“A sea of beaming smiles and twinkling eyes”: Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 at Belgrave Music Hall

Having been at Belgrave the evening before for Live at Leeds, the upper room took on a totally different feel on a balmy bank holiday Sunday; the entrance to the music hall, adorned with candles in glasses along the floor, let you know thatyou were in for something special with Seun Kuti and Egypt 80.

With no support act, Egypt 80 opened, introducing the band and playing an upbeat improv, which could easily have been the whole evenings’ entertainment. After a minute or two, Seun Kuti bounded onto the stage wearing the most wonderful African wax print outfit; head to toe in rich red, green and gold colours that made it impossible to take your eyes off. The audience started flailing their limbs about as soon as the music began which created and added to the lively atmosphere. Had the audience focused on appreciating the music as well as their dance moves, it would have prevented serious cringing at the sight of some highly questionable moves.

A brief tribute to his late father Fela Kuti was well done and made way for what was assuredly Seun’s performance and band. Seun’s saxophone solos were sublime and only made you want more, and the large band’s talents matched his level of passion and charisma. The songs played were easily about 10 minutes long each and rightly so, as the repetition engaged the audience with the lyrics and encouraged dancing, all from Seun’s new album Black Times, which is in the spirit of Fela’s politically engaged, brilliant music tradition and carries on distinct afrobeat and jazz origins with Seun’s sharp, alluring flavour; indicating a relevant and fresh sounding record. Engagement with the audience was consistent and delightful, as Seun charmed everyone with very funny, and very Nigerian style humour jokes and anecdotes, that weren’t lost on the crowd. He commented on world issues in a non-weighty manner especially with African Dreams, a song on the issue of the desire for European and western products in Nigeria, and Africa, taken as a sign of success, making it a meaningful, energised yet touching track.

A highlight would have to be during the 20-minute-long finale, when Seun took his sweat drenched shirt off and spun it around in the air over his head creating a blessed fountain of sweat, and some lucky people, along with his band, were blessed with the sweat of the legendary Kuti clan: I witnessed one girl fall to her knees in awe. The calabash percussionist (who reminded me of an uncle) engaged the youth at the front making eye contact, singing every word. His perpetual smile was infectious, as certainly by the end, the warm, slightly sweaty room was a sea of beaming smiles and twinkling eyes: myself included.

Stephanie Uwalaka

Feauture Image courtesy of Revive Music