Femi Kuti has been making albums for nigh on two decades now, and has been involved in the music business for even longer after earning his chops as a member of his father Fela Kuti‘s legendary Afro-beat band.
Day By Day is another in a line of classy sounding albums, although surprisingly it is Kuti’s first solo effort since 2001’s Fight To Win. He has long since settled into a musical style in which he feels at home, deviating little from the groove-based Afro-beat that his father pioneered, with political and social causes providing the main thrust of his lyrics.
Kuti’s worldview is perfectly expressed in a line on the opening track Oyimbo; “Seek and ye shall find/Definitely with music/Whose rich resources and melodies will truly bring peace”. The lyrics are a tad clunky in reality, but with Kuti’s 13-strong backing band Positive Force in full swing behind him it is easy to overlook this problem.
Positive Force truly rock the joint on Day By Day, their razor sharp arrangements providing the rhythmic impetus for some of Kuti’s best melodies to date. Eh Oh opens up with a blast of horns before the simple repetition of the two syllables of the song’s title swirls the track up into musical heaven with the backing of a wailing chorus. As an indication of the influence of soul music on modern African music it is telling; put an English lyric to this beat and those horns and you could be listening to a Motown classic.
Day By Day and You Better Ask Yourself are the album’s two most overtly political statements, with Kuti attacking the complacency of the West as African people starve: “To keep the people always wondering/While dey take all our resources/Leaving us in total poverty”.
More musically inclined listeners will devote their attention to tracks such as Demo Crazy, One Two and Tension Grip Africa, where Kuti subtly incorporates Western musical forms and a touch of reggae into the Afro-beat style.
The former is one of those hypnotic grooves that Fela seemed to bang out at will in the early ’70s, and one that it is impossible to keep still to as the hand drums, organs and backing vocals gradually build up a ferocious tempo.
The latter initially sounds like an early Santana track, all wah-wah pedals and swirling organ, before deviating into a mad funk tune complete with vocoderized vocals. It’s the one nod to Kuti’s former dabbles with hip-hop and electronica, and the fact that this experimentation is not overplayed allows the track to succeed in its own right.
Kuti saves his best vocal performance for the penultimate track, Dem Funny. Weaving in and out of Keziah Jones‘s guitar line he exhibits a confidence in his own singing ability that was sometimes lacking on his earlier albums.
The brass heavy Let’s Make History plays the album out with a blast of good-time funk to back up Kuti’s idealistic plea for universal peace. It’s a perfect ending to Kuti’s strongest and most consistent album to date and one that deserves to make him the international star his father never was.