Where any other artist with a famous-musician dad struggles to step out of their father’s shadow, Femi Kuti has pole-vaulted his way beyond his father Fela and is now firmly dancing to his own beat.
From the moment he and the Positive Force–including a four-piece horn section; two drummers, bass, guitar, and keys; and a trio of female backup dancers doubling as hyperspeed booty metronomes–danced their way on stage in colorful lime green outfits and matching red and gold costumes, it was clear that last night’s performance would deliver energy the size of Nigeria itself.
As Femi opened with the brass riff of “Truth Don Die,” the crowd lived up to the show’s all-ages billing. Bespectacled white-haired grandmas joyfully cut a rug next to tattooed Capitol Hill kiddos.
“Are you feeling alright this evening?” he bellowed into the mic, rubbing his hands together in anticipation. He told the audience we could expect a mix of old and new tonight from the Femi catalogue. He then taught us his favorite call-and-response line: Alalalalala!, to which we all wholeheartedly replied Olololololo!, an exchange akin, he explained, to us “all having the same Blackberry or internet password.” “We are now all connected!” he said, and reminded this every other minute throughout the evening as he called out Alalalalala! He kept time with flailing limbs, pumping his fist at an estimated 960 beats per minute, like shaking an invisible bottle of frozen ketchup.
Over a magnficent, two-hour performance, Femi delivered “Beng Beng Beng” from 2000’s Shoki Shoki and “Politics in Africa” from his latest album Africa for Africa. The sizable Neumos crowd never once waned in enthusiasm. With a band tight but not uptight, perfectly-placed organ pounces and saxophone stabs, and the rich history of Africa’s most famous musical dynasty, Femi Kuti sealed his place as the continent’s leading musical luminary and dissident voice of the 21st century.
High: Dancing with complete abandon, Femi was a sight to behold. At times resembling a blind mime who’s had too much coffee doing the trapped-in-a-box thing, a toddler tantrum, or Zeus creating the universe, he made Thom Yorke’s “Lotus Flower” video look tame.
Low: Kuti’s wayward pontificating between songs was well-intentioned and well-received, and he was an engaging speaker, but there was rarely a clear line of thought from beginning to end. Using his Hammond organ as pulpit, he ran through world news items from corruption in Africa to being a self-proclaimed “Professor of Sexology”– which the audience seemed comfortable with, despite Femi being the same age as most of our dads.
In a Tweet: Uninhibited, unrestrained and meticulously relaxed, Femi Kuti brought the party and politics with a riot of color and movement.