June 2007

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 with Daniel Nebiat opening
June 29, 2007 Harbourfront Toronto
Report and photos by Laila Boulos
Daniel Nebiat Warms Up Harbourfront With a Krar-nival

Daniel Nebiat and his trio consisting of a bass player and a keyboard player epitomize the notion of the 'warm-up' band. Nebiat plays the magical krar which he amplifies. This instrument, similar to the kora, emits a sound that dances across the stage like fairies. A tribute to the talents of these players was the inherent festival mood that permeated the stage. And once the two females joined in, gliding across the stage with their drum-playing and traditional dancing, the festival became just that much more festive.

Although the melodies that these talented musicians produced were airy and magical, heady trance-inducing sensibilities were incorporated into many of their gorgeous pieces courtesy of their repetitive, everlasting rhythms.

The lightheartedness of both the dancers and Daniel's prancing playfully and flirtatiously across the stage truly complemented the wonderful melodies they effortlessly produced. The synergy of all these talents created a veritable carnival feeling on stage and their infectious sense of fun had many audience members on their feet grooving just as effortlessly and with just as much child-like joy as the people on stage.
They played a short and lively set and the trio returned for an encore with a much heavier, headier, rock-blues spiced piece taking a sharp and unexpected musical fork in the road that scorched the stage. As light and playful as their set was, this encore piece showed a truly unexpected ability to switch moods and the talent to not miss a beat in doing so. This turn in mood knocked the audience off their feet and had some wondering what musical surprises a second encore would have brought forth. Unfortunately, the mystery will have to remain exactly that until the next time this talented group graces a stage in our vicinity.

Seun Kuti Continues Fela's Musical Journey

The first indication that things were going to heat up even more came as the set-up people dropped very large, thick towels on the stage for each musician.

Once Egypt 80 took over the stage, the seats were just in the way as people danced furiously anywhere their feet could land — in the aisles, in front of the seats and on them. Nothing was safe as the music took over. The frenzy in the audience was in such contrast to the musicians who played with force and precision, yet appeared relaxed throughout.

A few songs were played by Egypt 80 — his father Fela's band — before Seun glided in mid-song to stir up the musical madness on stage. Although a young performer, Seun had been a member of his father's band since the age of eight so taking the reins at the age of fifteen, upon Fela's death, was not difficult. It was mesmerizing watching him perform on stage. He was in control. The reverence shown towards him by the other members was evident, yet he was not swallowed up by his role.

Like his father's, Seun's lyrics are politically and socially charged, dealing with fiery topics such as politics, corruption and greed. In fact, all but three of the songs the band played were Fela's own. The three written by Seun were, "Na Oil", "Fire Dance" and "Think Africa". Seun explained to the crowd that they currently had a 12" vinyl out with two songs. "No CD yet" he warned.

Seun's commanding stage presence elicited crazed reactions from his audience. This was particularly witnessed during his frequent robotic, intense gyrations that transported him across the stage. Although Seun demands attention, it was fascinating to watch a number of musicians take turns presiding over the centre-stage microphone showcasing their individual talents and basking in the glow of the audience in a very democratic procession.

Kuti's charm and charisma were evident as he periodically instructed the crowd that evening to "Say: yeah, yeah'", and "Please listen up: myspace.com/seunkuti". Announcing that "This is our first time in Canada." almost brought the cheering crowd over the edge. An attempt was made at a call-and-response song with the audience. When the volume produced by his now salivating followers was not to his liking, he encouraged his people by reminding them that "Africa is very far from this place so you have to scream". This, of course, was greeted with laughter and a much better second attempt at volume. Seun, in interviews, relates stories about his father's sense of humour. It's not difficult to guess where this gene has landed.

At the forefront of all the on-stage movements was the tsunami-powered force of Egypt 80 which was overwhelming yet the musicians looked so effortless in their virtuosity that it was almost confusing for the senses to watch. Between the endless microphone-switching of musicians on stage and Seun's own energetic presence, the music was not the only fascination. The three dancers (of which one is Seun's mother) added to the visual mayhem.

There were countless mind-blowing moments musically where cyclical guitar rhythms melded with screeching horns only to be overtaken by saxophones that pounced into the fray dragging down the tempo with their sexy yearning undulations then once again quickly pulling the intensity up to stratospheric proportions.

At the end of their set, the audience furiously applauded, shrieked and stamped in an attempt to bring the band back, to no avail. And as for those thick white towels? Sweat, what sweat? Many of them weren't even touched. Actually, the audience could have used them!

We welcome your comments and feedback
Laila Boulos
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