His father, the late great Fela Anikulapo Kuti, was the godfather of the politically sharp, seriously funky music genre known as Afrobeat. Seun Anikulapo Kuti is carrying the torch forward, blowing sax and singing as leader of Fela's old band, Egypt 80. While headquarters is still his hometown — Lagos, Nigeria — Seun is currently on a world tour in support of a new album, Seun Kuti & Egypt 80, that will bring him to Humboldt County on Monday, June 23, for a show at the Mateel. The Journal caught up with him in Paris via cellphone.
Seun started singing with Egypt 80 at Fela's nightclub, The Shrine, when he was eight years old, and took over the lead when his father died. He was just 14. That was 10 years ago. The music he's making today seems just as fresh and relevant as when Fela was leading the band. When I suggested that he's pulled the Afrobeat movement into the 21st century, he disagreed.
"I don't think so," he told me. "Afrobeat has always been in the 21st century. Afrobeat was about to go global in a big way when Fela died. He was about to do a world tour that would have brought the music worldwide, but he died. We went on without him, but it's a misconception when they say Afrobeat sounds like old music, that it needs to be changed, to be fused with new music. They said we had to add some funk and some soul to make it new. I don't believe that. Afrobeat is evergreen, the albums are classics. One of the rules of Afrobeat is that every song has to have an everlasting meaning to it. I believe Afrobeat has always been in the future. The world is just now catching up to it."
Is it still the music you hear on the street in Nigeria?
"It is the music of the masses too, for all times. It does not always get the support given to the bubblegum music that we have everywhere now."
Like your father, you are speaking out against the corrupt leadership of your country. That's what got Fela in trouble with the government. Have you faced the same kind of resistance from the authorities?
"Of course, of course. It goes without saying in Africa. It's been the same for years. I understood from a young age that Afrobeat was more than just a genre, it was a movement, you know. So I decided to leave behind my education in Liverpool to join the movement, and that's what I did. Now I fight with the movement. And I know the consequences."
Do you think a musical movement can change things [politically]?
"Music is a very powerful weapon. It has the power to do incredible things. So, yes, of course. One thing I learned from my father is that music does not stay in one place. It goes all around the world, but you have to dedicate your whole life to that. But music gives you back in turn, it gives you long life, it gives you grace. Music has the power to change people's minds, to change the course of mankind ... People listen to music all the time. That's why I don't think it's a coincidence that only bubblegum music is what is hyped everywhere in the world."
Because the rulers don't want people thinking ...
"Exactly. Of course there are a lot of conscious bands out there and many musicians who are activists. In the '60s and '70s you had Jimi Hendrix and many others. People were listening to people like Malcolm X and they were listening to intelligent music. And you know intelligent music actually makes people intelligent. The rulers couldn't handle that."
So instead that gave us bubblegum so we'd stop thinking for ourselves.
"Exactly. Trust me, I don't mean to insult any artists. I listen to nice music myself. But you must remember, music has power."
The local "Afrock" band WoMama kicks of its first tour outside Humboldt with a show at Humboldt Brews Thursday, June 19. As I understand it, this was also supposed to be a CD release party for a just completed album, Foté Faré, but you know how those thing go. (Two years in the making; no discs yet.) I have a pre-release burn of it and it's really good. I don't think the term "Afrock" (coined by band member Melody Walker) quite catches the breadth of what they're doing. Just about everyone in the band came out of HSU prof Eugene Novotney's percussion program, so there are African elements, and Caribbean steel drums are ever-present, and there's Brazilian percussion. Principal songwriter Jesse Jonathan uses hip hop style for his conscious message vocals. The rock part is clear as guitarist Bryan Osper rips into electric solos channeling Carlos Santana and others. The band rocked the Oyster Fest and will surely do the same at HumBrews.
Roots, blues and Americana music rolls ever onward. Thursday, June 19, at the Jambalaya The Uptown Kings show what they've learned as house band for Tuesday Blues Night, not that these seasoned vets from the local scene don't already know the blues. Since that's the third Thursday in June, the blues follows the monthly Yo Tango! session making for a double-header.
Friday you have Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band at Humboldt Brews. If you haven't heard Josh (aka "The Rev"), his washboard-playing wife Breezy and his drumming brother Jayme lay down blues and hollers ... well, you should.
