Femi Kuti

House of Blues, July 20

By Matthew Fleischer

Half-way through Femi Kuti’s first song of the night, the powerful “Truth Don Die,” a strange realization hit me — Femi’s wearing Tevas. For some reason, seeing the heir to a revolutionary musical legacy, and a virtual legend himself, in Tevas struck me as eminently amusing and I spent the next few minutes devising marketing strategies for the Teva Corporation.

“Tevas – 1 out 6 African revolutionaries agree – it’s the footwear of the future.”

I eventually got over it though, and for the next two hours witnessed the afro-beat superstar take turns blasting though several lengthy post-bop inspired sax solos, singing in his breathy, staccato tenor, playing funky keyboard and miraculously flailing across all parts of the stage like an ADD problem child hopped up on pixie stix.

But despite the multi-talented Femi’s charisma and energy, I can’t say unequivocally that he was the star of his own show. Accompanying him on stage were three stunning, female Nigerian dancers, who unabashedly shook their asses in ways a mere pale-faced mortal like myself never thought possible. In what appeared to be a breach of the space-time continuum, one of the girls seemed to be able to stay on the beat with her left cheek and go double-time with her right. (Go ahead and try that at home – I dare you.) Femi may have spent half his set healing lepers for all I know — I found it nearly impossible to take my eyes off the gyrations. I wasn’t the only one.

Photos by Matthew Fleischer and Mel Schwartz

Perhaps distracted by this physics-defying display of glutoidal acrobatics, a less-than-perceptive crowd cheered wildly when Femi took a mid-set break to address the plague of corruption among African leadership. “Our leaders take the people’s money and come spend it in places like Los Angeles,” he said, surprised when his words were greeted with hoots of joy from the crowd.

“You’re not listening,” a frustrated Femi scolded.

He found the crowd far more receptive later in the set, however, when he paused in the middle of his sexually provocative hit “Beng Beng Beng” to repeatedly warn all the fellows in attendance not to “cum too fast.” “You know, sometimes a girl is really sexy… and the way she moves… you just want to… let go –- but don’t do it!” While the plight of his people may have fallen on slightly less than understanding ears, premature ejaculation more than bridged the transatlantic gap – cheers and chuckles filled the room.

Such was the atmosphere for the remainder of the set – happy, bouncy, and sensual – and it hovered on into the night after the house lights came up. Despite a pronounced post-set “you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here” vibe from the House of Blues (the show ended promptly at 11:30), circles of people lingered to dance to the house music – Femi’s father Fela – before eventually streaming out onto the Strip in a giant, beaming mass.

Read Matthew Fleischer's interview with Femi Kuti here.

Click here for more photos of the concert by Mel Schwartz and Matthew Fleischer.

LA Weekly