The Unofficial Website for Fela Kuti and Afrobeat Music

Once You Go Black, You Never Go Back

Gig Review: Seun Kuti and Fela’s Egypt 80
Cactus Festival, Bruges, 11 July 2010

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How would it be with the musical career of Prince Michael III, the son of Mr. Wacko Jacko himself? Maybe he can pull some nice tunes out of his recorder or perhaps he might courageously beat up a triangle, who knows? No, although he might have talent for baking, for the son (or daughter) of a hero it’s never easy to slice the same job with as much panache.

Luckily there are exceptions. Seun Kuti is one of them. Son of Fela Kuti, not only a gifted musician but also a formidable rebel in his native Nigeria. He founded his own state, the Kalakuta Republic, by simply putting up barbed wire around his house and ridiculed the military dictatorship (for instance with the song ‘Zombie’ (no, not that song by The Cranberries) that became the anthem of the resistance). Besides that he didn’t do badly with the women either, on the contrary, he married 27 of them in one swoop. When Fela died of Aids in 1997 Seun took charge of his mega backing band Egypt 80. What a heritage, but also: what courage to meet this challenge!

Can Seun tread in the footsteps of his daddy or will it be a pale decoction (the Marleys have a few of those walking around)? A quick peak on YouTube shows him in excellent shape at a benefit concert in Cairo for malaria (check Mosquito Song). But how will he do in Bruges?

Once you go black, you never go back’ was a tip a lady friend gave me. I didn’t want to go that far, but I’m open to anything. It wasn’t long after they started their sound check that it became apparent that this gang (15!) was ready for it. An average song lasts 11 minutes (long live the Internet) and tonight was no exception. Afrobeat is the name of the game and that was presented here in a damned swinging way. When the black goddesses in the quire dropped their skirts the temperature rose a few degrees, and when they swung their hips, it became clear what Willem Vermandere (famous Belgium folk singer) meant with ‘stiff white men’, and I’m not even talking about our hormones here but definitely about our bodies, which in comparison to these dancing beauty’s, have the agility of a hippopotamus.

Egypt 80 supplied the groove in which Seun nested himself seamlessly. In a suit with assorted bones that would fit in any retro shop he demanded the utmost of his clan. But everything with a playing pleasure that was shared by all. Even the Djabara player who initially seemed further from this planet than a satellite leaving our galaxy came through all the way and even pulled off a wink at the female beauty’s on the first row. Seun Kuti proved that with a basic riff, an overdose of copper (trumpets and saxophones), basic percussion (what a drum!) and a lot of spirit you can let things boil over. The lyrics weren’t sung in Oxford English and were therefore difficult to understand, but both political engagement (‘Mr Big Thief’ about a corrupt politician enjoying his pension) as well as the finer things in life were addressed (Seun appears to have a jar full of first class marihuana in his possession: ‘This wil make  you happy, sleepy and hungry!’). He certainly pleasured the Herbes de Provence smokers in the first rows.

He finished with a trick I had seen Keziah Jones do before him. When he took off his shirt the idea ‘Once I’ll go black’ surely popped into the minds of both tender teenage girls as well as to the anniversary celebrating elderly. When the dancers were finally allowed up front everybody danced on a cloud! The sax is an invention by Adolphe Sax, a Belgium. I assume he is lying in his grave with a big smile on his face after this performance.

Text: ©Kris Logghe for Cactus Festival
Pictures: ©Dieter Qaughebeur
Translation: Julio Punch