The Kuti’s Etch Afrobeat on Sound and Time – Review of Legacy+

Afrobeat first family, the Kuti’s, need no introduction to music enthusiasts across the world today. Theirs is a name that speaks volumes for itself, as it is solidly ingrained in Afrobeat sound, Nigerian music, and Nigerian sociopolitical history.

The Afrobeat genre is largely synonymous with Fela Kuti, so it is only befitting that the son and grandson of the genre’s pioneer – Femi and Made – collaborate on a project that will contribute to its longevity.

“Legacy+” is made up of two halves that combines Femi’s album, “Stop the Hate”, and Made’s album, “For(e)ward”. It is a significant project that seeks to tap into the rich heritage of the sound and entwine it with its future form.

Femi’s familiar sound opens the album with the track “Pà Pá Pà”. A bass guitar accompanied by the lilting sound of a hi-hat plays during the first few seconds, then Femi’s vocals come up with a mix of other instruments.

He speak-sings with a smooth cadence and is replied after each pause by wind instruments that also double as backup. As he progresses, his backup singers pick up from the wind instruments seamlessly.

As is expected, Femi’s lyrics dwell on the issue of poor leadership. He highlights the limited time humans have that fly’s past and implores citizens to not allow it to be wasted by incompetent governments.

Pà pá pà is Yoruba for very fast, or fast fast in pidgin English. Femi demands that those in government leave if they cannot do their jobs, he also enumerates basic social amenities the government should provide in his demands, and his backup singers respond to his demands with pà pá pà.

Visuals for “Pa pa pa”

The medium paced tempo is a perfect way to usher in listeners to the album, and it sets the tone for a smooth transition to the next track that is somewhat reminiscent of a Fela track.

“As We Struggle Everyday” begins with the sonorous blare of a lone saxophone, and Femi crooning “hey hey” along with light percussions, before the piano and drums come in to complete the musical arrangement.  

His lyrics touch on the Nigerian spirit of finding ways to struggle for survival while being cozy with bad leaders who put them in that position:

“As we struggle everyday (everyday, everyday) we try to find a better way (better way, better way)

See these leaders we suppose jail (suppose jail) na em our people dem dey hail (dem dey hail)”

The tempo allows for a meditative mood so the message sinks. A switch from the mesmerizing voices of his female backup singers, to a backup by baritone chanting as he plays his saxophone, will surely have listeners captivated.

Video released for “As We Struggle Everyday”

Femi’s lyrics on the track are reminiscent of Fela’s now popularized suffering and smiling mantra. It similarly seeks to shock Nigerians out of their psychological morbidity.

An electric guitar plays, accompanied by rapid hits on a hi-hat, a drum roll on the floor tom, a konga drum, the electric piano, a base guitar, then the rapid hits and rolls on a snare drum, all at a fast tempo, spiced up by the entry of wind instruments.

This groovy highlife musical arrangement begins “Stop the Hate”. It is Femi’s attractive fast tempo sound that sways listeners who regularly watch his energetic performances on stage at the New African Shrine.

Along with his backup singers, he sings about our inhumane world that makes life unfair and difficult for those who just want to live in peace. In a world filled with so much hate for our fellow man, he sings:

“Stop the hate, for goodness sake, before its late, let us make, the world a better place

together our problems let us face, people listen there’s no time to waste to bring justice and peace to the human race”

It is a smart way to pass across an important message to listeners who will at first be attracted by the sound but then listen to such positive lyrics.

Femi doesn’t let listeners off the high of a fast tempo, instead he takes it up a notch as he transitions to the next track, “Land Grab”.

The track begins with instrumentals playing at a very fast tempo, then there’s a break in the tempo as Femi and his backup sing: “stop that land grab, stop that land grab, stop that land grab”, right on cue the tempo picks up again, driven up feverishly by vibrant horns.

This sequence of alternating tempos continues as Femi sings about the evil of foreign governments and companies, aided by clueless African leaders/governments, that deceitfully grab lands and destroy lives to access natural resources, and make money.   

