Seun Kuti / Seun Kuti & Egypt 80

A Long Way to the Beginning

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There isn't a lot of subtlety in the songs on Seun Kuti and Egypt 80's fiercely political third album, A Long Way to the Beginning. That's fine, because to his way of thinking, there isn't anything subtle about neo-liberal capitalism's global attack on the poor, either. Seun is Fela Kuti's youngest son. The vocalist and alto saxophonist has been fronting and leading Egypt 80 since his father's death in 1997 (three-quarters of that band remain) and has issued two previous records; the last, From Africa with Fury: Rise, in 2011, was co-produced by Brian Eno and John Reynolds. In the 21st century, there are literally hundreds of bands throughout the globe playing Afrobeat, with most adding a unique spin to the tradition; Kuti respects that. At seven tracks and 43 minutes, this set is tighter, shorter, and punchier than Fela's or Seun's earlier records, and takes into consideration a new palette of sounds. He enlisted Robert Glasper as co-producer (who also plays keyboards throughout), as well as help from rappers M-1 and Blitz the Ambassador. While Fela brought a certain narrative, hypnotic elegance to his music, Seun has replaced it -- at least here -- with the raw aggression of hip-hop and punk. Opener "I.M.F." is a stomping, jittery, crunching, fat, horn-driven anthem, with funky basslines, choppy guitars, and drums. M-1 delivers a rap that underscores Kuti's Pan-African lyrics with a global street perspective. Glasper's spacy keyboards add just a hint of air to the dense mix. His trancey keyboard atmospherics -- and funky clavinet -- can be heard on the hypno-groove in "Higher Consciousness," with a fine staccato horn chart and tightly woven lead and chorus vocals. "Ohun Riye" is a break from the rage. It's a skittering, Yoruban highlife jam with lyrics that celebrate life's spiritual qualities. Blitz the Ambassador helps out on "African Smoke," with hip-hop rhymes woven into the jazzier side of Afrobeat. The militant message delivered by Kuti is underscored line by line by his female chorus. There's also a fine trumpet solo by Oladimeji Akinyele. Closer "Black Woman" is the set's big surprise. A drifty, jazzy, nocturnal groover with killer lead guitar from David Obanyedo, it features sweet guest vocals from Nneka. Along with Glasper's signature keyboards, it has a winding, breezy horn chart atop multiple layers of drums and guitars. It's a feminist anthem that pays homage to the strength, commitment, courage, and struggle black women experience in everyday life. A Long Way to the Beginning is the most ambitious and angry record in Kuti's catalog. Its Afrobeat attack is hyper aggressive. It hammers the anger home in most tunes, and that's exactly what he feels young people around the world are projecting. He's telling them they're not only heard, but that he feels it too.

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