Show: With DJ Diaspora on Friday at the 9:30 Club. Doors open at 8 p.m. 202-265-0930. 930.com. $35.
Femi Kuti loves company on the road, and his concerts are all the more compelling for it. The eldest son of the late Nigerian Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti, the charismatic singer-saxophonist will perform at 9:30 Club with the Positive Force, a 14-member ensemble acclaimed for fueling his unflagging spirit and passion.
Considering his heritage, it’s not surprising that Kuti views Afrobeat as something far more significant than just a dancehall concoction of indigenous rhythms and horn-riffing funk. Over the past 20 years, he’s written numerous songs that address social and political issues in Africa and abroad. Though he helped make an early name for himself with the titillating novelty “Beng Beng Beng,” it’s a mere trifle when measured alongside Kuti’s ever-growing collection of emotionally and spiritually charged songs.
An early example is “ ’97,” which vividly recalls the passing of his father and other relatives (“The young and the old! / The strong and the weak! . . . gathered to carry Fela . . .”). Other songs that presaged Grammy Award-nominated albums include the call to arms “Stop AIDS,” the cautionary “Blackman Know Yourself,” and the stirring, anti-corruption anthem “Traitors of Africa.” “Water No Get Enemy,” another seminal career highlight with a political slant (and a cover of one of his father’s songs), featured input from D’Angelo, Macy Gray and Roy Hargrove. It’s one of many notable studio collaborations.
In concert, though, Kuti and the band remain wonderfully self-sufficient. Playing the keyboard in addition to saxophone, Kuti thrives onstage, clearly inspired by the Force’s exuberant vocalists, dancers and instrumentalists.