Nigerian Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti died almost five years ago and his son, media magnet Femi, finally seems to be getting comfortable in the spotlight focused on him since. On "'97," a song from his 2001 album Fight to Win (MCA), he directly addresses his father's passing, acknowledging the loss but vowing to move on, and while the album's creative gains are subtle ones, he's begun to stake out his own turf. He augments the Afrobeat with well-integrated borrowings from hip-hop, soul, reggae, soukous, and club music; and contributions from members of D'Angelo's band, sometime Beastie Boys keyboardist Money Mark, rappers Common and Mos Def, and singer Jaguar Wright sound natural, not tacked on. Femi's also injected more overt politics into his work, a la his dad, declaring the need for AIDS awareness in Africa and decrying the cycle of greed and corruption that continues to hobble so many African nations in their crawl to democracy. Admittedly his music still lacks the raw, scorching intensity of Fela's work, and his saxophone playing is pretty wan, but his live show improves on the recordings--a kinetic blur of hypnotic funk and shaking bodies. The Euro-African vocal group Zap Mama, who open, have been experimenting with hip-hop and house to great effect over the last few years. The recent Push It to the Max (Luaka Bop) collects house-oriented remixes of some of their older songs, plus "Ca varie varie," a lean drum 'n' bass track on which leader Marie Daulne sounds more assured than ever. The group is currently in the studio with the Soulquarians, a loose collective whose core members seem to be the Roots' Amhir Thompson, D'Angelo, Jay Dee, and James Poyser; here Daulne and three additional vocalists will perform with a bassist and a DJ. Saturday, July 6, 9 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Gene E. Friedman.