The Boy and I saw Femi Kuti
on the weekend, who you might know as the son of the Nigerian Afrobeat musician and activist Fela Kuti
. I found I prefer Fela's music to Femi's, but the overall style of the show is what I imagine you'd have gotten from a Fela performance: fourteen or so people crammed onto a tiny, sweaty stage turning out a high-energy explosion of horns, funky beats and amazing dancing. The crowd being what it was (mainly white PBS-listening middle-class Brunswick types), the response was pretty low-key. Melburnian dancing pretty much consists of bopping in line like a row of foozball men, which I think particularly perplexed the poor reggae warm-up act. Unfortunately I wasn't any help; I actually fell asleep standing up about halfway through Femi's set. (It doesn't mean I didn't like
it. I was just tired and kind of sick, and falling asleep on my feet in noisy environments is somewhat of a superpower of mine.)
I microslept during the political commentary portions of the act, but I seem to recall a strong argument for pan-Africanism, and something against Western forgiveness of African debt. I thought some of the banter that prefaced 'Beng Beng Beng' was... kind of sexist? Or at least too narrowly focused on the male sexual experience. Whatever it was, it didn't appeal to me that much, but then again-- I'm also lacking cultural context, so maybe others have a different take on the sexual politics of his performances.
Australia doesn't have the same culture of musicals that the US seems to have, and I have a sort of inherent suspicion of the genre. (Broadway is always my absolutely least favourite style of dancing on So You Think You Can Dance.) That said, I'd love to have seen Fela!
the Broadway musical. Even moreso than the music, I think the politics would've been particularly interesting-- how he took ideas from the US's Black Panther movement and transformed them for the Nigerian domestic political context, and how those ideas were received by the general population and the government of the time.
I liked one of the other warm-up acts, a Melburnian band called the The Bombay Royale
that covered 1960s and 1970s Bollywood songs. (I find it fascinating how you can hear the through-line from old-school Bollywood into Indonesian dangdut
and other South-East Asian music, but not in modern Bollywood songs.) The band itself was pretty much the same ten musicians who form the backbone of all
Melbourne-based jazz/funk bands (The Boy knows quite a few of them), with two Australian-Indians on vocals. Their version of Jaan Pehechaan Ho (which Westerners tend to know from the Ghost World
soundtrack) was pretty rocking, but it's hard to improve on the sheer zaniness of the original. The hair! The twisting! The surf horns and guitar!