Femi Kuti & the Positive Force Opera House, Toronto ON, July 11
Published Jul 12, 2018Waist deep in an extended take on "Corruption Na Stealing," Femi Kuti hushed his backing band's bombast to the meditative rumble of the downbeat rhythms that push the track along, and addressed the audience.
"Yes, the world is going through another phase. And this is a time for us not to be silent. Or else, you will not have a voice anymore. This is a time to speak up."
At six-and-a-half minutes, the song stretches well beyond the more concise entries that make up the majority of One People One World, but at the Opera House, Kuti and backing band the Positive Force nearly doubled it, utilizing the song's loose structure as an opportunity to directly preach the unifying message of his new album.
"Some time ago, America bombed Iran, Afghanistan. Little did they know, that millions of people were just at work, working. And then suddenly, they're at their borders, and everybody gets scared. Imagine. 6000 bombs they say were being dropped a day. Women and children dying. We didn't care. We had breakfast, lunch, we went to the amusement park, took our girlfriends to the cinema, had sex afterwards. But people were dying. Now the world wants to turn its back. I want you all to feel that pain, and cry: cry for them. This is a time for us to really come together. Remember Haiti? No one even talks about that anymore. Nobody cares… How weakened has the world gotten? So let's all sing together, please."
Soliciting the audience to sing in harmony with the band, the Positive Force grew louder, and Kuti's vocalizations became more improvisatory, translating frustration and conviction into vocal skat as his percussionists conjured up a boiling frenzy.
As the son of Afrobeat originator Fela Kuti, criticism of Femi Kuti's music often measures it against the legacy of his late father, but that neglects to highlight the pure righteous energy that sustains it. As Femi carries the genre's mantle into the contemporary sphere, the streak of anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist sloganeering and resistance is there, but his is globally minded and uniquely tuned to the struggles of his own time.
And as Femi worked his way through new songs and old favourites at the Opera House, running in circles on the spot and dancing in flailing bursts between sax, keys and vocal duties, that resonated all the way to the back of the balcony bar. Even when the lyrical play was a bit hamfisted — there are a few too many "everywhere/beware," "fear/clear" rhyme schemes at play on One People One World's "Evil People" — live, the sentiments that drive its dynamic shifts hit the audience like waves of resilience, and the crowd hung on every word, thriving on every note.
Landing at a time when social politics appear to be under siege all around the globe, this was a night that reified the enduring strength of the human spirit. But as Femi told the crowd in an early address before the title track from 2010's Africa For Africa, perhaps we all should have known it would be from the start: "It's Lagos. It's Africa. It's Afrobeat."