Seun Kuti on ‘Struggle Sounds,’ Trump and headlining Belly Up Aspen
If You Go …
Who: Seun Kuti & Egypt 80
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Saturday, Nov. 19, 8:30 p.m.
How much: $15
Tickets: Belly Up box office; http://www.bellyupaspen.com
When he was barely into his teens, Seun Kuti took up the mantle of Afrobeat activism from his father, the legendary Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti.
Since his father’s death in 1997, Kuti, now 33, has played with Egypt 80 — his dad’s sprawling band that numbers as many as 25 members at some concerts — blending new songs and old in an ecstatic style where American jazz and funk meet African dance music. Kuti and Egypt 80 will headline Belly Up Aspen tonight, touring in support of their politically charged new three-song EP “Struggle Sounds.”
The struggle in these songs is both Nigerian and global — a fight of the oppressed many against the powerful few, epitomized in the standout track “Gimme My Vote Back (CPCD)” (the acronym stands for Corporate Public Control Department).
“I was thinking about class warfare,” Kuti said this week from Los Angeles, where he was playing one of several shows on tour with Lauryn Hill. “All around the world, not just in Africa, there is a secret war between the elites and everybody else. These super-rich, 1 percenters, they are waging a war on humanity, on the environment, because all of their success comes from the destruction of people and the environment. These songs, for me, are the soundtrack for everybody that’s living the consequences of these actions.”
The singer and saxophonist, who began performing with his father at age 8, has spent a lifetime railing against political corruption, against globalized capitalism and imperialism, while championing human rights. He doesn’t sugarcoat things, but his music — and his ecstatic concerts — do package the fierce Kuti message of resistance in danceable rhythms and irresistible harmonies. His world tours are a plea for unity.
“The system tells us how different we are,” he said. “But if we tune in to the struggle, it makes us one.”
Carrying the Afrobeat torch, Kuti’s flamboyant concerts with Egypt 80 have earned a well-deserved reputation as can’t-miss happenings — their local debut at Belly Up, in 2012, was an astounding spectacle that doubled as a dance party and human-rights rally.
Playing with the band since childhood in his father’s Kalakuta Republic commune, Kuti said he is creatively connected to Egypt 80 on almost a cellular level.
“I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s almost telepathic,” he said. “When we work on the music, when I write the songs, the band is able to grasp it quite easily. … As soon as I have my vision, they’re able to put it out.”
Like his dad, he sings mostly in English. And when he tours in the U.S., his message to audiences is the same as in Nigeria or elsewhere.
“When I do a show in America, I want old people, young people, working class people,” he said. “Even if we are from different nationalities and whatever, what we all want for the world is the same, by and large. When I do my show I want people to understand that and be inspired to make things better. … The world is one. Our struggle is the same for everyone. I believe that, especially in the kind of world we have today where everyone is so scared, where the political class and the elite rule through fear and hate. You have to be afraid of Assad in Syria. You have to be afraid of Putin in Russia.”
And President-elect Donald Trump in America?
“I told all my friends that Donald Trump was going to win the election and for one reason only: he is a reflection of America,” Kuti said. “The real reflection. Not the lies that liberals tell that racism is over because Obama is in the White House. Not the lie that people are happy because banks can make money again. The truth, man.”
Kuti pointed to Trump’s racially charged, fear-based campaign and his cultivation of anti-establishment sentiment along with the machinations of the Democratic National Committee to nominate Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders to explain the forces that brought Trump to power.
“It’s not revolutionary, it’s reactionary,” he said of the protests roiling the U.S. since Election Day. “The real revolution should have been when the Democratic primaries were rigged. Now it’s too late. Donald Trump is going to rule America for four years, at least. And if he wants to rule for eight, he has to start a war somewhere.”
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