No Phantom at the Opera House: Femi Kuti brings the Afrobeat buzz to Toronto

27 Nov 2005

The Opera House theatre on Queen Street East was host last night to a three-hour long feast of funk, african rhythms and jazz. Nigerian Afrobeat artist, Femi Anikulapo Kuti, was welcomed on stage by a sold-out auditorium as diverse as Kuti''s awesome talents. One instant jamming on the keyboard, then picking up his saxophone, then the clarinette, then the mic, and also taking off his shirt to display his acrobatic dance steps. He was clearly a man in search of his own legacy.

Femi Kuti sprung into his musical career, about a decade and a half ago, under the suffocating shadow of his legendary father, Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Perhaps only the likes of Julian Lennon would really know how that feels. Until his death from AIDS in August of 1997, Fela Kuti built a 30-year career throughout which he enjoyed God-like status among millions of Nigerians.

It certainly is a fact that Fela''s spirit still lives in the hearts and minds of Nigerians and lovers of Afrobeat all over the world. Perhaps that is why Femi felt he had to perform a sort of "exorcism" in the midst of his performance. Specifically speaking to the Nigerians in the house, he denounced those who came out mainly to reminisce and sense the ghost of Fela reborn into his son. He made no excuse for coming to Toronto to play "his" music. Predicting and parodying in a humorous way the disparaging comments from the "old-schoolers" who would leave the concert critical of the lack of "Fela-content", Femi challenged them to come "say that to my face." The phantom was not at THAT opera house you see...

But in a perhaps ironic, but certainly beautiful and inspiring moment, Femi Kuti brought out his young son to perform on stage with him. "Dynasty" is the word that came to the crowd''s mind as it witnessed this musical coronation. With tremendous poise belying his young age, the young Horus of the Kuti trinity (Fela as Ra and Femi as Osiris) performed a dizzying set of saxophone solos. The inherited gift was obvious.

Beyond the dynastic sub-plot, Femi Kuti spoke frankly about the challenges and promises of the all-too-often illusory concept of African unity. Success is not easy. But there is hope. His own hope resides in the people of Africa. Not the politicians whom, as he defiantly denounces, fly around the great capitals of the world wasting their own people''s money.

Some timely observations indeed as the G8 meeting goes on at this very moment to discuss the issues of African aid and poverty. Like Femi accurately pointed out, the problem is "corruption." The chants of "Africa unite" will only be fruitful once the politicians stop talking to one another and listen to the cries of the everyday man and woman.

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