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Record Review


The story of Femi Kuti's ongoing musical odyssey reads like some classic mythological epic. The son of a great leader grows impatient living in the shadow of such distinction and decides to make his own way in the world. After the death of the father, the son returns to honor his legacy, and in so doing assumes the position of leadership for which he has always been destined.

In some ways, Femi's aristocratic ascension to the throne of Afro-beat, the style of music his legendary father, Fela, pioneered some decades ago, seems ironic considering the engaged political egalitarianism that characterizes the music of both musicians. But on Fight to Win, Femi continues to prove that Afro-beat is a meritocracy as well, living up to the democratic ideals set forth by its inaugural "Black President," Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.

Evolving his father's savvy for marrying African traditions with American innovations, Fight to Win is strongly rooted in the polyrhythmic drumming style of Yoruba. But where Fela grabbed from the funk and jazz of '60s and '70s America, Femi taps into our dominant contemporary genre, hip-hop.

Opener "Do Your Best" features Mos Def, who plays the ghetto griot in underscoring Femi's theme of African struggle and resistance. Tracks like "Traitors of Africa," "Fight to Win" and "The Choice Is Yours" bounce the edgy voice of protest off appealing grooves with a tact rivaling that of his dad. Indeed, Fela's legacy reverberates most loudly in Femi's aggressive dedication to the unflagging ideal that music must first work to inform and liberate.

Femi Kuti plays Mon., Oct. 29, at the Variety Playhouse.

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