On November 23rd, Seun Kuti & Egypt 80, a 13+ piece jazz/funk ensemble, most of whom toured with Fela Kuti, brought the sounds of afrobeat to the Cedar. Before Seun took the stage, Egypt 80 began the show with a tribute to afrobeat legend and pioneer, Fela Kuti. Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 released their latest body of work earlier this year, a three song EP co-produced by jazz pianist Robert Glasper entitled “Struggle Sounds.” The EP, marked by a strong political commentary and call to action put against a raw jazz and funk instrumental, is another definitive body of work in the landscape of the afrobeat movement. During his performance at the Cedar, Seun took the time to elaborate on the meaning behind the EP, and it’s context within the recent elections. He stated that “the only struggle is the class struggle,” and called for a class revolution led by the majority regardless of their differences. Seun and the band brought the heat, with most of the audience either swaying from side to side, tapping their feet, or outright jumping as the band played classics like “IMF” and “Higher Consciousness,” with the characteristic saxophone solo’s and instrumental trills.
During the performance of his song, “African Dreams,” a contrastingly mellow and slower tempo song, I found myself lost in the weight of the words complimented by the long held notes and smooth jazz runs. As a child of a former refugee and an immigrant (both from Africa), I struggle to separate the pursuit of success that my parents fought for me to have from the materialism that success is often defined by in the States. “African Dreams” is a song that calls specifically for African youth to turn away from materialism and the American Dream— to stop turning a blind eye to the exploitation of our people and instead dream for Africa. I’ve had the chance to discuss the feelings of young Africans in my own social circle about the politics of Africa. The conversation almost always centers around the collusive and destructive manner in which foreign investments and aid are administered, a subject Seun Kuti regularly addresses in his music. Many express some level of fear of returning to help their respective country because they’ve seen their government make an example of people who want to help — either killing or jailing them; some people return to help and end up joining the oppressors. The conclusion, never explicitly stated, is that we have no power, that we might as well get comfortable here. It is in these grim moments that I find myself waiting on an activist or a movement to create a step-by-step game plan to fight corruption in Africa, but deep down I know that’s not how change happens.
Through the legacy of the afrobeat movement, I’ve come to the realization that despite my distance from my native land and the comfort I have established in the US, I must dream for Africa at all costs. When I close my eyes, I must see the sun bursting through the overarching juniper trees as I remembered when I was last there as a child. I must recall the sound of oars paddling gently against untainted waters and the picturesque view of a gondola approaching a sunlit horizon. I must remember there is a land of people who look just like me and live most days as joyously as I do on my birthday. Above all, I must fight to keep these memories a reality because they are under attack.
Fall Marketing and Content Intern