Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 play Trees Wednesday, Sept. 27.
A show at Trees tonight provides an opportunity to get close to late afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti when his youngest son takes the stage. Seun Kuti stepped in as lead singer of Egypt 80 when Fela died in 1997.
Seun’s says he is more frontman and CEO of the family business, and Lekan Animashaun is the bandleader for Egypt 80. Animashaun had been playing with Fela since his audition for Fela’s Koola Lobitos band in 1969.
Animashaun, a baritone sax player, was a lucky find. Baritone sax players are rare, and even rarer are those who can play jazz and not just band music. Fela was the first to bring baritone sax into afrobeat, and Animashaun was his key to incorporating that into his music. Animashaun stayed with Fela through Africa 70 and into Egypt 80, for which he continues to serve as bandleader, backing up his former bandmate’s son.
Seun was immersed in his father's music from the time he was born and started opening for Fela when he was 8. Fela lived in a compound and was known to invite people who were down on their luck to stay with him. The compound was home to about 200 people at any given time. It was a small community fueled by music.
Much like his father, Seun is not afraid to get political. He stands proudly as an alternative to the glitz and glam promoted by pop culture in the West, encouraging young Africans not to be seduced by fast cars and designer clothing. Instead, Seun encourages community.
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Although Seun has been fronting Egypt 80 since the '90s, he has released only three albums, starting with his debut, Many Things, in 2008. In 2011, Brian Eno produced From Africa with Fury: Rise, and in 2014, Seun released A Long Way to the Beginning.
With each release, Seun grows bolder and more confident. His music inspires feet to dance as much as it inspires fists to shake. It's equal parts call to revolution and party music.
Afrobeat has risen in popularity in America over the past decade. Knitting Factory led a massive reissue campaign of Fela Kuti’s back catalogue, helping that trend along. Other afrobeat records have also been the subject of reissue campaigns.
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Seun’s older brother, Femi, also has a band and has been touring for decades, last visiting Dallas six years ago at House of Blues. Between the two brothers, Fela’s legacy has continued on stages all over the world.
The days of $50-plus Fela records are finally in the past, making his music accessible to more people. In 2010, the Broadway show Fela! won 11 Tonys and a Grammy for best musical theater album. Beyonce, Jay Z, and Will and Jada Smith were producers.
Now more afrobeat-inspired acts are emerging, including Antibalas, Golden Dawn Arkestra, Jungle Fire, Ikebe Shakedown and Shaolin Afronauts. Hear where it all started tonight at Trees.
Seun Kuti, 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 27, Trees, 2709 Elm St., $20, treesdallas.com.