Four years after the DVD Live at the Shrine, FEMI KUTI returned with a generous, powerful, and timeless new album, continuing to explore and push back the frontiers of Afrobeat. Thirteen titles that grab your belly, your feet, your heart, and your head. From the ghettos of Lagos to the palaces of corrupt politicians, Day by Day (2008) took us through the winding roads of African paradox: Why is such a rich continent inhabited by the world’s poorest people?
Copying the music of his father, Nigerian Afrobeat superstar Fela Kuti, note for note has never been Femi’s goal. If he accompanied Fela’s musicians during his youth, he decided as early as 1986 to free himself up and create his own band. While always respecting his musical heritage, Femi has refined, over more than 20 years, an Afrobeat with soul-jazz nuances that is entirely his own.
The route taken has always been original, from his signing with Motown in the early ’90s until his ground-breaking 2001 album Fight To Win, when he joined with rappers Mos Def and Common and funkmaster James Poyser, among other American luminaries. Femi first rose to international fame in 1985 when he appeared at the Hollywood Bowl in front of his father’s band, after his father had been arrested in Lagos before the tour. (Femi has since returned to the Bowl several times, most recently in 2005.)
These rich experiences only served to reinforce his ultimate conviction: his music has never been as intense as when brewed in a Nigerian cauldron and matured in the hot-house atmosphere of the Shrine – his Lagos nightclub. Serving as an African laboratory, the Shrine is an open house for the dispossessed, a meeting point for popular dissenters, while also being a center for celebrating the convergence of cutting-edge African music and dance.
In brief, the Shrine is a place that disturbs the country’s establishment. In the spring of 2007 an armed mob came to the Shrine in the middle of the night, broke its way in, and injured several people without any apparent reason. Could it be because Femi had plastered posters all over the town reclaiming the return of electricity in his miserable neighborhood and inciting his neighbors to revolt against the ever-deteriorating conditions that are prevalent in their increasingly precarious lives? Or is it simply because of the latest haranguing refrain of songs such as “Tell Me,” which is found on Day by Day? In any event, these persecutions recall and confirm an unshakeable fact; Afrobeat emanating from the Kuti family is, above all else, music of confrontation.
In Femi’s DVD Live at the Shrine (2004, MK2/Uwe), he hoped to expose in a raw and savage fashion this reality. Three years later Day by Day launched another challenge: to re-create in the studio the magic and burning energy of a Femi Kuti concert. Three tracks from the live DVD have been re-interpreted for the occasion. Telling it like it is; this is perhaps the finest work in Femi’s discography. These twelve tracks offer a more focused Afrobeat than ever before. Recorded with his producer, Sodi, the album benefits from a collaboration that has grown ever stronger over the past twelve years. Day by Day is Nigeria in all of its states: we find elaborate instrumental patterns, both in their texture and in their structure (“Demo Crazy”), refrains as soulful as the best old Curtis Mayfield hits (“Eh Oh”), and hot numbers to set light to any dance floor. His band, The Positive Force, built the foundations in Lagos and, during timely visits during sessions in Paris, other artists brought their building blocks to the structure. Keziah Jones made his guitar swing on “Tell Me” and “Dem Funny.” Femi’s young son Madé also joined the adventure, participating in all the tracks on this delicious album.
Images during Femi Kuti and the Positive Force set from the DVD Lagos Wide & Close, www.submarinechannel.com