Last Thursday my girlfriend and I went to Celebrate Brooklyn's free Femi Kuti concert in Prospect Park. Not only did Femi Kuti rock the house, we were treated to multiple surprises with the opening band- Melvin Gibbs' Elevated Entity.
We were still walking through Prospect Park when Elevated Entity went on. We could hear the sound of the opening song echoing through the trees as we entered the field across from the Prospect Park Bandshell. It was a funky mix of Afro-jazz, hiphop and hard rock. They were well into their second song by the time we got up to the bandshell area. Before the third song, renowned bass player Melvin Gibbs (Defunkt, Rollins Band) started to introduce his band which included such legendary and innovative musicians as Vernon Ried from Living Colour on guitar, Bernie Worrell from Parliament/Funkadelic and Talking Heads on keyboards, High Priest from Anti-Pop Consortium on vocals and Amayo from Brooklyn's Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra on vocals. I couldn't believe it.
Every time Melvin Gibbs introduced another member of the band, Liberte and I looked at each other and were like "No freaking way!"
I still can't believe we got to see all these really amazing performers all on the same stage, all for free. Amayo from Antibalas and High Priest from Anti-Pop Consortium were badass on dual vocals with Amayo singing and High Priest rapping over a psychedelic mix of African drumming, Bernie Worrell's signature keyboards and Vernon Reid's hard rock guitar licks.
I felt so lucky to see all these musicians play and was especially happy to hear Amayo on vocals since I haven't had the chance to see a live Antibalas show yet since moving to New York. It was kind of like seeing Antibalas mixed in a blender with Defunkt, Parliament and Living Colour. "Awesome" is the only word I think adequately describes the moment.
And this was all just warming up for the main event: Femi Kuti & The Positive Force!
Femi Kuti gave a powerful performance. Some critics complain that Femi doesn't have the same stage presence of his father, the legendary Nigerian musician and founder of Afrobeat, Fela Kuti. I find the comparison to be unfair. Few could match the intensity and raw emotional energy of Fela Kuti. However, watching Femi Kuti take command of the stage with his energetic dancing and listening to his wailing saxophone you can almost imagine what it must have been like to see Fela Kuti perform during the height of his musical career. And the resemblance is staggering. At several point's Femi Kuti's music brought me to tears. Certainly during his anti-colonial anthem "You Should Ask Yourself," as well as during his safer sex anthem "Stop AIDS." Here Femi Kuti sets himself apart from his father with lyrics such as "If you love yourself/Protect yourself." Fela Kuti, who was dismissive about the impact of HIV, sadly passed away from AIDS in 1997.
Femi Kuti's back up band The positive Force is an Afrobeat powerhouse, with full-on surging horns and African percussion that creates a wall of sound that makes it literally impossible not to dance. And speaking of dancing, you can't forget the beautiful and talented Nigerian Kuti Dancers on stage!
Another highlight of the show was the sex education lecture in the middle of the AfroPop song "Beng Beng Beng," which Kuti stretched out to marathon proportions and put more of a focus on the lyrics "Don't cum too fast." Femi Kuti, his band Positive Force and the Kuti Dancers even left the stage to take a break in the middle of the song. During the first part of the song Femi Kuti urged parents to talk to their children about sex. Not just fathers to their sons and mothers to their daughters, but fathers to their daughters and mothers to their sons. After a very short break, Femi Kuti & The Positive Force went right back into sexually charged "Beng Beng Beng," a definite crowd pleaser.
And did i mention that the show was completely FREE?