Also on Friday, J.B. Beverly and the Wayward Drifters play roadhouse-style honky tonk country at SoHum's authentic roadhouse, the Riverwood Inn, marking Loreen's last music event before a summer break. J.B. started out as an old school punk in the Washington D.C. area and to some extent applies that ethic to his music. About 12 years ago he met Wayne "The Train" Hancock (who played at the Jam last week) and changed tracks to old school country a la Hank the First, etc. (He's toured with Hank III.) J. B. is out front on guitar and vocals. The Drifters are Dan "BanjerDan" Mazer on banjo, dobro and mandolin and former lawman Johnny Ray Carroll (aka Johnny Lawless) on upright bass. They kick ass. They're drifting around the country, singing songs like "Wayward Drifter": "The one I love has gone away, she could not be true / so I packed some things, took off my ring, and put on my walking shoes. I headed out the door like I'd done before, but this time with a plan: / Going to pick some tunes by the light of the moon, just roaming around this land. I'll be that Wayward Drifter, walking down the railroad tracks. Lord, if I get gone, I'm rambling on and I ain't looking back." If you can't make it down to the Ave. of the Giants, don't fear. Saturday the Drifters drift north for a show at the Jambalaya with Phantom Club, a like-minded trio from Trinidad.
Bluesman Tommy Castro and his band make a northern foray Saturday playing as part of a benefit for the Piercy Volunteer Fire Dept. The event at the Peg House (two miles north of Leggett, across from Standish Hickey State Park) starts with a biker's Poker Run. Veteran Bay Area garage blues/rockers The Sinners the open the music portion around noon; expect the Tommy Castro Band to hit the stage around 5.
Elsewhere Saturday: Billy Allen and the Roadhouse Rockets play Humboldt-style roadhouse rock and country at Bear River Casino. Michael Ward is up from the Bay Area for a show at Humboldt Brews mixing R&B, country, world music, etc. in fine-crafted songs. Lief Sorbye and Tempest do their Scandi-Celtic-rock thing at the Blue Lake Casino that night. They might still be playing when The Joyce Hough Band finishes their set on Dell'Arte's outdoor stage as part of the big Tim Robbins "Prize of Hope" to-do kicking off this year's Mad River Festival.
The Eureka Summer Concert Seriesstarted last week and runsThursdays, starting at 6 p.m., on the Boardwalk in Old Town. This week they have smooth bluesy keyboard/sax jazz by The Lao Tizer Band;next week it's Southern rock byBig Rain.
Speaking of jazz, the Jazz in June series at the Benbow Inn kicks off Sunday, June 22, with the Hard Bop Trio featuring saxophonist Noel Jewkes. Monday it's Easton Stuard on keys; the Sam Maez Quartet plays Tuesday; Humboldt Time on Wednesday and next Thursday, June 26 it's the Francis Vanek Quartet.
Reggae? You got it, mostly at the Red Fox. In addition to the usual Thursday dancehall blast With Rude Lion Sound, DJ Jimmy Jonz and friends, Bonus Ent. has a show Friday with the always irie family band Morgan Heritage plus little sister Laza from LMS and Irie Love from Hawaii. Tuesday, June 24, the Fox has Roots of Creation, a reggae/jamband from New Hampshire. Wednesday, June 25, at the Jam, it's Woven Roots, a reggae/blues/folk trio from Dublin, Ireland. Then next Thursday, June 26, at the Red Fox, Proper Productions presents reggae legends The Wailing Souls, who also happen to be on the lineup for the Mateel's Reggae on the River revival, set for July 29 at Benbow.
And that brings us to the big Reggae news of the moment: the end of the Reggae War, or at least the lawsuit. The Mateel, People Productions and Tom Dimmick have all confirmed that they reached a negotiated settlement last Friday (the Thirteenth) following a 15-hour session with Judge James Warren. Terms have not been revealed, but should be by the end of this week. Presumably both Reggae on the River and Reggae Rising will take place as planned. Let's hope this bring peace to SoHum.
Incidentally, pending approval by the Planning Commission, Reggae Rising will not be the only concert at Dimmick Ranch this summer. Dimmick is asking for "an additional one-day event on the last weekend of August in each subsequent year until 2015," at the commission's June 19 meeting. If approval is granted, the sold-out Willie Nelson show will move to the ranch allowing for additional ticket sales — and who knows what's to come next year.