The last track on No Place for My Dream, the strong new album from vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and Afrobeat heir Femi Kuti, feels downright rebellious. “This Is Only the Beginning” is less than two minutes long. It includes an extended, dizzying jazz-fusion line à la Jaco Pastorius or Songs in the Key of Life–era Stevie Wonder. It’s instrumental. And, underneath a gruff, wonderfully dirty alto-saxophone improvisation from Kuti, the tempo flies.
Afrobeat, as defined by the bandleader’s late father, Fela Kuti, rarely goes like that. The genre’s songs are usually marked by simple, catchy riffs and politically charged lyrics. The pace generally chills at midtempo and the songs are lengthy—Fela’s albums often consisted of just two extended cuts. So, though much of No Place for My Dream falls squarely within the tradition, “Beginning” thrillingly announces that Femi is his own man, and that styles are meant to be expanded, not followed blindly. Inheritance, it seems, is only the beginning.
Femi grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, where Fela was based, and joined his father’s band while still a teenager. But he went off on his own in 1986 to start Positive Force, the powerful ensemble he’ll bring to SummerStage on a bill with Sinkane and King Britt. On No Place for My Dream, Positive Force lives up to its name: There’s sly guitar, mesmerizing bass, triumphant horns, pressing percussion and, out front, Femi, telling it like it is and pushing for change.—Brad Farberman
Follow Brad Farberman on Twitter: @BradFarberman