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Nigerian Afrobeat band Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 play the Englert

BY JORDAN MONTGOMERY | MARCH 29, 2012 6:30 AM

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Seun Kuti is the youngest son of legendary Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, the pioneer of the Afrobeat genre.

He remembers his touring with his father and his first time onstage.

"I had to face the band to get all the cues during rehearsal," Seun Kuti said. "And when it was show-time, I faced the band again because that's how I did it during rehearsal. After the show, my dad said to me, 'What were you doing out there? You must face the crowds, not the band,' so that's my first memory of performing."

Two decades after his first performance, much has changed; he now leads Egypt 80, the band his father started, and tours throughout the world.

Kuti and the band will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday in the Englert Theater, 221 E. Washington St., as part of the Mission Creek Festival. The show is co-presented by Hancher. General admission for the show is $22 in advance, $25 on Saturday.

"It think Kuti definitely brings an element to the festival that is unique," said Nathan Gould of the Englert. "It's a Saturday night concert at the Englert, it's going to be really fun, it's danceable, it's catchy, and he rarely plays in the U.S. — so it's really special to have him. Many are familiar with his father's music, but he's moving into his own direction."

Many of the members of Egypt 80 performed with Fela Kuti until his passing in 1997. Since then, Seun Kuti has led the band and incorporated his own musical influences.

"We've been together for so long, the shows and performances become an extension of ourselves," Kuti said. "It becomes like an extra leg or an extra arm — you know you can control it by barely thinking about it, and that's because we've put in so much work."

Afrobeat is a genre of music created for people to express themselves in a real way. For Kuti and his band, the music is about reality, not about superficial things or selfish things, but things that are more communal, things that affect everybody.

Kuti uses music as a vehicle to shed light on the social and political issues of the countries in Africa. He said that people are influenced by art, and music is one of art's highest forms.

"The power of music reaches a variety of people, and it should be able to educate people and empower them," Kuti said. "Africa especially needs Afrobeat music. Because all over the world, all we hear about Africa or from Africa is propaganda from our rulers. But music lets us speak about the reality of our people. That's why I do it."

Olugbade Okunade, who has played trumpet for Egypt 80 for 12 years, remembers learning at a young age that music isn't something that can be picked up easily, it has to be a part of you.

"I remember when I was in school, my music teacher asked us, 'What is an African man?' " Okunade said. "The answer is, an African man is a man that has rhythm in the whole of his body. So for us to put on a good show for the audience, I think it is an instinct. We do it naturally because the music is in us."


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