There is a long tradition from James Brown to Public Enemy of making party songs political. Fela Kuti was inarguably a master of this delicate balance and in From Africa With Fury: Rise, his son Seun Kuti releases a strong effort that follows directly in his father’s footsteps. Backed by Fela’s former band, Egypt 80, along with production efforts from Brian Eno, the second album from the youngest son of the peerless Afrobeat pioneer live up to its title.
Most of Rise is jammed full of ferocious rhythms stacked on top of each other until the track is full to bursting in a furious groove provided by Egypt 80, which boasts almost three fourths of the original lineup. Recorded in 50 hours while on tour in Rio, half the fun of From Africa with Fury: Rise comes from the animalistic joy in hearing Egypt 80 effortlessly lay down beats fatter than Fridge Perry and thicker than December molasses without hardly a pause. They are true masters and their astonishing musicianship is showcased to the fullest extent in Rise.
These spectacular performances might not be as enjoyable without the crisp production of Brian Eno. In an interview with Afropop, Kuti claimed he approached the electro-music luminary at a festival without ever having met him and suggested he produce Rise. Eno agreed on the spot out of reverence for Fela. Thankfully, Eno wisely does not overproduce and bury the band, instead just sharpening and intensifying the sounds. As a result, Rise is sonically well-balanced with punchy horns, gritty guitars, and pounding drums twining together and splitting apart, gradually increasing as each instrument builds on top of the other to create an unstoppable force of funk.
When the groove is just right, Kuti steps in and directs its power to wherever his fury lies–which is apparently anywhere. From “You Can Run” to “Mr. Big Thief” to “Slave Masters,” he expresses his fury at African warlords, destructive military forces, and governmental corruption, with uneven results. He occasionally feels like an unwelcome distraction from Egypt 80, and his lyrics can be derivative, lacking the punch of the fiery political diatribes of Fela. However, the song “Rise” is a tantalizing taste of his talent. A seven-minute mid-album vamp, “Rise” begins not with a breakneck drum line that characterizes much of the album, but instead starts with a mournful call-and-response between Kuti and his female backing singers. In the song, the listener gets the first impression that Kuti may have doubts in the ability of the African people to rise, as highlighted by the continued refrain of “our stomachs still empty.” However, after a forlorn horn solo, the song begins to pick up its tempo, joined by increasingly insistent backup singers as Kuti calls on the listener to rise up against the petroleum companies, “all the African rulers,” diamond companies, and “companies like Monsanto”–a biotech conglomerate. For the reason that this song entertains doubt that the African people will implement the changes Kuti asks of them, it is an authentic statement and the most powerful song on the album. However, after “Rise,” it is back to business for the band, and at the album’s conclusion, it ends more or less the same as it started, as the last track, “The Good Leaf,” fades without a pause.
Overall From Africa With Fury: Rise is a strong second effort from an artist with a minivan-sized legacy on his shoulders. Whether it will cause an uprising–as Seun hopes it will–remains to be seen, but it is hard to worry about that when your hips are moving so fast.
***Check out our video interview with Seun about this album HERE