Fifteen years after the death of Fela Kuti, the Afrobeat pioneer’s legacy looms large, not least in Chicago. There’s the Shrine, the South Loop spot named for the legendary nightclub where the Nigerian star held court into the wee hours. Then, earlier this week, the Broadway smash that screams his name arrived at the Oriental Theatre.
You’ll find an even closer link to Fela a few blocks north of that at the House of Blues, at least for one night. That would be Seun, Fela’s youngest son, who has been at the helm of his dad’s band, Egypt 80, since the ripe age of 14. Brother Femi may be better known, but Seun most faithfully carries on the tradition of his father’s music and message, as seen by his recent involvement in the #OccupyLagos protest.
The current iteration of Egypt 80 is more than a tribute, complementing Fela classics with newer cuts, including tunes off the group’s latest album, From Africa with Fury: Rise. Produced in part by Brian Eno, the disc simmers and swells with stirring Afrofunk, each groove distilled down to six-minute mini screeds.
All the building blocks are there, the call-and-response vocals, punchy horns and shekere pulse. “We must rise against companies like Monsanto and Haliburton,” sings the young Kuti on “Rise,” a 21st-century update to Fela’s populist anthems. Rarely does a night of ass-shaking leave you feeling so empowered.