FEMI KUTI & POSITIVE FORCE, at Harbourfront Centre, August 10. Tickets: Free. Attendance: 800. Rating: NNNN
It's been a hectic year for Femi Kuti. In six short months, the Nigerian saxophonist has gone from obscure afrobeat bandleader to the official spokesperson for his late father Fela's music.
It's a heavy load, but if his return to town Thursday was any indication, the younger Kuti seems to be holding up well. The lithe horn man has been touring non-stop since the release of his Shoki Shoki disc, and it shows.
Formerly an energetic but reserved frontman, Kuti has transformed himself into a gripping showman, stalking the stage with outsized dance steps and at times barely touching his horn. Outside at Harbourfront Centre's main stage, Kuti wasted little time getting a groove going.
After a 10-minute highlife intro, he bounded out in a flashy, Fela-inspired black-and-yellow pantsuit and let rip, leading his 14-piece Positive Force mob through two heaving hours of new-school afrobeat. Political diatribes were woven into his between-song patter, but the mood was decidedly light and frantic.
In addition to becoming more extroverted since his local debut this spring, Kuti also seems to have sped his music up a few bpms.
The typically lazy afrobeat gait wound up to a furious pace. Kuti would set up a blistering beat, and it was all his usually tight band could do to simply hang on, with the ensemble slowing down only for a drop-dead run through Femi's old man's mighty Water No Get Enemy.
It's not the classic afrobeat sound, but it is decidedly modern. Fela would be proud.