Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thursday Night in Prospect Park: Femi Kuti and the Positive Force at Celebrate Brooklyn! with Melvin Gibbs' Elevated Entity

After leaving the LIU campus, we got the R at DeKalb Avenue and, thanks to a kindly bus driver who waited for us to cross 9th Street, got the B-75 (saved!) bus to the entrance nearest the Prospect Park Bandshell,

past Mayor Mike's paid campaign workers, in time for the return of Femi Kuti, heir to his famous father Fela's superfunky Afrobeat throne, to Celebrate Brooklyn!

As we got into the very crowded event (another kindly person, one we kissed hello, had saved us a seat), Brooklyn native Melvin Gibbs, whom Time Out NY has called "the best bassist in the world," and his Elevated Entity project had started things off with his delicious, addictive "exploration of African-diaspora music with a fusion of Afro-Brazilian rhythms, funk and rap." (OK, we are cheating a bit here by quoting the publicity materials, but we're so musically ignorant - like Ike on art, we know what we like is all - we need some help.)

It was a great evening, the first real summer day we've experienced since our return from Phoenix over two weeks ago. The sky was cloudless all night, the temperatures were warm but not hot and humid, and a pretty right-crescent moon made itself known as the sky darkened and we - along with a humongous crowd of people having fun - enjoyed another great night of music in Prospect Park.

Since we're so inept at describing or criticizing music, we're always happy to defer to better, more knowledgeable correspondents. Luckily, a very good blogger with press credentials, Eva Yaa Asantewaa, was present and wrote on Infinitebody, whose delightful commentary (you've got to see it in full) began with mention of a seatmate more annoying than our friend:
She had a little camera with her, boasted of chatting up Angelique Kidjo, who I adore, and who was circulating in the crowd. She much prefers Youssou N'Dour, Salif Keita, Baba Maal and Femi Kuti, of course, saxophonist/vocalist son of Afrobeat's illustrious warrior, the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti. I love 'em all.

Mostly, though, she worships Femi Kuti's trio of dancers, whose ebullient shimmying is a truly a cause for wonder. "Can you guess which is my favorite?" she later asked me during a brief moment of rest at her seat. I guessed correctly, and she trotted back to one corner at the edge of the stage, leaving me to enjoy the show. At last!

Melvin Gibbs' Elevated Entity (which included Vernon Reid on guitar, Bernie Worrell on keyboards, and vocalist Amayo from Antibalas) opened the evening with some chugging Afro-Brazilian-funk-rap, which I liked well enough. Kuti's set, though, was a marvel of discipline, swing and energy--and not just because of all that powerful shimmying. Kuti follows his father's example in not merely playing for you but enlisting you in his army, and I happily signed up.

Kuti lyric quote of the night: "You better ask yourself why the richest countries have the poorest people." Yeah.

Yeah is right. Thanks to Eva Yaa Asantewaa. For mo' better pics and commentary on tonight's concert, check out the always-great Brit in Brooklyn, Devorah Klein at Big Apple Music Scene, and our talented Estonian friend Ines Kuusik at All the Things...New York Jazz and More.

You could tell Melvin Gibbs is a Brooklyn boy because he asked for shout-outs for various blocks - Beverly (or Beverley) Road [his stop on the B-41), Ocean Avenue (specifically 708 Ocean Avenue), Empire Boulevard, Brooklyn Avenue, Decatur Street, etc.

And he ended by thanking our ancestors (including that African woman who's all our great-great-great-etc.-granny) "who taught us to survive" before getting off at 8 p.m. In between, we heard some superb sounds.

This video clip is from the debut performance of Melvin Gibbs' Elevated Entity here in New York on January 10, 2009. It features John Medeski on keyboards, Amayo of Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra on lead vocals and Kid Lucky on rap and beatbox. The rest of the band is: Vernon Reid on guitar, JT Lewis on drums, Kunle Ade on percussion and of course bandleader Melvin Gibbs on bass and computer triggered by a MIDI Organ pedal.

As soon as Femi Kuti and his troupe came on, everyone stood up, so we had to stand up. We couldn't see much anyway, though we were better off than the very old, very little (maybe 4'10") white lady in front of us who did her best and then finally just started swaying to the beat with her cane.

Eventually, most people sat down for most of the time, so we could too.

We're really glad Femi Kuti came, as he said, all the way from Lagos to return to Prospect Park. It was a great concert, even if we left a little early (even then the line at the men's room was so long, we walked to Barnes & Noble on Seventh Avenue and from there all the way up Seventh to Flatbush and to the subway in Fort Greene. There were lots of people out enjoying themselves at sidewalk cafes, restaurants, bars, and other venues.

So it was a beautiful night even if our tendinitis tibialis posterior has started to kick in. Thanks again to everyone at Celebrate Brooklyn! We pay our measly three dollars at the gate to "make it great" and they provide us who are without income for three months a lot of pleasure.

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