Femi Kuti would have to be one of the best performers on the planet today. From the moment he walked on stage at the Hi-Fi last Sunday the 21st of Nov the mood was electric. Coming off the end of a very long boozy weekend I was hardly in top form, and had spent most of the night trying to stay awake, but as soon as Femi started up I was full of energy and dancing awkwardly as only a white man listening to afrobeat can.
It’s hard to put into words what makes him and his band, The Positive Force so damn good. There is this sort of kinetic energy that they achieve when all the instruments come together in this voluminous synthesis of horns, guitar, organ and furious drumming. They use it sparingly, taking you on a journey of highs and lows, giving you time to catch your breath and keep dancing, and it’s a good thing they do as well as if they didn’t I doubt many of us would have made it through the set.
Femi himself is just fantastic. A little less energetic since I last saw the band play five years ago at Bluesfest, he was nevertheless still miles away from being static. The band themselves are fucking incredible as well. The drummer was an absolute freak, sounding like a machine at times in his startling tightness and sheer power, some of his fills not sounding out of place on a construction site. Moving in and out of the groove with aplomb, he really showed how drums can transcend the role of rhythmic backing.
Toward the end Femi stopped the show during Africa For Africans, speaking with great intelligence about how collusion with western powers helps prop up oppressive regimes in Africa and speaking about how those in power today are the descendants of the Africans who participated in the slave trade, a sober reminder that Femi’s music has purpose, to help bring freedom to an Africa oppressed.
This serious tone however was soon offset, with Femi stopping again in the next song, Don’t Come Too Fast, to give men advice on making love. ‘When you are feeling excited,’ he said, ‘ reverse back, hold off, don’t come too fast,’ the audience cackling in fits of laughter at his expressive explanation.
This sums up what is so remarkable about Femi Kuti & The Positive Force, that despite their serious message and background of suffering and oppression, they don’t preach in a stale and depressive manner. Their message is one of life, and of life lived in happiness and freedom, and they approach spreading that message with vitality and vigour. Easily one of the best shows of the year so far.