Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Femi Kuti -The Best of Femi Kuti

Joe Tangari reviews Femi Kuti's The Best of Femi Kuti.
Being born of greatness has its perks, I'm sure, but it seems it's mostly a burden. How does Jakob Dylan even get up in the morning knowing he's doomed to be judged against his father every time he writes a song or cuts a record? There are hundreds of children of musical giants roaming around the industry these days, working with varying degrees of success to carve out their own names separate from their parents-- Zak Starkey, the Lennon half-brothers, Moreno Veloso, Eric Mingus, and the various offspring of Charlie Haden, to name just a few. Femi Kuti is in this same position, perhaps dealing with an even more insurmountable legacy. As far as African music goes, his father Fela wasn't just Bob Dylan; to continue an imperfect analogy, he was also Bob Marley and John Coltrane, and that doesn't even take into account his political impact.

Femi of course is acutely aware of his father's towering legacy, and seems content to extend it, realizing that trying to equal it is impossible, regardless of genes. Femi had something of a head start, playing sax in his father's Egypt 80 bands for close to two decades, assuming leadership of it during his father's various politically motivated imprisonments. Though he had performed his own right for years, he only released his first solo album, Shoki Shoki, in 1998, a year after Fela's death from AIDS, in effect picking up the torch his father finally had to let fall. In the time since then he's recorded another album, contributed to records by Common (Like Water for Chocolate) and Rachid Taha (Made in Medina), opened up the Afrika Shrine, a successor to his father's iconic Lagos nightclub, and founded an organization aimed at galvanizing and educating working-class Africans, all of this between multiple world tours.

So to say he's a busy, conscientious guy is something of an understatement. He may be the son of a legend, but Femi Kuti has paid his dues to arrive where he is, and now Wrasse Records has released this compilation of material drawn from his two studio albums as an introduction. Given that it's a 70-minute disc drawing from only two albums, you can imagine that it includes the bulk of both records and it does. Being familiar with both records, I really can't think of any of the usual wounded-critic objections to the track selection-- a better introduction to Femi's modern take on Afrobeat isn't in the offing.
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