The cadence, alternating fast to medium-paced tempos, perfect sync between Femi, the backup singers, and the instrumentalists, all blend together smoothly to make a masterpiece.  

Listening to this track can transport one’s mind to the shrine with a trance envisioning Femi and his dancers performing energetically to this spiritual vibe. 

A master in his element best depicts Femi on this track, as he displays impeccable mastery of the art of making Afrobeat music.

Femi eases listeners down from the high of previous tracks to a lighter mood on “Na Bigmanism Spoil Government”. Sounds from the usual suspects, an electric guitar, a base guitar, piano, hi-hat, snare drum, and horns all combine to raise the curtain on the track.

An important part of the lyrics seeks to enlighten citizens on the true form of governance, and that government derives it power from the citizens, so citizens must realise they have a role in governance.

However, when those in government go in for selfish reasons, and begin to see themselves as not being equal to the people, the Nigerian mentality of “big man” sets in, and na bigmanism spoil government.

“You Can’t Fight Corruption with Corruption” is a song about the irony of Nigeria’s fight against corruption. Femi is cheerful as the horns lead the instrumentals, and he sings about corrupt entities who claim to fight corruption:

“Na the man wey wan fight corruption but don chop with corruption, him don drink with corruption…

Corruption become him padi, from corruption he close eye take money…

So the man start to fight corruption, forget him chop with corruption…

But you can’t fight corruption…as corruption know your secret e go hard make you succeed oo”.

On “Show of Shame” the saxophones take center stage early on to usher listeners to Femi’s tirade regarding the Nigerian governments shame, or lack of shame put on full display for the world to view.

An exciting medley of instrumentals carries “Privatisation”. It is an interesting musical arrangement that has each instrument pulling out all the stops to outdo the other.

Femi sings about privatisation as a crafty scheme to legally steal the collective resources of the people. Although, his message stands out, the instrumentals were all out to get the glory on this one.

“Young Boy/Young Girl” is a lyrically motivational track with a message for the youths while horns blare in unison to fill the eardrums, and airwaves with lively tunes.

Midway through the track, the horns take turns after each other to show off their exciting sounds, taking the listeners on a pleasurable wind instrumental sound tour.

A horn blares like it is calling all to attention, and then the wind instruments, accompanied at a fast tempo by other instruments, continues from where they left off on the last track, to serenade listeners on “Set Your Minds and Souls Free”.

A guitar then comes on to share the spotlight with the horns, and all other instruments tag along, deftly keeping pace with the fast tempo.

Femi jumps into the mix singing to this lively tune and is supported by alternating baritone and soprano backup. He sings about mental emancipation with simple lyrics:

“Set your minds and soul free, yeah, yeah

From the evils of corruption, yeah, yeah

From the fanatics of religion, yeah, yeah

From the slavery of colonization

From the suffering of drug addiction…you’ve got to free your mind…”.

Femi then passes the baton to Made to run the next lap of the album from “Free Your Mind”. A distinct style will immediately be noticed, and this is part of the Afrobeat legacy of the musical maestros in the Kuti family.

Each Kuti has a slightly different sound from the other that establishes an identity to their sounds, such that they can all be on a joint album, and attentive listeners will be able to identify whose sound is playing before hearing their vocals.

The instrumentals have a calming effect while maintaining a moderate up-tempo. Made uses a soothing voice as he repeatedly chants “Why are you?”, “Why?”, then repeatedly sings “Free your mind and set your soul free” accompanied by very exciting horns, and a rich blend of different instruments infused at intervals.

Lower percussion sounds and his baritone voice are beneath it all, and an attempt to catch it teases the ear. It is a very refreshing sound to listen to, and a perfect way to introduce his style to listeners.

Made’s video for “Free Your Mind”

Made effortlessly transitions to a slower tempo on the next track, “Your Enemy”. Guitar strings lead the way for the remaining instruments to come in, and they begin a rhythmic sound ritual. 

