Review of Rise Single by Seun Kuti

Fela Kuti made wonderful music in atrocious conditions. Living under a military dictatorship in Nigeria, he released a string of inspirational songs which dissolved musical boundaries whilst railing against the political status quo. His afrobeat sound fused jazz and funk in an exuberant fashion, and also served as a vehicle for a series of sung-spoken diatribes against government abuses, organised religion, and empty-headed conformism. He suffered for his art: one military raid on the commune in which he lived left him with a fractured skull and saw his elderly mother thrown out of a window, causing injuries which led to her death. His musical and political legacy towers over Nigerian musicians; one might think that it would also cast a long shadow over his youngest son's sonic ambitions. Seun Kuti is not, however, afraid of comparisons to his father. On the contrary, he positively invites them.

Seun Kuti Rise Single

'Rise' sounds like a Fela Kuti song. That's the first thing that will strike any fan of the elder Kuti who listens to it. This shouldn't be surprise given that it features one of Fela's backing bands, Egypt 80. Nevertheless, newcomers to Seun's music will be shocked by just how fully he embraces his father's aesthetic. 'Rise' is an afrobeat song, driven by that familiar loping drum sound, and it's an explicitly political song, which rages against the exploitation of African resources by western companies such as Halliburton and Monsanto. Like Fela, Seun waits for the wheeling, swooping brass to draw the listener in before he makes his vocal entrance, after fully two and a half minutes; urgently, he repeats angry phrase after angry phrase, the repetition driving his point home. 'I cry for my country when I see them in the hands of these people', he begins, his words making it depressingly clear that the people of Nigeria still suffer many of the injustices Fela railed against.

Amongst the familiar musical touches, there are hints of something different, but only the Swiss Beatz remix really pushes Seun into new territory, overlaying crisp electronic beats. It's a move which is of passing interest, but the track loses some of its free-wheeling energy, the beats serving only as a straightjacket. The end result sounds something like a Mezzanine b-side, and lacks the original version's panache. It suggests that, perhaps, Seun is right not to embrace musical change too fully.

Nick Gale

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