Cork Jazz Festival: Seun Kuti and Fela’s Egypt 80 ready to conquer Cork 

While he bears the responsibility and legacy of his legendary father Fela Kuti’s work with respect and aplomb, Nigerian singer and songwriter Seun Kuti has long forged his own path, working with members of Egypt 80 to move messages of empowerment and change forward. Ahead of his late-night show at the Everyman on Saturday, October 29, he talks with Mike McGrath-Bryan.
Cork Jazz Festival: Seun Kuti and Fela’s Egypt 80 ready to conquer Cork 

Seun Kuti and Fela’s Egypt 80 will perform at the Everyman.

Perhaps the most valuable thing about music is the immediacy with which it presents big ideas, and creates space to discuss them, while conjuring up images of how things could be, and stirring the blood to find ways and means of making the idea real.
Whether it be the agency that art grants to externalise perception and make sense of the world from the ground up, or the courage to look at the superstructures around us and realise that they’re not gamed in ‘our’ favour, music is an incredible tool of reckoning with the world - something that Afrobeats innovator and political icon Fela Kuti understood only all too well, blending West African music with funk and jazz over the course of extended jams that took aim at Nigeria’s military juntas, as well other internal and external forces affecting the continent in the 1970s and 1980s.

A tall shadow for anyone to escape, but a cursory look at his son Seun Kuti onstage is confirmation is more than confident enough to walk his own path, and disassemble with similar intellect and humility the continued fallacies and boogeymen that litter the world. Touring the world with members of his father’s band Egypt 80, he touches down in Cork on Saturday night for a late-night gig at the Everyman, as part of a hectic run of touring for current single ‘Love and Revolution’, letting Leeside audiences in on a piece of the great man’s legacy.

It’s always been the greatest honour of my life, after my father’s death, to carry the mantle, y’know, and to continue this medical institution that is the Egypt 80

“It's always been the greatest honour of my life, after my father's death, to carry the mantle, y'know, and to continue this medical institution that is the Egypt 80, because you're not just a band anymore, the Egypt 80 is also the most recorded band in the world, I think. They made 49 albums with my dad, and we are writing a fifth, so for me, it's a huge privilege to be given the opportunity to carry this on. I've always greatly enjoyed that privilege.”

Egypt 80’s run with Seun Kuti as the frontman has continued to bear ample creative fruit, with 2019 album Black Times serving as a distillation of Afrobeat’s essence in a modern context, from the heavy messaging of the title track, pockmarked with an appearance on guitars from none other than Carlos Santana, to the playful danceability of ‘Bad Man Lighter’.

A remix of ‘Kuku Kee Me’, with contributions from The Roots MC Black Thought, continues the idea of collaboration and distillation of influences, casting the tune’s horns as an anchor for some molten mid-paced boom-bap - with an EP to follow next month. Kuti discusses creative commonalities.

“Let's call it a half EP, because this is a really experimental project - I've never done anything like this. Everybody that has heard the project so far has really given us great encouragement, so this is how we're testing the waters as well. The response has been really good, so hopefully we'll do it again. Black Thought has always been great... almost like a mentor to me, since I met him y'know, and all through the lockdown, he was always reaching out to be in touch.

“[The world slowed down during lockdown, but] musicians just had that breather also. It was bad for economics for sure - everybody was losing money left, right and centre. But I think for the real artists, for the real musicians, who love the art at heart, really want the best for music and for the arts world and to make the world better, was also a time for us to finally have some rest, and also become better musicians. I don't think I've had so much time to practice, like I did during the lockdown. I didn't have the I don't remember the last time I had so much time with my family.

“That was the balance for me and Black Thought was a huge part of both processes, develop myself as a musician and also reconnecting with life. And in the midst of this, our connection, this project came about because DJ Molotov, who produced this project, he sent me the music - he was like, 'listen, I made this music, remixed your album, what do you think?', and it was like... 'wow', y'know? I was talking to Black Thought the same day, and I sent it to him. I guess he also loved the music, and that was the beginning of this project.

“I don't think I can thank Black Thought enough for the effort, the enthusiasm and encouragement he gave us throughout this project. Like artists and brothers, you know, there was no talk about money, no dealing with managers, that was real, brotherly and artistic. That, for me, was what was even more precious about the moment, and gave me so much respect for this project.”

Seun Kuti and Fela's Egypt 80 play the Everyman as part of the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival. Pic: Alexis Mayron
Seun Kuti and Fela's Egypt 80 play the Everyman as part of the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival. Pic: Alexis Mayron

Foremost in Kuti’s mind at present is new single ‘Love and Revolution’, the digital A-side of two-track EP ‘Live at Clout Studios’, capturing the current-day Egypt 80 in some absolutely molten live-in-studio action that reflects on the confluence of interpersonal understanding and the desire to make the world a better place.

Circumstance, however, was a deciding factor in the song’s release - rooted in connection and higher understandings of same.

“This project, I put it out, we didn't really do a big promo around it. I put it out because my good friend, who just died a couple of months ago, came to my rehearsals one day and asked me for a copy of the recording, because he loved it so much, and he's a good friend of mine, so I sent him the song. I jeopardise my life because I love my art (laughs).

“Sent him the song, and what he does is, he made this big film, and he put this on as one of the songs. We said we'd put it out for the sake of putting it out, so I could get my publishing from that film (laughs). So that was this live project, but it was also necessary. We hadn't put out any new music for a while, and we're working on this next project, so I was like 'yeah, let's give our fans a taste for the next record'.

"I've always made communal records, I've never made a record that is about 'I', you know, I never used 'I', we make records about 'we'. Love & Revolution represents that. In this world we live in today, the elites [would have us believe] that love can only be experienced through ownership. We can only love the things that we own, and it diminishes man from our true capacity to experience true love, you understand?

“Because in the world today, if it's not 'your' wife, 'your' kids, 'your your your', 'mine, mine, mine', then we're not taught to value it. There is no value to it, if it is not yours. So, with that mindset, [bad actors] can go around the world for just the sake of profits, destroying what is communally human, like our rivers, and deplete them only for the sake of profit... There's also the side of love that has to do with pain and growth, complete acceptance of someone for their flaws, without the caveat of ownership.”

Seun Kuti and Fela’s Egypt 80 play at the Everyman on Saturday, October 29, at 10.45pm and Live at St Lukes on Sunday, October 30.

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