It must be tough to be the child of a famous musical performer, especially once you're attempting to make a musical career of your own. Some have pulled it off with style (Jeff Buckley, Jakob Dylan), while others' careers seem forced and unnecessary (here's looking at you, Kelly Osbourne). Either way, the constant comparison to Mom or Dad must be terribly annoying, even though it's their success that might've helped you get started. Spinning the globe a bit, there's another young performer who falls under the first category: Nigeria's Femi Kuti, son of legendary Afro-beat musician Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.
For those scratching their heads at the mere mention of "Afro-beat", the genre is best defined as a potent blend of jazz and funk combined with traditional African music. Fela invented the genre---also lacing it with politically-charged lyrics---establishing a successful career that spanned roughly four decades. Femi played in his father's band (Egypt 80) from a young age, though he eventually started his own band during the 1980s. He eventually secured a record deal with Motown in the mid-1990s, during which time his self-titled debut solo album was released.
1997 wasn't such a great year for Femi, though: both his father and sister passed away, with the former leaving a massive legacy resting on his son's shoulders. Their styles were similar, but Femi's more accessible approach to the genre helped ensure his success with audiences the world over. Though he's never scored a major hit on the American charts, his constant touring schedule and two subsequent album releases ("Shoki Shoki" and "Fight to Win") may eventually prove otherwise.
For those familiar with Femi Kuti's music, Palm Pictures' Live at the Shrine will be of great interest. This 87-minute concert film (directed by Raphael Frydman) was recorded and compiled in Kuti's hometown of Lagos, Nigeria and shows the young musician in top form. Dressing room footage of Kuti warming up is not unlike a fighter preparing for a championship match, with the concert itself being a great balance of raw energy and musical talent. He plays a variety of saxophones (tenor, soprano), exhibits his skill as a keyboard player, and engages the local crowd with strong charisma. His backup band---comprised of percussion and brass, among others---is combined with a generous dose of dancing to create a highly entertaining show. Though newcomers to Kuti's music may be better off trying out one of his albums first, there's no doubt that longtime fans will enjoy this live show.
Thankfully, Palm Pictures has given us more than just a great concert. This 2-disc set isn't perfect, but it's got a strong technical presentation and a nice assortment of bonus features---honestly, you couldn't ask for much more. In all regards, it's a fine DVD release for a musician that could use the extra attention on American soil. With that said, let's see how this one stacks up, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality:
Although it's a shame this disc isn't anamorphically enhanced, the 1.78:1 widescreen transfer is still pleasing. Colors are on the muted side and the dimly-lit venue makes things look a bit muddy, but this disc showcases the raw, live concert experience quite well. No major digital problems were spotted, save for a bit of interlacing (especially noticeable during the fast dancing scenes, but not terribly distracting). The audio is presented in two separate options: uncompressed PCM Stereo or an AC-3 mix. Both exhibit fine clarity, but the PCM track was substantially stronger when compared side-by-side There's obviously a lot of music during this film, with each of the tracks displaying nice separation and overall ambience. Dialogue comes through cleanly and clearly, with optional English subtitles---included during the main feature and extras---helping to ensure you don't miss a word.
Menu Design & Presentation:
The non-anamorphic widescreen menus are very basic, making for smooth and easy navigation. This 87-minute film has been divided into a modest 8 chapters, with no layer change detected during playback. The packaging is straightforward but effective, as this two-disc release is housed in a standard double-width black keepcase with a handy essay and lyrical booklet included.
It's a little thinner that you might think, but this 2-disc release contains a nice mix of interesting extras. First up are a series of Interviews with Femi Kuti (divided into 15 sections, roughly 40 minutes total) that shed a bit of insight into the band's message and style---the optional English subtitles were also a thoughtful inclusion. Each section can be watched on its own, or together with a handy "Play All" option. There's also a few Trailers for other Palm Pictures releases, including DiG! and Tom Dowd and the Language of Music. Strangely enough, there's a short Clip from Live at the Shrine included in this section (the "Shotan" performance, specifically), but it was most likely used as a promotional piece. Rounding out the first disc is a pair of additional Live Performances ("Yeparipa" and "Water No Get Enemy") recorded at the same concert venue.
Moving on, the second disc should be a required inclusion for all concert DVD releases: it's an Audio CD of the complete Live at the Shrine concert (14 tracks, 68 minutes total). This serves as a handy companion piece to its video counterpart, exhibiting the same great audio quality of the DVD itself. Overall, there's an excellent mix of bonus materials that round out the main feature nicely, making Live at the Shrine a solid choice for fans of Femi Kuti (or followers of World music in general).
Odds are that most casual American music fans aren't terribly familiar with Femi Kuti, but those who enjoy high-energy performances that blend genres seamlessly should like what they hear. This 2-disc set isn't a perfect effort in every department, but it's well-rounded enough to satisfy even the most seasoned concert DVD fan. There's not a wealth of extras here, but the ones we get are highly appropriate (and that's what really counts in the long run, doesn't it?). Palm Pictures has delivered another fine release for the asking price, so Live at the Shrine easily comes Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an art instructor based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in an art gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.