Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 at Club Helsinki

Club Helsinki is a swanky venue. Between the vibrant red curtains hanging behind the stage, the lounge- and cabaret-style seating, and the warm glow of candles on the tables and decorative paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling, the club inspires a sense of glamour and elegance. The space is, however, transformative. I’ve been there for countless concerts since Club Helsinki opened its Hudson doors two years ago, relocating from Great Barrington, MA, and for each show the club has absorbed the spirit of the performance and performers. Whether it be an intimate evening of blues (David Jacobs-Strain) or a wild night of blues (Popa Chubby), a rockin’ rockabilly show (Eileen Jewel or JP Harris & The Tough Choices), psychadelic and experimental rock (Avondale Airforce), surf rock by musicians wearing Mexican wrestling masks (Los Straitjackets), disco pop (Heloise & The Savoir Faire), a Balkan dance party (Raya Brass Band, Golem, or Slavic Soul Party!), a Latin dance party (Grupo Fantasma), a funk/soul dance party (Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings), a night of  swing (Lauren Ambrose and The Leisure Class or The Lucky Five), or perhaps one of the many variety shows hosted by The Wiyos, Club Helsinki seems a magical place that, like the Room of Requirment in Harry Potter, suits the needs of those within it. That’s one of the things I love most about the club, and on Saturday it was transformed into an energetic African dance party and celebration during one of the best concerts I’ve seen yet: the Afrobeat ensemble Seun Kuti & Egypt 80.

There are concerts that are entertaining, and those that are contemplative. Then there are concerts that are life-changing, and Seun Kuti and Egypt 80’s show at Club Helsinki this past Saturday fell into that last category. The performance was a reminder that music can be — indeed, should be — political, or at the very least should contain substance worth singing about. Music is a powerful vessel for education and change, for it can be used to spread values, ideas, and opinions. In addition, some people feel threatened when confronted with ideas or opinions conflicting with their own, and such feelings are partly diffused when you place opinions within a source of joy such as music. The music of Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 contains all of these qualities and more, and each song is not just a message but a celebration, even if the message itself is one of frustration or anger. In fact, like blues, which is sung and played to rid the blues, the songs of Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 express injustices and harsh realities while  the musicians provide the ability to restore the spirit through the vibrancy, soul and passion of their joyous musical expression.

Although Kuti is an energetic performer, stalking side to side on the stage and dancing around using his whole body, he also has a quiet intensity. There’s something in his boyish yet sultry voice and earnest face that is compelling, and even though it is his movement that captures your attention in the first place it is his eyes that draw you in. No stranger to performing, Seun’s first experience being on-stage came at the age of nine when he performed with his father, the famed and well-loved Fela Kuti, and the young Kuti has continued to use the arena to carry on the legacy of his father while paving his own way and bringing his own music, personality, and voice — both literal and figurative — to fruition. There is a rich cultural history surrounding song and dance, especially that of Africa, and Kuti honors that history while making his own.

Check out a video from the show below:

And the music video for the band’s powerful song, “Rise”: