On Live At The Shrine, singer, composer and bandleader Femi Kuti takes Afro-beat â€“ a blend of traditional Nigerian drum patterns; the smooth, positive groove of highlife (the first modern African music to gain worldwide recognition); a scorching horn section that brought James Brownâ€™s stuttering beat back home and re-Africanized it; and American soul, funk and R&B â€“ to a new creative level. Femiâ€™s father, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, created Afro-beat and took his mesmerizing new hybrid from the poverty stricken neighborhoods of Lagos to stages and arenas all over the world. Today Femi is ensuring the musicâ€™s continued vitality as one of the most powerful sounds to ever arise from the African Motherland adding his own innovations.
Both the Live At The Shrine live recording and documentary capture Femi and his band, Positive Force, in front of an enthusiastic hometown audience in Lagos, Nigeria. The album contains 14 tracks; more than an hour of music while the DVD contains electrifying concert footage, interviews with Femi, his band and his fans, scenes of street life in Lagos that document both the cityâ€™s grinding poverty and vibrant spirit, and an inside look at the day to day workings of The Shrine, built by Femi as a memorial to his father. It also explores the motives behind Femiâ€™s â€œSunday Jumpsâ€?, weekly concerts that have become a rallying point for political resistance as well as a method for blowing off some of the pressure created by an imploding society. With the exception of Femiâ€™s classic â€œ1997,â€? a eulogy to his fallen father, and an inspired re-working of Felaâ€™s â€œWater No Get Enemy,â€? the material on Live At The Shrine is all new, culled from the many songs Femi has been developing since his last recording, 2001â€™s Fight To Win.
Femi Kuti - ShrineOn the Live At The Shrine DVD, Femi Kuti describes his philosophy in a simple, straightforward manner. â€œI saw myself sinking deeper into music,â€? Femi says, with his characteristic modesty. â€œThe only thing I have confidence in, in my life 100%, is music. Even if you donâ€™t give your life to music, music will take you over. So if I let myself go to wherever music takes me, so be it.â€? Director Raphael Frydman and his crew give us an intimate portrait of Femi, his band, his fans, The Shrine, and the city of Lagos in a series of sharp vignettes built around songs like â€œI Wanna Be Free,â€? â€œDem Boboâ€? and â€œ1997.â€? â€œ1997â€? is a tribute to Femiâ€™s legendary father Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, and includes clips of Fela preaching and performing. The people of Lagos may live in chaos and poverty but their spirit shines through as they speak into the cameras about their hopes and dreams and the faith they have in Femi and his music as a positive force. They praise Femi as a man who takes care of the poor, a man who â€œtalks the talk and walks the walk.â€?
Femiâ€™s take on Afro-beat is built on the sturdy foundation of his fatherâ€™s vibrant polyrhythmic archetype: an inspired merging of traditional Nigerian music, highlife, and the soul, funk, jazz and R&B Fela picked up on his trips to the United States. Femi adds to the mix by blending in the modern beats of American and European club culture as well as the neo-R&B and hip-hop sounds that are increasingly important to young African listeners. The result honors his fatherâ€™s work and extends its vision into the new century. It lays the groundwork for a new global pop vision, one thatâ€™s politically charged as well as danceable.
With the Live At The Shrine CD, Femi and Positive Force have produced a great live album; you can sense the electric flow of energy between performer and audience. On â€œCanâ€™t Buy Meâ€?, Femi sounds like preacher, shouting in tongues, punctuating his vocals with short, sharp keyboard fills. â€œShotanâ€? [the word is Nigerian slang for acts of self-destructive anger] is driven by the superior guitar work of Dokon Oke and Femiâ€™s growling vocals as he urges the people to rise up out of indifference and direct their anger at the powers that be. â€œIf Them Want To Hearâ€? is a hymn to the spirit of the Nigerian people marked by Femiâ€™s sanctified keyboards and a gentle vocal that brings to mind the work of Bob Marley, another prophet for peace. And while Femiâ€™s sax, keyboards, and vocals are the focal point, donâ€™t underestimate the potent contributions of the Positive Force band. Joseph Darlingtonâ€™s bass lines push the music forward melodically and rhythmically; trap drummers Adekunle Ayobami Olayode and Dobo Oloko Obi add exciting and unexpected break beats to every jam and the six man horn section supplies blazing musical accents that ignite the crowd.
