Sunday, 24 February 2013

Seun Kuti Premieres A New Song at the Shrine

Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 performed last night at the New Africa Shrine in Lagos, their first Shrine appearance in 2013. The performance was sparsely attended; probably only 100 or so in the audience, baffling for a band that toured all over the globe last year including sell-out performances in the US, UK, Australia, and Japan. It wasn't because the tickets were outpriced either. I hardly spent ten bucks including my gate fees, drinks, and taxi money in a city known for high prices. 

Egypt 80 led off a bit after 11:00 pm with Fela’s Dog Eat Dog and then proceeded through a warm-up set of an hour and a quarter, with Showboy vocalizing and directing the horns. Seun came on at about 12:30 am dressed in red pants. The crowd was..shall we say…interesting? First a big rat ran across the dance floor, then an older woman in full-length local garb and high headdress got out front and danced wildly, at one point flinging her headdress, bag, and shoes onto the middle of the floor, collapsing, then getting back up and continuing to dance for the rest of the night. A whole lot of people were taking poor quality hand phone videos of the show, which never cases to baffle me since the quality is worse than a 1980s VHS camcorder, but nobody seems to care. 

Highlights of the set included the frenetic and always-crowd-pleasing Zombie, then Seun’s rap preceding Slave Masters, where he compared locals working for multinationals down in Lekki with slaves living in master’s house in exchange for an easier life than their brethren. 3% of Nigerians thinking everything is fine. About 2:00 am Seun rapped about Kalakuta; this week was the anniversary of the 1977 police attack on Fela’s compound that left Fela with broken bones and his mother beaten so badly that she would ultimately die from her injuries. That led into the première of a new composition dedicated to Kalakuta. Here is a somewhat fuzzy Zoom recording of the world première piece, which hopefully will spur you on both to see Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 live on tour and to buy their next recording.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Searching for Sugar Man (Jazz Version)

Just finished watching the 2012 documentary Searching for Sugar Man, about early 70’s folk-rocker Sixto Rodriguez who found obscurity at home but was more popular than Elvis in apartheid South Africa, unbeknownst to him. I liked the film and recommend it. Cheesy parts like overly dramatic interviews of people who couldn't have cared less about him at the time but are now teary-eyed, and the omnipresent violins in the background, do not cover up what is a remarkable story. It is a story line that Hollywood’s highest-paid screenwriters could not have fabricated. Rodriguez made a couple of major label records back in the vinyl days but for some reason they didn't sell in the US – like one interviewee said, maybe because the record was orange and should have been green. Sheds light on the capriciousness of stardom. In South Africa he was considered the equivalent of the Beatles (and bigger than the Rolling Stones, who are rolling in dough) but back in Detroit he was discovered working construction and living in the same house he has occupied for the past 40 years. After a brief revival and recognition by his South African fans in the late 90s, which he calmly took in stride, he went back to his modest life in inner city Detroit. 

This film reminded me of the 2010 Guardian video about tenor saxophonist Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre, “That’s not a horn, it’s a starvation box”. That excellent video is still up on the Guardian site and I strongly recommend watching it. Kalaparusha was one of the original members of Chicago’s AACM in the 60s, in the historic first wave of AACM recordings on Delmark, and made ripples in the 1970s New York loft scene in the pre-Marsalis days of creative improvised music. I remember seeing him blow some excellent tenor at the Tin Palace in the Bowery in the mid-70s. Unlike Sugar Man, though, Kalaparusha never received uplifting late-in-life recognition and as far as I can tell, still lingers in obscurity and penury. I found traces of him in a June 2012 Sax On The Web thread which was inconclusive as to an anticipated new recording. Any word on that would be appreciated, since fewer and fewer of the creative saxophone masters still walk the earth. Is it possible that Kalaparusha can still find the appreciation and recognition that escaped him earlier in life? The Sugar Man of jazz? 

The artist who has stayed true to his muse and reaped the dual rewards of poverty and lack of recognition is a caricature in our society - and I am not talking facetiously about Squidward. But these guys are real and very often produce the best music.