SEUN KUTI & EGYPT 80/ BOMBAY ROYALE – Hi Fi Bar

Melbourne’s The Bombay Royale look to Bollywood for inspiration, buying into a fantasy world of surf guitar, super villains, and damsels in distress. There’s a cruise ship captain and the horn section wear masks. In front of a typically excitable AWME crowd they tear through tracks from their recent debut album You Me Bullets Love, the searing funk of Sote Sote Adhi Raat a highlight.

When Egypt 80 take to the stage The Hi Fi Bar is bursting at the seams. Their sound is well honed after decades of performing, taut, primed ready to explode. Afrobeat doesn’t get more urgent, more life affirming than this. Kuti appears and is immediately onto the sax, kicking everything up a notch. He’s playing his fathers Zombie “out of respect for the man,” and it’s incredible to the point of being overwhelming.  Next up they launch into Fire Dance from their debut album and the band feel even tighter. This is the way music should be, relentless, primal, and precise. Kuti is all over the stage writhing in time with the music, offering urgent sax solos, though also stopping occasionally to talk politics. “Africa is the worlds experiment,” he proclaims, “you want austerity? We’ve had it for years. You should send over the Europeans, we can train them in austerity and then send them back.” He chuckles to himself before launching into Rise Up, the title track to his last album, a track that felt a little indulgent on record, but live is a welcome breather from the relentless energy. The Good Leaf is also preceded by a monologue, with Kuti pondering how marijuana, something that occurs naturally could be illegal. Earthquakes kill many more people, yet they’re legal he suggests.

Tonight most of the tunes come from his recent From Africa With Fury: Rise album, and Kuti is a passionate spokesperson for his continent. It’s not just in his banter with the crowd, or his lyrics, but his energy, his intelligence and sheer musicianship. The band is of course a weapon, they know no other way than totally uncompromising pedal to the metal.

In the audience bodies are flying everywhere, the effect this music is having is remarkable. When he finally leaves the stage the roar for an encore is among the loudest noises that this writer has ever heard. But this is what Kuti and Egypt 80 do, they ignite the listener, both in body and mind.

Fragmented Frequencies Nov 09

You know we need it, we got to have it, know we want it, got to have it, give it to me. What are we talking about? Soul Power! Say it loud. Soul Power! Not only is it the title of one of James Brown‘s most incendiary slabs of pure take no prisoners red hot funk from 1971 (with the original JB’s) , it’s also the name of Jeffrey Levy-Hinte‘s new doco charting the 3 day music festival that accompanied 1974’s Rumble In The Jungle, Muhammad Ali pitted against George Forman for the world heavyweight championship in deepest darkest Zaire. Soul Power (Madman) is a fly on the wall of the festival from the logistical nightmare setting up, to the incredible performances. Brown with a super cool mustache was the star attraction ripping through Same Beat, Payback, Cold Sweat, Say it Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud). His performance is magnetic, frenzied, sexual “It was like a devil set,” offered Levy Hinte when I spoke with him earlier this year, “I really could have made a James Brown concert movie.”

Yet perhaps some of the most compelling moments of the film, which also includes Celia Cruz, a very young Sister Sledge, BB King, Bill Withers, Miriam Makkeba, OK Jazz, and Tabu Ley amongst others, occurs with the US performers on the streets of Zaire. Excited about returning to the motherland, they’d burst into these spontaneous jam sessions with the locals, creating beautiful unguarded moments of cultural connection where the musicians stop strutting and the camera feels like it disappears. “I wish I had more of it,” sighed Levy-Hinte, “that whole feeling you can see it on their faces. It was such a special experience for the musicians to go back to Africa, to the roots and really commune with people.” The problem however is lack of extras, this could have been a five disc set. It’s a great film, but also a wasted opportunity, three quarters of Brown’s performance is still on the cutting room floor.

It’s been described as the SXSW of world music, and there’s no denying the wealth of interesting music and possibilities on hand at the second annual Australasian World Music Expo. By day it’s a trade fair with panels, presentations and workshops, and by night it’s a series of showcases of artists from the UK, Australia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand Vanuatu, India, New Caledonia, Solomon Islands, you name it. Highlights include The South Seas Concert which features a bunch of PNG and West Papua string bands curated by David Bride, the UK’s Mad Professor doing live dub mixing on Melbourne’s The Red Eyes, and of course Mad Professor’s dub/ reggae workshop. Just spilling the beans on how he was able to work with Lee Scratch Perry would be enough for this writer. Fragmented Frequencies is also keen to check out The Chooky Dancers from Arnhem Land, who’s unique interpretation of Zorba the Greek made them internet stars -they’re helming the From Tradition to You-tube workshop. It’s mind blowing, it’s crazy it’s a veritable feast of world music and it’s on from the 19-22nd of Nov in and around the Arts Centre with many of the performances free, check http://www.awme.com.au for more details.

Finally after 22 years together Australia’s The Necks are back with Silverwater (Fish of Milk), a 67 minute piece that is essentially a series of musical movements. Though it’s still improvised, they’re a long way from their jazz roots, nowadays trading in these exotic sounding drones, electronic and rickety percussion material. It’s earthy and sounds somehow like world music, but it’s just difficult to determine which world. Firstly there’s the percussive bamboo sound of the Indonesian Anklung, then there’s Buck’s interpretative and peculiar use of his regular kit, then there’s these electronic glitches hidden amongst the percussion, and finally Buck’s strange calming repetitive guitar work. It’s minimal, quite experimental, often with one of the members silent for long periods of time. Yet it’s also quite beautiful, almost transcendent. The trio are creating whole new structures before our very ears, whole new framework for putting music together, new even for them. This album is multi layered, a textural delight and totally uncatagorizable. It’s genius.