Seun Kuti at the Highline Ballroom: Music Fueled by Activism

The last time I spoke to Seun Kuti, he was coming off the heels of his “From Africa with Fury: Rise” album and was about to embark on the US leg of his tour with a stop at the Highline Ballroom in NYC along the way. This was at the height of the Occupy Nigeria protests, and Seun was in the thick of things organizing and galvanizing people to take a stand against bad leadership.

Two years later, Seun returned to the Highline Ballroom with the Egypt 80 in tow and a new album titled “A Long Way to the Beginning” on Knitting Factory records. He has been at the forefront of the Stolen Dreams demonstrations, and his music reflects his activism. For Seun, this isn’t armchair activism, this is a way of life. His music embodies a sense of urgency. He speaks plainly and openly. The first single off the new album is titled IMF (International Motherfuckers). It leaves no ambiguities or innuendos. Nothing is left to interpretation. You know where he stands. The track is a scathing attack on the lecherous, predatory and imperialistic banking practices of the International Monetary Fund that only benefits Europe. He highlights the parasitic relationship Europe has with Africa.

Seun always begins his shows with a nod to his father by playing one of his songs, and the show at the Highline Ballroom was no different. He started out by playing V.I.P. (Vagabonds in Power). The show was frenetic, energetic and fast-paced. Like most of his shows, Seun usually takes a few moments to pepper the crowd with commentary. While afrobeat is music you can dance to, it also comes with a message. If you aren’t listening to the message, then you have missed the entire point.

One point Seun hammered home was about the disrespect of the black woman. He chided Pharrell for his “Black Marilyn Monroe” song, taking umbrage with watered down blackness being promoted as the ideal image for black women. Seun asked “Why do we need a black version of a white woman? Why can’t black women just be black women? What’s wrong with Angela Davis? What’s wrong with Maya Angelou? What’s wrong with Nina Simone? What’s wrong with black women that look like them?” This brief social commentary was followed by the slower paced track Black Woman.

Later on in the evening, Robert Glasper sat in with the band much to the delight of the crowd. The 2 hour set didn’t seem long enough. Thoroughly drenched in sweat, the band came out for an encore to satiate the cries from the audience. The encore only prolonged the inevitable; this brilliant show had come to an end. If you were in NYC and weren’t at the Highline Ballroom to witness it, then you missed a hell of a show.

Click here to see more pictures from the show.

Using Format