Dec 9, 2009
Femi Kuti - Recent articles in US papers
A Prince of Afrobeat, Still Shouldering the Load of a Family Legacy
Femi Kuti’s band, Positive Force, danced its way onstage at the Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza on Thursday night. Guitarists swayed in unison, horn players strutted, female backup singers shimmied and bumped, and they all moved to Mr. Kuti’s directions — left, right, down to the ground — after he made his entrance. The women kept shaking and swiveling their hips virtually nonstop through the set, to a beat that merges rhythms from Mr. Kuti’s home, Nigeria, with funk, swing and reggae. As they danced, they sang choruses like “Stop AIDS, fight AIDS.” For Mr. Kuti, in a family tradition, dance music carries messages.
The rhythm is Afrobeat, which was forged by Mr. Kuti’s father, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, from the 1970s until his death in 1997 (of complications from AIDS). It is virtually inseparable from protest and a social conscience. In “You Better Ask Yourself,” from Femi Kuti’s most recent album, “Day by Day” (Mercer Street), the lyrics wonder why Africa, with all its natural resources, still has the “majority of the poorest people.” Often, the songs rail against a problem that both Fela and Femi Kuti have condemned: government corruption.
On May 28, as Femi Kuti was preparing for the United States tour that started with Thursday’s concert, the state government announced a permanent shutdown of the club he and a sister built in Lagos, the New Afrika Shrine, citing “noise nuisance, illegal street trading, indiscriminate parking, blocking of access roads and obstruction of traffic.” (It is named after the Shrine, his father’s club from the ’70s and a center of defiance until it was shut down by the government after Fela’s death.) This permanent closing didn’t last; the New Afrika Shrine was allowed to reopen on Tuesday. Onstage, Mr. Kuti spoke about the closing and the reopening, saying that the Nigerian government was not strong enough to send him to prison, as it had his father, or it would have already done so. Then he called for a united Africa.
Mr. Kuti’s Afrobeat moves in ways established by his father. Behind Mr. Kuti’s vocals, it can simmer along, with accents flickering on high-hat cymbal and snare drum amid rippling keyboards and guitar. It can ease back, turning into a subdued midtempo pulse, for guitar and horn solos that approach jazz. And it can switch into brawny funk when the horn section kicks in with choppy, insistent lines anchored by baritone saxophone. Femi Kuti adds variations of his own: passages of vocal counterpoint, undercurrents of a hip-hop beat and, especially on the new album, hints of Caribbean rhythms.
The set was more party than protest. As a bandleader — who sings and plays trumpet, alto saxophone or electric organ in various songs — Mr. Kuti is a master of dynamics. Each song shifted repeatedly between smooth and punchy, triggering a new burst of dancing with every change. But there was no mistaking Mr. Kuti’s didactic mission. Even when he turned to the subject of sex in the set’s finale, “Beng Beng Beng,” he proffered advice and instructions — about not rushing things — as the Afrobeat groove pulsated and surged behind him.
Source: Published by New York Times June 5 2009, Article By JON PARELES
Nigeria Closes New Afrika Music Shrine That Speaks Out Against Corruption
What would you do if two nights before you planned to leave the country for several months to travel across North America and Europe, the government showed up at your front door and said you and everyone else who lives in your building has 24 hours to vacate the premises? What if your home was also your place of business in addition to a community center and shelter for dozens of downtrodden members of your community?
That was the dilemma facing Femi Anikulapo Kuti two weeks ago. Just nights before he was set to embark on an international tour across North America and Europe, the Nigerian government decreed The New Afrika Shrine, Femi's home base nightclub in Lagos, Nigeria, was to be closed permanently. The Shrine, however, is more than simply a music venue -- it is a sanctuary for the homeless and dispossessed, a community center meeting place and the headquarters for the Kutis' movement to better the lives of ordinary Nigerians by speaking out against corruption, encouraging empowerment, and distributing anti-aids literature and contraception.
The original Afrika Shrine was built in the seventies by Femi's father, Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Femi started playing with his father's band, Egypt 80, at the age of 16. It was at the original Afrika Shrine that Femi started performing with his own band, Positive Force, on Sunday nights. Femi started developing his own sound, going in his own direction, and since then has released nine albums and toured the world several times.
Femi Kuti and Positive Force are one of the most powerfully revolutionary musical acts left on the planet. From the music itself -- wailing horns and voices sailing over the multi-layered percussive elements accentuated by scratchy guitars and winding bass lines, all facilitated by an army of musicians and dancers that overtake any stage they touch, to their powerful message of African unity, accountability in government, and peace -- very few acts on the planet can compete.
So in a way, it's understandable why the Nigerian government wants the Shrine's doors permanently closed. According to Femi, it's due to the crowds that block the roads connecting to the club, "They said people were selling things outside, like sweets, and fried meats, biscuits, things like this on the streets, not in the shrine, on the streets, on the major road. So they are closing the shrine because we let people come and sell things there. How do they expect us to get rid of these people? Do we own the road? The road belongs to the federal government. How we can we go to the federal governments' property and 'say get out of here?' It's the government's problem to do that. They have to remove them not us."
The Nigerian government does have a history when it comes to harassing the Kuti family. Femi's father was arrested over 200 times in his life, and his dwelling place was attacked more than once by the Nigerian army. Femi is very different from his father in a lot of ways, but unfortunately, he cannot escape his family name and the pedigree with which it comes.
Femi asserts that the CIA was behind the most famous attack on his father's compound, a raid in which his house was set on fire, his family raped and beaten, and his mother thrown out of a second story window. "An american, I don't want to name names here, came to warn my father before the attack and warned him the CIA wanted him dead. He said it many times. He was warned that the CIA was going to kill him. I was there, I heard him say it many times. Any western government is always opposed to any Pan-African in government."
Like his father, Femi has always stood for the empowerment of Africans and against corruption. Femi was proud to see Barack Obama elected president but does not want him to give African governments any kind of pass because of his African roots, "I hope he won't be lenient in dealing with the corruption of African governments because he's a black man. I hope he doesn't fall for that. He has to be very objective, because all the African governments are corrupt. I think that is where he should be hard because he should want Africa to become a great continent. He has to be very hard on his policies, because he has to put an end to the corruption with his policies in Africa. He has to prove that the African government is not being proper democracy according to what we know it should be."
Femi Kuti and Positive Force are currently touring across North America. There is a petition to the Governor of Lagos and Nigeria's Minister of Justice circulating online for the re-opening of the Shrine. Please go to this website and add your name to the list because in the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
Source: Published by Huffington Post June 12 2009, Article By Marc Gabriel Amigone