Review: Femi Kuti + Tiggs Da Author + K.O.G. and The Zongo Brigade @ Southbank Centre (London, 11th June 2016)

Guy Garvey’s edition of the legendary Meltdown festival brought Femi Kuti to the Royal Festival Hall at Southbank Centre for a special one-off show. The evening began with talented Tiggs Da Author, South Londoner and songwriter of Tanzanian origins, who warmed up the stage with a selection of his fresh, swinging hits. Tiggs won the audience’s sympathy with his blue-denim dungarees and funny anecdotes, having the theatre singing along with him “Sway down | sway down | sway down” to the notes of his last tune’s chorus.

Femi Kuti hit the stage with his outstanding band Positive Force, bringing to the South Bank all the colourful irreverence of the dance floors of Lagos, Nigeria. Heir of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti conducted with unflagging energy a vibrant, rousing show, once again demonstrating himself as top of his family legacy.

Femi, a flamboyant stage animal and at the same time an effective entertainer, skilfully mixes Pan-African and English lyrics, reducing the endless, trancy strains typical of the origins of Afrobeat into more radio-friendly tunes, successfully addressing the international public.

Although this change makes a significant difference to the music structure, it doesn’t correspond to a new content: the wild experimentalism of the origin of Afrobeat back in the 1960s is now reduced to the demarcation lines of a music genre, which repertoire tends to reproduce itself. Nonetheless, it still maintains all its groovy hotness, as Femi Kuti showed us at the Southbank Centre.

Most of the concert was taken from his two last albums, Africa for Africa and No Place For My Dream, including hits like “Politics Na Big Business”, “Africa for Africa”, “Action Time” and “Politics in Africa”. The only pauses in the relentless succession of the tracks were Femi’s jokes and political statements, including cutting remarks about David Cameron’s gaffe on corruption in Nigeria, and birthday wishes to Queen Elizabeth II.

Femi Kuti’s lyrics sound almost spoken. He repeats simple messages, mainly referring to corruption in the African politic system, and inciting African people to stand up and be aware of what is going on. The immediacy of the words is counterbalanced by the richness of the melody lines played on the horns, keyboards and guitar, and the complexity of the rhythmic patterns.

The energy of Western African music and the irresistible movements of the three marvellous dancers on stage forced the crowd to stand and dance after the first few songs, reducing the distance between audience and band minute after minute. Femi kept pacing the proscenium in big strides, shaking every muscle in his body over almost two hours, continuously fist-pumping and high-fiving people gathered under the stage. The show was supposed to end with Femi’s version of his father’s “Water Get No Enemy”, but no one in the venue was willing to let him go like that; the African star rewarded their enthusiasm by performing a brand new song.

“You know, this our life | our life moves very fast” Kuti sang, contorting himself between his Hammond keyboard and the saxophone, finally leaving the stage to a standing ovation.

The night continued with other two-hours explosive show by K.O.G. and the Zongo Brigade, a Sheffield-based band very well known to London music lovers. The musicians of the Brigade played their Afro-Fusion – an unpredictable hodgepodge of jazz, Ghanaian hiplife, rap and drum’n’bass – with the usual breath-taking vehemence, concluding the second night of 2016 Meltdown in the best way possible.

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