Sitting in the train that takes me from Schiphol to Breda (a city in the south of Holland) my memories go back to the year 1984. I was a 13-year-old boy back then discovering the world of pop music. At the time Punk was dead, New Wave was buried and Reggae was still suffering from Bob Marley’s untimely death. The trendy thing then was African music. Terms like Juju and Afrobeat where the talk of the day and African musicians were drawing incredible crowds. I remember I noticed that there were flyers attached to the walls all over the city of Amsterdam in the summer of 1984 with the image on them of a black man with a bare chest holding a saxophone. I later read the review of this concert in the newspaper and learnt that the black man with the saxophone was Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the creator of Afrobeat. It wasn’t long after that that I bought my first Fela record and the hypnotic sounds of Fela Kuti and Egypt 80 hypnotized me for life.
It is now 22 years later and Fela has passed away from this life, but his eldest son Femi has succeeded his father as the king of Afrobeat. The train reaches the station of Breda and I have to leave my memories and concentrate on finding the venue. After a 15 minute walk through the appealing centre of Breda, I see a funny looking building shaped like a giant whale. This is Mezz Concerts and Dance. Femi’s tour buss stands next to the building. I just have to show my ticket to get in. No metal detectors, no frisking. There are only a few people present in the hall, but it’s still early.
Towards nine there’s a reasonably large crowd and only a few minutes after nine (who ever said that Africans were always too late?) five of Femi’s musicians take the stage. Guitar, drums, bass, percussion and keyboards set out a basic rhythm. The horns section appears a couple of minutes later. Femi’s “Dancing Queens” are the next to appear and the crowd cheers them on. Femi is last to appear and judging by the reaction of the crowd it seems as if the popularity of African music has hardly diminished. As Femi takes us through his repertoire he seems to be completely one with his music. Sometimes playing keyboards with his eyes closed, sometimes making almost spastic movement with his arms to the beat, sometimes dancing uncontrollably. The horns section of five men provided an explosive topping for the basic rhythm set out by their five colleagues. The greatest visual attraction, however, are the three dancers/back-up singers. They dance around the stage as only African woman can. Rhythmically, sensually and exotic this is a true sight to behold.
Femi guides us through all his greatest hits like “1,2,3,4”, “Beng, Beng, Beng”, “Stop Aids” and a cover version of his father’s famous song “Water No Get Enemy”. There was a moment of repose with a lullaby like song calling for peace on earth. It was only when Femi’s crowd pleaser “Shotan” was played that the crowd really went wild. After two more songs the musicians left the stage. But the crowd was in for more and the rhythmic applause that continued for minutes could not be ignored by the band. Four more new songs that I hope will make it on to the next album concluded a wonderful evening. A big salute to Femi and The Positive Force for bringing us 2,5 hours of kick-ass Afrobeat music. Femi, you are truly your father’s son.
Text and pictures, copyright, Julio Punch, 2006.