Femi Kuti @ The Bakery, Perth (19/11/10)

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The scene was set for a spectacular performance. It was a balmy Perth night, producing a dry heat not dissimilar to that of Femi Kuti’s African homeland. And The Bakery was buzzing, close to capacity as the CBD workers mixed with some of Northbridge’s more open-minded inhabitants.

But I was sceptical. Intrigued, and admittedly somewhat uninformed, but sceptical nonetheless. Did Femi Kuti, the son of legendary Nigerian musician and political activist Fela Kuti, have any chance whatsoever of matching his father’s onstage abilities? The answer was swift and emphatic.

As Femi Kuti led his band, The Positive Force, onto The Bakery’s stage around 10:20pm, I started smiling from the sheer number of people striding onto stage. There was a drummer and a percussionist, a rhythm section featuring bass and multiple guitars, and a power-packed brass section comprising trumpets, the underrated trombone and some fierce saxophones. And while Femi was rocking a simple white shirt, the rest of the band wore traditional outfits featuring a striking array of blue, yellow and orange colours.

My scepticism had started to dissipate, and that was before the band even played a bar. By the end of the first track, a roaring 15 minute Afrobeat number that captured the essence of Kuti’s music, the scepticism had disappeared entirely, replaced by a glow which results from only the finest of live performances.

There was no doubt who was star of the show, with Kuti showing his charisma behind the mic as he introduced himself and his band. Kuti also showed his virtuosity (and circular breathing abilities) on myriad instruments, ranging from trumpet to keyboards to tenor saxophone, not to mention his vocal abilities. Kuti also put Kenny G to shame with a rousing soprano saxophone solo.

But as much as Kuti stole the show, it was the 13-piece backing band that transformed the gig from good to great. The percussionist’s ‘tinker-pan’ African rhythms laid the sonic foundations for a powerful groove. The brass section’s stabs and solos were majestic and mesmerising. And to top it all off, early on in the set live dancers flocked onto stage and proceeded to dance up a storm, encouraging the receptive crowd to join in the gyrations to the chants and polyphonic rhythms.

After 100 minutes of funky horns and an endless African groove, it was time to bid farewell to Femi Kuti and the Positive Force. It had been a whirlwind of a ride, as for one special night The Bakery replaced The Shrine (the legendary Nigerian venue established by Kuti’s father) as the home of all things Afrobeat. I may have been sceptical at the start, but I was positively ecstatic by the finish. Whatever you do, don’t miss a Femi Kuti show in the future.

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