Last night, in conjunction with June’s month-long Blue Note Jazz Festival, afrobeat vanguard Fela Kuti’s youngest son Seun Kuti performed at Highline Ballroom backed by Egypt 80, which is comprised primarily of his father’s original band. Starting promptly at 9pm, with DJ Rich Medina spinning a wild assortment of old soul and world beat dance records, Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 were introduced by the ensemble’s piano player who led the band on lead vocals for the first number. Kuti emerged after the song, looking visually anomalous from the rest of the group in an outfit made up entirely of green and brown digitized camo print. In between tracks, Seun would take long, drawn-out pauses to talk about politics, President Obama and issues surrounding international equal rights. He introduced the dynamic and restless tempo of Higher Consciousness, saying, “I believe this is the answer to social justice,” before announcing the song title.
Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 brought the heat, most of the performers working up a sweat just a few tracks in. With Kuti trading off between vibrant alto saxophone melodies and heavy-handed vocal hooks with two female backup vocalists. The group performed tracks from their most recent album, A Long Way To The Beginning (Knitting Factory Records), like the crass earworm IMF, the blaring syncopation of African Airwaves and the politically affirming protest song Black Woman. In one instance, Kuti invited a guest musician on stage, the savvy, jazz-informed pianist Robert Glasper. Glasper diverged from the gritty, aggravated tonality of the band’s dominant afrobeat inclinations, introducing wistful and starry-eyed elements of hazy melodies over the beautiful pandemonium. Kuti spent every possible instant free of musical responsibilities gyrating and trembling with a serious sense of urgency, feeding off the energy emanating from the stage full of musicians. Upon leaving at the end of their set, Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 approached the crowd, gifting the stimulated audience with toothy smiles and sweaty fist bumps.
Photos Angel Eugenio Fraden.