FEMI ABOSEDE CD release party at Lula Lounge (1585 Dundas West), Wednesday (July 12), 10 pm. $20, advance $15. 416-588-0307. Rating: NNNNN
Numerous groups have been keeping the Afrobeat flame burning since the passing of Fela Anikulapo Kuti in 1997, but, with the exception of bands led by Fela's immediate family members and former bandmates, the most visible exponents of contemporary Afrobeat aren't from Nigeria, where the hypnotic rumble originated.
Femi Abosede, the Nigerian-born, Toronto-based leader of the 15-piece Afrobeat ensemble Culture Force, has no problem with the fact that the Afrobeat gospel according to Fela is being spread by students of the music like New York's Antibalas, Montreal's Afrodizz and Toronto's Mr. Something Something. Abosede just has a different take on what constitutes Afrobeat.
He grew up in Lagos in the 70s watching Fela perform explosive all-nighters at the Shrine, and regularly hanging out at Fela's communal compound Kalakuta Republic as a teenage friend of Femi Kuti, so it's understandable that Abosede would have a very different perspective on the music than some dudes who picked it up from CD reissues.
"Groups like Antibalas have done a great job preserving that old Fela Afrobeat sound," says Abosede from his Toronto home. "I love seeing them perform, because it reminds me of the music I was listening to in Nigeria back in the 70s. They've got the same rhythms, the same breaks and similar horn arrangements to those Afrika 70s recordings, which requires a lot of research.
"That's the main difference between us. I don't need to study records to play Afrobeat. I live this music - it's in my blood. The way I see it, the music I'm making is more like a continuation of where Fela left off."
The funky, free-flowing jams on Abosede's hard-hitting new disc, No Compromise, support his claim. Although there's a slight Fela flava to his vocal delivery, Abosede's sound goes well beyond the old-school chug of Afrika 70 and shows the influence of Segun Bucknor and even Monomono.
According to Abosede, a few of the songs, like the politically incisive Nigerian Government, were written more than 20 years ago, showing that finger-pointing songs about high-level corruption in Nigeria never go out of date.
But it also makes you wonder what took Abosede so long to put this music out, since Culture Force has existed in one form or another for seven years now.
"I don't play Afrobeat just to get some gigs and make money. I want to leave a legacy. Over the years, I've had difficulty keeping Culture Force together as members leave to go to school or take other jobs. To record my music properly, I knew I would need to go back to Lagos and work with Nigerian musicians, because there's nobody here who can play Afrobeat the way it should be played. It's more than a rhythm and notes - it's a shared feeling.
"When I arrived in Lagos, I put together a really solid band, and the music just flowed. I didn't have to explain anything. Someone would just improvise a part and it would fit perfectly.
"One day while we were rehearsing, some girls walking by stopped to listen to us and began singing along. I called them over, and they're the singers you hear on the album. Everything came together just like that. We recorded the album live in Lagos, and it was done in less than two weeks."