New York City was in a deep freeze the week leading up to Femi Kuti’s concert at Webster Hall on Saturday, January 26th. Temperatures were so low that the 25-degree high on Saturday was almost balmy in comparison. Femi Kuti and the Positive Force bringing afrobeat to the masses was a much welcome reprieve from the frigid temperatures and ice-slicked streets. People braved the cold to hear one of Nigeria’s most famous sons perform to a packed house.
I’m always curious to see what kind of people come out to see African musicians. I like to people-watch, and it’s always a fascinating study. Naturally, there were quite a few Nigerians in the house - to be expected whenever a Kuti comes to town; you couldn't miss them. But by and large, the crowd was very diverse. People of all ages and races were in attendance, and it was beautiful to see.
The Positive Force
Femi and his band graced the stage shortly after 9pm, and what ensued was an incredibly energetic and frenetic set that lasted for about an hour and a half. I’ve seen Femi perform quite a few times, but I’ve never seen him this animated. He was dancing and darting around the stage with the energy of a man half his age. This is probably why he stays so fit. His current January U.S. tour has been non-stop, and in the last week, most of the shows have been back-to-back with no days off, which make the performances even more remarkable when you consider how demanding his sets are.
Femi is a multi-instrumentalist, so seeing him switch instruments at the drop of a hat is par for the course. This time around however, he brought out three horns with him. He had an alto saxophone, a soprano saxophone and a trumpet, the last of which he plays with increasing frequency these days. He’s known more for playing the saxophone, but as he told me in an interview last month, the trumpet was actually the first instrument he picked up. His keyboard was also front and center as usual.
Femi on soprano
So what can we expect from a Femi Kuti concert? Outside of his politically charged vocals, blistering saxophone solos come to mind and boy did he deliver the goods! He played with power, poise, intensity and an authoritative command, and was drenched in sweat within minutes of taking the stage. It might have been freezing outside, but it was an inferno inside. Such was the heat generated by Femi and his band.
As the band performed the song Truth Don Die (which means "The truth is dead"), a young white woman behind me was singing along. Unfortunately, she was saying “Truth Don’t Die”, which in hindsight isn’t a bad message at all. Nevertheless, I found that mildly amusing. Nigerian pidgin might be lost on her, but I hope she got the gist of the song. She definitely felt the music, and I suppose that’s what makes music a universal language.
In between Femi dazzling everyone with his virtuosity on his instruments and his socially-conscious vocals, he found the time to add some humour to the show, and even gave the audience sex advice. That’s right; Femi was the resident sexologist for the evening. He told the men in attendance to take time when making love to their significant others, not to be selfish lovers, to make sure they please their partners and that they should try not to climax too fast. The women in attendance clapped and cheered loudly in unison.
As sometimes happens, there was a hooligan in the audience with some sort of grievance, and he was trying to pick a fight with another audience member. I’m not really sure what his problem was, but Femi wasn’t having any of his nonsense. In his usual erudite manner, Femi called out the jerk and told him that if he wants to fight, then he should go to Afghanistan or Mali as there is no shortage of conflict for people who want it. That shut him up for good.
Femi and the Positive Force gave the concertgoers a show that they will fondly remember, no doubt about that.
Femi’s new album No Place for My Dream will be released this spring, and I’m looking forward to it now more than ever after this show. If his performance is any indication, the album will be a scorcher.