Live At The Shrine is also an historical document, one that looks back to honor a turbulent past, and forward to a future that holds the promise of better days to come. In 1977, as today, Nigeria was a dangerous place, especially if you were poor or politically disenfranchised. Fela Anikulapo-Kutiâ€™s songs, full of irresistible grooves and acidic social commentary, made him a hero to the people and a problem for the corrupt government. Fela had declared the home he shared with his wives, mother and band members, a sovereign state, the Kalakuta Republic. On February 22, the Nigerian Army burned it to the ground. Fela was beaten, hospitalized, and jailed, his family and friends brutalized and raped. From then until his death, Fela was in open warfare with the power structure. Fela continued to perform weekly gigs and although there was no formal Shrine, every club Fela played became a temporary Shrine, a rallying point for the peopleâ€™s hope and resistance.
In early 2000, Femi Kuti took over a warehouse in the industrial section of Ikeja, close to his fatherâ€™s old home and finally built a permanent home for Afro-beat â€” The Africa Shrine. The walls are decorated with portraits of pan-Africanist poets and heroes of Black Power. It is bigger and more open to the people than it was in its former incarnations â€¦ and three and a half years after its opening, the new Shrine is as popular with the people, and as dangerous to the powers that be, as it ever was. Femi continues his fatherâ€™s work with music that combines sentiments of anti-globalization and celebrations of our common humanity. Femi is as fierce and as charismatic as his father, and makes music thatâ€™s every bit as exciting as his dadâ€™s.
Live At The Shrine was filmed and recorded in Lagos in March of 2004. The principals behind the project include Uwe (Uncivilized World Entertainment,) a progressive organization that champions many musical and political causes; MK2 Music, a label dedicated to finding new ways of presenting music by combining cinematic, musical and digital culture; Raphael Frydman, a young French producer, director and filmmaker known for Babylonâ€™s Fever (a documentary on Manu Chao) and the feature film Adieu Babylone (a coming of age story shot in Mexico and the US); and sound engineer/producer Sodi, who engineered and produced Felaâ€™s last seven albums as well as Femiâ€™s Fight To Win and Shoki Shoki.
Femi Kuti was born in London in 1962 and joined Felaâ€™s Egypt â€™80 in 1978. During the Egypt â€™80 tour of the United States in 1985, Femi stepped out of his fatherâ€™s shadow. Fela had been arrested at the airport, moments before he was leaving for the tour. Femi took over leadership of the 40-piece band and the show went on, earning Femi rave reviews for his sax work and charismatic stage presence.
The next year Femi created Positive Force and released No Cause for Alarm, a blend of soul, jazz, and funk marked by Femiâ€™s impressive songwriting and sax skills. His live dates received strong notices; many critics noted his compositional and improvisational skills. People stopped comparing Femi to his father as he developed his own unique take on Afro-beat. In 1996 Femi swept Nigeriaâ€™s Fame Music Awards winning for Best Producer, Best Cross-over Song, Best Cross-over Music, Best Music, Best Single and Best Artist of the Year.
Fela died in August of 1997. Shortly after, Femiâ€™s younger sister, Sola, a founding member of Positive Force died of cancer, tragedies that led to the composition of â€œ1997,â€? one of Femiâ€™s signature tunes. Later that year, Femi signed with Barclay/Polygram (MCA/Motown in the US) and released Shoki Shoki, the first album to get simultaneous worldwide release.
Fight To Win (2001) was another worldwide hit. The Positive Force horns gave the album an Afro-beat punch while guests like Mos Def, Common and Money Mark (ex-keyboard player from The Beastie Boys) provided appeal for the American market. To bring the story full circle, Sodi, engineer and producer of Felaâ€™s last seven albums as well as Femiâ€™s Shoki Shoki, produced the set.
When heâ€™s home, Femi performs the weekly â€œSunday Jumpsâ€? at The Africa Shrine, recreating the high energy in evidence on the Live At The Africa Shrine DVDâ€? and igniting the same frenzy as his father, intently fanning the flames of freedom, justice, brotherhood and the universal groove. He continues to tour extensively in Europe and the United States, and will be supporting the Live At The Africa Shrine CD/DVD collection with North American dates starting at The Metropolis in Montreal on July 6th.