He sings with a style that deliciously drags the lyrics and wets the appetite for more, while the backup can be heard in the background.

His lyrics explore the issue of police brutality, and the need to open the minds eye in order to understand what drives the actions of the people’s enemy, the police; or is the police really the enemy? A question he poses to listeners when he sings:

“If civilians dey suffer, and police sef dey suffer, then who dey cause the suffer then

When we say, when we talk of police brutality, we must know…why they are the way they are…

Free your mind and clear your eyes see who is the real enemy, your enemy, your enemy”.

The next track, “Blood”, begins calmly but quickly progresses through different gears in tempo. The snare and bass drum strike a beat that gets the feet tapping away, while the horns, bass guitar, and other instruments embellish the beat.

Femi joins Made on this track to defiantly launch verbal attacks on the Nigerian government that includes the use of his voice recordings.

Made returns to his calm soothing vibes on “Different Streets”. The horns play a sound that sets a very relaxing and reflective mood as he speak-sings. His lyrics are deep, and they stir up a conscious examination of our environment.

Highlighting the different spectrum of lives in Lagos raises a question, why are there abnormal extremes on different streets? A question which, without taking anything away from those who legitimately work hard for a living, Made links to corruption and dishonest means of making money.

Also, Made lays the blame at the feet of our institutions of learning and socialisation; pointing out how a warped understanding of success has instituted a self-centered way of life, and destroyed a sense of community.

His closing interlude is more thought provoking; he dismantles the prophetic image of his grandfather, Fela, as he tells Nigerians Fela wasn’t singing about the future, instead he was just singing about issues of his time, and the fact that these issues are unresolved in our time is cause for worry.

Made continues to acquaint listeners with his unique fusion of sounds on “Higher You’ll Find”. He sings as a solo snare and bass drum play with repeating chimes of the cymbals, and loud rolls on the toms. A konga keys in the bass guitar as it hops on to take the lead, but only for a short while as other instruments pop in while Made hums deeply.

As the arrangement progresses, it is disrupted by a high-pitched horn, then the sounds briefly come back together, only to be disjointed again. All the sounds clear out for the snare, toms, and bass drums, accompanied by a piano.

It sounds like a band marching on the road and loudly playing different instruments but as a testament to Made’s talent, he pulls all the pieces together to create order amid the chaotic blend of sounds.

Just when it begins to feel like he has settled on a stable progression, he switches it all up as his singing drawls along with the instrumentals, and he creates a glorious sound. Before the listener can settle with this as well, he resets to the sound arrangement he created at the beginning.

It is a mesmerising roller coaster of sounds that highlights his versatility with different instruments, and that he is adept at pitching sounds together.

“Hymn” begins with a sound like a xylophone as children sing. It sounds a little bit lethargic from the get-go, which can be played out to the need for a tempo that accommodates the voices of the children.

The tempo then picks up as strings join in, then the drums, before the horns come on for Made to sing along to.

A similar slow tempo carries on to “Young Lady” on which Made speak-sings about the ordeals faced by a young woman at the hands of men and society that seeks to exploit her.

The track is closed out by instrumentals that bother on the up-tempo of a groovy vibe but tempered down by the pace of the horn.

“We Are Strong” is the last track of the album and Made treats listeners to a surprise. He begins calmly then the tempo jumps to a very fast one, like the energetic tempo Femi is known for.

The surprise is that when he starts singing to this energetic tempo, he imposes his calm style and tames the sound to suit his delivery. He closes out the album with an exciting song that will get listeners fired up for another take of the album.

Father and son successfully accomplish merging Afrobeat sounds from across different times. The past, present, and future of Afrobeat can be identified on the album.

They both continue in the footsteps of their renowned forebear by being a strong voice for the people, a voice that doesn’t waver in singing sounds of defiance.

“Legacy+” is an album that will serve as a stellar contribution to the family’s legacy, etching it in evergreen sounds that will stand the test of time.   

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