started, and his new record, From Africa With Fury: Rise, is the strongest evidence of that.
The album, which is the follow-up to his 2008 debut, Many Things, has all of the components of traditional Afrobeat music, but it also offers a hint of a more modern sound, which is partially a result of producers Brian Eno and John Reynolds’ influence. Afrobeat is not for the faint of heart—the songs are much longer than your typical three or four minutes, and the music can start to feel repetitive very quickly, especially if you are unfamiliar with the genre—and while Kuti falls into these traps at times, he manages to avoid them more often than not.
The songs range from five to almost eight minutes, making this seven-track album last for close to an hour, but the diverse rhythms and heavy brass and horn sections make it feel like less. The opening beat of lead track “African Soldier” is infectious and only gets better as the layers of instruments begin to pile up, and you can literally feel his frantic desperation through the speeding drums on “Mr. Big Thief.” Still, Kuti does not escape home free; this is an album for hardcore Afrobeat fans and does little that will convert any new listeners.
Kuti walks a fine line here: He must distinguish himself as his own person while honoring his father’s accomplishments and historical significance. The similarities between father and son are definitely visible: Kuti’s passionate lyrics revolve around themes of political unrest and serve as a call to action, especially those on lead single “Rise,” and he is joined on the album by Egypt 80, his father’s old band. From Africa With Fury: Rise is a solid sampling of Afrobeat, and if Kuti’s goal is to show that his father’s influence was not wasted on him, he succeeds brilliantly. The album is a persuasive one—Kuti’s conviction is undeniable, as is his talent.