Seun Kuti and Egypt '80 at the Manuel Artime Theater, July 29

Seun Kuti and Egypt '80

Presented by Rhythm Foundation

Friday, July 29, 2011

Manuel Artime Theater, Miami

On Friday night, Seun Kuti and Egypt '80 opened up a portal into a high, spiritual, Afro-dimension where time slowed to a near standstill as booties shook with ever-increasing rapidity. Though many booties were seated when the show began, few could ultimately resist the pull into the deep, pulsating groove created by the fifteen folks on the stage.

As the booties left the seats, the groove grew deeper, the pores opened, the sweat flowed, smoke filled the air, and the space inside the Manual Airtime Theater grew more expansive and welcoming. The scene was free and charged, and the music was serving its great purpose of bringing many booty wielders together into a shared experience of 'shakin' it.'

Seun Kuti--who is the son of legendary Afro-beat pioneer Fela Kuti--began the show with one of his father's songs, which is something he always does: "Gotta pay respects to the man," he said. He was backed by the man's band, Egypt '80. He was wearing a baby blue, button-down, dress shirt with slacks. It took about three songs (each "song" was probably close to fifteen minutes, on average) for his sweat to drench the shirt, at which point he disappeared for a few minutes and came back shirtless, with an increased degree of frenzy flowing through his body and out his eyes.

The band was anchored in the center by an elder in loose fitting, traditional-looking African garb, which was brown with polka-dots. His vibe was vintage and there was something majestic about the way he played rhythm guitar. His left hand barely moved. The chord changes were few. No need. He, along with all the musicians, was so completely locked-in that it was hypnotizing to watch his strumming hand go, and go, and go--unmistakably driven by something much larger than his own brain or will.

All of the performers moved in this way, and indeed, they were so reliable, their groove so inviting, that willing audience members became part of the motion with great ease. The large number of musicians being locked in so tightly made for a groove which was simply huge. Pyramids could have been constructed inside of this groove. And, of course, there was a heritage aspect to it. This rhythm was much older than anyone currently on the planet, yet there was something so familiar about it that it naturally accommodated all the modern people in the room, in all their diversity. And, there was great diversity among the audience members--in age, ethnicity and style--who were united in rhythm.

Kuti spoke a lot throughout the show, though it was difficult for this reviewer to understand much of his English. For instance, he introduced each song, but I was unable to catch the name of a single one. He also rapped about politics and the state of the world, especially his native Africa: "Africa is not working for Africans," he said.

In the middle of the show Kuti launched into a spirited pro-cannabis rap. He talked about what disingenuous information has been perpetuated about the plant including: "It's bad for your balls!" He called on the audience to follow him in chanting "Plant it and let it grow!" and the audience obliged as many lit spliffs. This turned into an escalating call and response scenario as his moves, and his side of the chant became freakier and freakier (in a great way). He pranced around the stage watering imaginary seeds with his water bottle yelling "Water! Water!" He eventually slipped off stage for a moment, and came back even freakier. He stared into the crowd and did weird things with his face, waved his arms, became possessed.

At this point the groove soup had reached desirable temperature and only grew more flavorful throughout the rest of the evening. There were so many elements in the mix--all the various instrumentation and dance--all hanging together so naturally. None were overbearing and all were wild and free. It was a joyful, inspired performance. An impressive handling of ancient, rhythmic momentum.

Critic's Notebook

The Booties: Old, young, sitting, shaking...all hanging together nicely.

Random Detail: There is an African phrase which means "Fuck me, fuck me, I'm horny." It was the closing chant of the evening. I can't tell you how to say that in African, but if you put on track two from one of Kuti's albums (this is what he told us) you can hear it and learn for yourself.

By the Way: Booties.

-- Travis Newbill

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