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Femi and the King bring Nigeria to the Zoo

Fela Kuti and King Sunny Ade were the yang and yin of late 20th century Nigerian music. Fela pioneered afrobeat, a stomping yet swirling melange of acrid horn tones, funky beats a la James Brown, and Fela’s harsh political declamations spooled out for 20-minute jams with a protest pageantry that challenged the status quo with triumphant cries and indignant sneers. Ade was royalty to Fela’s rebel, a lithe, dapper “King” of juju, a style that will probably always be best known by the dappled silk of Ade’s own guitar notes, adorning four-ply Yoruba beats for a light and giddy groove that’s as physically liberating as massage oil.

Now we have the fascinating double bill of Fela’s 46-year old son, Femi Kuti, with a 62-year old King.

King will probably never generate the stateside adulation of his initial tours in the late ’70s and early ’80s, but he remains an enthralling performer. For his part, Femi Kuti has capably commercialized his father’s afrobeat with more overt splashes of r&b, pop and dubwise reggae, but the biggest difference on 2008’s “Day By Day,” his first record in seven years, was the confident way he sang and played horns (sax and trumpet) over his 13-piece band, Positive Force.

Here and here are a pair of songs Femi and Positive Force performed at the Bonnaroo Festival in Tennessee earlier this month. There’s an absence of similarly recent quality live material from Ade and his African Beats. This performance is two years old and doesn’t feature the guitar nearly as well as this studio track.

Both ensembles adhere to the “it takes a village” ensemble tradition in Africa, stuffing the stage with dancers, percussionists and various strings and horns. There is some irony in the zoo venue — lions and tigers get a dose of the sound from their native continent. There is also the possibility that Ade will have a procession of fans sticking dollar bills down his shirt and otherwise showering the stage with money (as happened at the Cabooze with a large African audience. The most predictable thing will be the high caliber of music and energy emanating from both acts onstage.

Femi Kuti and Positive Force, with King Sunny Ade and the African Beats at the Minnesota Zoo Amphitheater, Tuesday, June 30, 7:30 p.m.; tickets $33.

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by lee ehmke on 06/30/2009 - 04:20 pm.

    As Director of the Minnesota Zoo, I am thrilled to welcome these legendarily-talented Nigerian musicians to our lakeside stage. I am, however, amused by the zoogeographically-challenged assertion that “our lions and tigers will get a dose of sound from their native continent:” we have no lions at the Minnesota Zoo, and tigers (like the ones who live not far from the Zoo’s amphitheater) live exclusively in Asia. Oh, and there may be a few lions left in heavily-populated Nigeria, but my guess is if Femi Kuti and King Sunny Ade have ever seen a lion, it’s probably been at a zoo while they toured the US or Europe!

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