Africa unapologetically and proudly came to the Esplanade last Thursday night, as Seun Kuti and the legendary Egypt 80 graced Chevron Gardens with their enduring Afro-beat thanks to the Perth International Arts Festival. The wind outside was blowing but the balmy air inside made for dense, flowing atmosphere, urging for dance and the delivery was sweet.
The son of the late great legend Fela Kuti launched into a powerful cover of “Mr. Follow Follow.” Setting the stage alight with the sensations of Africa. “I always start with one of my father’s songs, to show him respect,” the singer said, in flare pants tighter than the bands crescendos.
Instantly breaking out in dance, the audience were feeling particularly groovy trying to find the beat-breakdowns as easily as the legendary men onstage as the brass baseline built for the manic “IMF”.
By 10 minutes in, the beads of sweat running down Seun’s back was no indication of falter. Claiming the stage like it was home ground; Seun gyrated and contorted in collaboration with the members of Egypt 80, who he joined as the lead singer at just 14 years of age.
Moving from “Don’t Give That Shit to Me” off the 2008 album Many Things, to “The Good Leaf,” Seun took the important moments between songs (when we were struggling to catch our breath and recover until the next mesmerising enticing jam) to speak of politically reverent and yet somehow modestly witty themes. Always engaging and vividly energizing. From deforestation in Africa to the difference in African and Asian (ahem) building sizes, there was not one dull moment throughout the set.
Jumping into a stream of consciousness rant about the power of “higher consciousness,” the now roaring crowd were throwing themselves around the audience like a bunch of wild animals as the group gripped us further.
The lightning synchronicity wasn’t perfected so much as it was conducted between them. What we witnessed wasn’t a performance of a band and their singer playing some songs. We saw a deeply ingrained cultural experience of connectivity, a celebration of freedom, and musical’s ability to free us all and give us that “higher consciousness” to allow ourselves to be freed… traits we Perthians so often overlook having never had to fight for our right to have them.
We saw Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 doing that which they have always done. What they need to do, as an extension of their being and definition individually, as well as a collective. Finishing the rambunctious set list with a drawn-out freed-up version of “African Smoke,” we need more nights like this to keep us humble, keep us listening to that higher consciousness, and to constantly remind ourselves that we are free.
Seun Kuti and the Egypt 80 brought us the music and the messages of their culture – passed down from one humble genius to another, in front of our very eyes. And by breaking down our confines and allowing us to feel the music, a deep connection to the man behind the soundtrack to a different world was engraved in us all.