Event Review: Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 @ Stanley Halls (London; Monday 4th May 2018)

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Walking into the small, church-like Stanley Halls, one could hear the familiar stabbing-horn sounds of afrobeat emanating from the hall. The venue almost juxtaposed the performance on stage; as one entered, a musical, colourful spectacle erupted from the stage, held together with aged wooden beams and high ceilings. The sound echoed naturally around the chambers of the intimate hall.

It was a pleasure to see the distinguished musicians on stage, each having lived through many impressive decades of musical innovation – they started their band in 1979 in Lagos, Nigeria, with legendary innovator and father of afrobeat, political maverick and human rights activist Fela Kuti.

A shimmering, all-silver Gibson sounded out infectious grooves, whilst a Fender Strat roared funky licks. A three-piece horn section each played their instruments which charismatic coolness, as their fingers cyclically repeated the characteristic riffs and licks that embellish afrobeat music. Two beautiful women sung the call-and-response harmonics, all while keeping up vivacious dancing that surely infected the entire hall. The truly atomic element of the evening was the acclaimed bandleader Seun Kuti, whose boundless vitality infused his fiery, fierce lyrics. There was no shortage of virtuosic solos, from Kuti on alto-sax to keys, to guitars, horns and of course drums.

Together, Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 played through tracks from their latest album Black Times. A particular favourite of mine was “African Dreams”, with its lyrics centring on political and social commentary. Watching Kuti’s body contort was so similar to watching that of his father. It seemed almost ritualistic – especially within the aesthetic setting of Stanley Halls – to hear Seun Kuti’s progressive, passionate messages sung with determination and meaning. Corrupt governments, the impact of Western society on the new generations, and the hypocrisy of the system were some of the messages Kuti preached during the show.

Just as Seun Kuti’s multicoloured peacock suit was full of bodacious life, as was the entire performance. Punching out the powerful “Struggle Sounds”, he claimed that it’s ‘the ultimate sound of reality’ – and it was clear to see the revolutionary beaming from within Seun Kuti.

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