seun kuti @ s.o.b.'s


still battling jet lag and hungry for a bit of lagos in new york, i walked in the doors of s.o.b.'s last night eager to hear music from seun kuti's new brian eno-produced album, from africa with fury: rise.

wearing jeans and little makeup, i parked myself inconspicuously halfway between the bar and the stage, immediately spotting kunle ade--king sunny ade's son--whom i've never actually seen out at an event with 'normal' people. he gave me a hug and obligatory kiss on the cheek, before sliding away to mix and mingle. soon the crowd started pouring in and i glimpsed a few more friends--an academic; a drummer; a dancer; a photographer who covered the africa aspire ball with me, at the national museum of african art, during obama's inauguration--as well as a few brooklyn mainstays whom i haven't seen in ages--namely, ngozi odita of harriets alter ego.

it had been four years since i first saw seun kuti & egypt 80 perform at s.o.b.'s.

i was 25 then, writing for the african magazine. showed up with my notebook wearing a gold tube dress and plenty makeup, was paparazzied to death while dancing, and stayed till the last patrons had already left. i wasn't the shy, silent type as i found seun to be then--though he was also uber-talented, energetic, and mesmerizing to watch. i loved the way he defered to his band members on their solos, leaving centerstage to stand somewhere near the back. and how he paid homage to his late father, starting his set off with a fela tune and displaying a 'fela lives' back tat proudly.

seun has changed a lot in four years. now balding, he was high most of the night and gazed at the audience through half-opened eyelids. in spite of all that, or maybe because of it, i loved his performance--the dancing, the stripping down to his bareback from a business shirt, the preaching about politics, revolution and government. he opened the first set with fela's zombie before launching into songs from his album. preached about marijuana, sex, and politics--'what is the u.s. doing in libya? it's because of the economy. they know libya doesn't have the corporations to rebuild the country after they're done bombing. just wait, the contracts are coming.'--to a rapt crowd of fans.

i danced all the way to the end of the second set before jet lag hit me, leaving still hungry for lagos, tho temporarily sated. on the subway ride home, i thot about my fascination with seun. it stems from the fact that we're roughly the same age. and in the past four years, he has made a significant transition that is largely governed by age: he doesn't give a damn what anybody else thinks anymore. he is making music his way, performing his way, living his way. he isn't shy anymore; he is liberated. i saw so much of fela in him--in a way that both awed and worried me.

all of this to say. i am looking forward to seeing seun in another four years, to seeing him sell a lot of records. a free black man is a dangerous and powerful thing.

read my african magazine review from four years ago here. --AL.

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