Femi Kuti: I actually cried when I saw the Fela! musical
From an early age, Femi Kuti got a crash course in music and the chaotic adventures that came along with having a politically outspoken and celebrated father. As a 15-year-old, he began performing with Fela Kuti, and absorbed raw energy of Afrobeat music.
Continuing the Afrobeat tradition, Femi has released several stellar recordings including his latest, No Place For My Dream. These dance-heavy anthems explore the hard truth messages of conditions in Nigeria and throughout the world in an inspiring way. Femi will do so in the flesh with his band, Positive Force, at the Cedar Cultural Center on Wednesday.
Gimme Noise was able to get Kuti on the phone from his home in Lagos, Nigeria. Though he sounded a bit haggard from a late-night 51st birthday party, he was able to talk a bit about the continued struggles represented in his music and life on the road.
The new album is coming out this week. Seems just based on the titles it's perhaps a bit of a dark record, do you think?
No not really. I wouldn't say so. Well you could say it's dark, but you know, it's not going to stop me from fighting. If you look into the lyrics, I keep trying to fight and people keep saying, "Look, there will always be corruption, there will always be war, life is like this." And I mean I think life is still about trying to overcome all these obstacles. I think it's more an alarm to make people understand the gravity of what is going on today in life. There are more people that are hungry. The United Nations keep saying there is less suffering, and I don't know where they get their facts from. How can that be when Greece and Europe are collapsing and in the United States, less people are suffering? The governments have never been this bad. There do they get their facts from?
How do you feel the message gets through to different parts of the world? Are people listening for the music and for dancing or are people getting the message?
I think it's both. I think they like the music, they like being told the reality of the times.
Do you stick to the Afrobeat sound on the new record or do you go off incorporating different sounds?
I think the roots of Afrobeat are really deep all through this album. I think it's coming from a different side of me. I been doing this music for a long time. I been getting deeper and deeper into myself, trying to find new ideas and newer sounds. I think I will do this for a couple more years before I can really just relax and listen to all kinds of music. I like all kinds of music from when I was young, like jazz. I wanted my music to be as pure as possible. I think I have arrived at that sound with this album. In the last few months I have had some Nigerian musicians want me to play on their albums and on their singles. So I have been forced to go into the studio to put myself in their music.
Oh cool, who are some of the people you have been recording with?
There is a very popular guy called Wizkid, somebody called Idris and oh, I can't even remember all their names. But I like what the younger generation are doing. There's really a hip hop kind of Afrobeat scene happening.
I've noticed you keep the band pretty tight. I saw Seun Kuti last year and he had so many people in his group, I couldn't imagine there was any money left at the end of the tour.
It's so difficult to tour with such a big band. The taxes and the budget are just so high and expensive to bring so many people on the road. So difficult coming from Africa. It's not like coming from Europe. All the money goes to airline tickets and hotels.
You must be pretty close with your family. Do you see Seun much?
Yeah, just saw him yesterday. He performed at my birthday!
It was your birthday? Well, happy birthday! What did you do to celebrate?
It was like a great big party at the Shrine. We were there from 7pm 'til 4 in the morning. I perform every Sunday so since it fell on Sunday I played and Seun played as well.
Tell me more about the Shrine. Is it the same place as the original Shrine?
No. My sister runs it. I really don't have time. But I play there every Thursday for free, then we charge two dollars on Sundays. We have a very big disco on Fridays. Seun plays the last Saturday of every month. Then people can book the place for other things. We have Ladies Night on Saturdays and other shows during the month.
So what do you look forward to when you tour the U.S.?
I love America. I love the roads. I like the fact that you can find food anywhere at just about any time. And electricity. I mean I really like American breakfast. When you are away it's very different. I like to try anything. It's the American way.
Heh, I suppose. Do you end up eating a lot of fast food though?
Sometimes. You know, when you are in a hurry and you have to sound check or late for your performance. You don't have a choice. But I do like a cheeseburger and some ice cream. But not too often. I do like the coffee. I don't eat fast food when I come home.
Well that's good. It'd be tough to perform living on that. So it's been awhile since the Fela! musical, do you feel that the audience has grown or changed with another wave of Afrobeat's popularity?
Yeah, I would say so. I loved the musical very much. I think that play was awesome. I actually cried when I saw it. I think they did a really good job bringing it to the American market and for the international community to understand what was going on. I was very impressed. Anybody who had never heard of my father would quickly get his story and be interested in the music or want to find a book about him. It was an eye opener for everybody.
Do you think there will ever be a musical about Femi Kuti?
Haha! I don't know about that. I am very secretive but I suppose a lot of people have a lot of information about me. I didn't go to school when I was growing up so I mean I did do all this by teaching myself. I think after I pass there will definitely be a good story.
Femi Kuti & Positive Force perform at the Cedar Cultural Center Wednesday, June 26 8pm. $45 Tickets still Available.
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