Aug 2, 2013

Femi Kuti ... current interview (2013)

Published @ German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.
Translated by googletranslator.

Femi Kuti in the interview: "There never was so much suffering in the world"Hardly a respected musician in Africa died in 1997, Nigerian Fela Kuti, inventor of Afrobeat. With monster grooves and many political statements, his son Femi Kuti leads for years continued his charismatic father's legacy. In this interview he talks about the global crisis of poverty, harassment of Nigerian government and the idiosyncratic style of upbringing his father.
If you look back at the history of pop, one encounters many visionaries, eccentrics and charismatics. But even in this brilliant panoply of types of Nigerians Fela Kuti is a rather unique appearance. That is of course his music, the fact that he personally invented a new style - Afrobeat - and this contributed to several dozen LPs out into the world. To the same extent it is but to his political activism, his opposition to the Nigerian military junta of the seventies and he criticized as cynical and corrupt state apparatus. In the West, political activism by celebrities is often pose, and if not, then it is usually harmless at least. Kuti, however, was brutally harassed for years by the Nigerian state. 1,000 troops in 1977 destroyed his commune in Lagos, the Kalakuta Republic, beat him and threw his mother out of a window, whereupon they died. In 1984, he was sentenced to 20 months in prison flimsy grounds, but even that did not stop him from continuing to express his radical political ideas. When he died of AIDS in 1997, it was quiet around him, in recent years, however, his music has experienced a great revival, and penetrated into the western indie underground.

When I saw Fela's son Femi Kuti for the first time live, I was thunderstruck: it was as though Fela Kuti himself on the stage, and the band played the son was just as groovy as you would expect from the father. If you listen closely, you will of course also differences between Fela and Femi. However, I no second case, the pop, in which a son would be equally convincingly in the footsteps of his father. Is just his new album No Place For My Dream (Naive / Indigo) published whose Afrobeat grooves and monsters political statements perpetuate the legacy of Fela Kuti worthy. I recently had the opportunity to call Femi Kuti at home in Lagos.Femi Kuti, Fela Kuti, her father has been dead for 16 years, yet his music is as alive as ever. Meanwhile Playing the hipsters in Berlin and Brooklyn Afrobeat.

As a little boy I had the feeling that my father's music is something special. Therefore it does not surprise me when I hear today of the young Afro-beat bands in Australia, Japan, Europe or America. Even my father, wherever he is, is certainly very glad.

Likely to be important for this revival that his music is now much easier to get than in his lifetime.When Fela died in 1997, there were countless prey pressings of his music. We have stopped and its extensive catalog licensed to record companies, where his music really is at heart. For the family, it is very important that her albums are available all over the world.

How close was their relationship with Fela when you grew up? As far as I know, you have not lived together as a child with him.

That's true, then I am certainly occurred as a teenager in his belt and pulled into the Kalakuta Republic (Note: Fela Kuti's commune in Lagos). During this time we had a very close relationship. I was his right hand and had done much for him.

And before that?

Fela was not a conventional father. He traveled a lot, played a gig somewhere, was on trial, was hiding from the police. Nevertheless, he was present in the life of me and my sisters, we always knew that he loved us. But we have also understood very early on that we have no father to sit down in the evening and doing homework with us.

Did you sometimes feel that you have to fight for his attention?

Do not fight directly. Which actually often hundreds of people around him - sheer madness. But as kids we thought it was great. We had a lot of freedom. Fela did not even want us to go to school - he found that there we would get an education in the old colonial style and did not like it. As we have said, we remain at home today, he was very pleased. As we grew older, we understood better what has occupied it and why things are done as they happened.

Ziggy Marley once told me that his childhood was often quite hard.

Well, it is well known that Fela was pursued for many years by the Nigerian military and the secret police. They often beat him up, harassed and arrested. My mother tried to protect us from these things and keep us close to himself. But the older I got, the more I noticed it.

Have you ever been beaten up by the police?

Yes, I did. But much less severe than my father. Have taken into consideration the fact that I was still a child.Despite all this harassment Fela never caved.

That is the reason why he is still viewed that way. He has never made compromises and can not be dissuaded with so much pressure from his convictions. The more you hit him, the more he was! Therefore his music is relevant to today. The people still impresses its stability.

1978 Fela Kuti married 27 women in one day. You were 16 - what you thought of this action?

Who had no great meaning for me and my siblings. Whatever he did, we supported him. We often put on his side, sometimes against our mother, and often causes them to eventually agreed with my father. Well, she probably realized that we have not understood exactly what it was. Maybe she's done it only willing to love the peace.

What was your role in the band of her father?

I started as a saxophonist and then worked my way up to deputy bandleader. As Fela went to prison in 1984, I have taken over the band for two years. 1986 I then founded my own band.

With your father, you have often played in his nightclub in Lagos, the Shrine. For many fans, the Afrobeat is an almost mythical place. How would you describe the atmosphere at the Shrine?

It was a very free place. Very colorful, with colored lights and lots of girls. If you entered the Shrine, you felt like being on another planet. For many people it was a place where they could escape the difficult life in Nigeria and concerns over the government. The music was real, and there was always plenty of dancing.Once I met a German who has lived in Lagos in the seventies and was often at the Shrine itself.

That whites came to the Shrine, was not so unusual. Fela had many foreign friends, many embassy staff were regularly. Even Paul McCartney was in 1973 at the Shrine.

Now you operate the Shrine.

Yes, I try it at least. However, it is not the same location. My sister and I have built a new Shrine in 2000, with the proceeds of Fela's catalog.

What is the biggest difference to the old Shrine?

Likely that the public consumption of marijuana is now no longer tolerated. Thus, there was simply too much trouble. We have tried to make the New Afrika Shrine is not just a concert stage, but a spiritual place, where we also honor great men like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Marcus Garvey, Patrice Lumumba, Thomas Sankara. We have many ideas to advance the Shrine - Unfortunately we lack the means. We have found great difficulty, sponsors, because many companies are afraid to squander it with the Nigerian government if they support us.

If Fela Kuti by the Nigerian government because still regarded as enemies?

That is now changing. In Lagos, a museum was opened for my father, a second to be built there, where he was born. Important for this change was the success of the Broadway musical Fela! That was BNXgsm of people like Will Smith, Jay-Z and Beyonce. Something impressed by the Nigerian government - because they have suddenly afraid to stand as an enemy of Fela. By 2010, however, we had regular problems with the government, always the Shrine was closed.

What is her relationship with her brother Seun?


He appears occasionally in the Shrine, right?

Yes, once a month.

How would you define Afrobeat music?

Fela blues and jazz to African ears adjusted and combined with African rhythms and melodies.Its success is probably also been very important that he had the brilliant drummer Tony Allen in his band.One can not say that. The rhythms of all came from my father. None came from Tony Allen. I wonder why all ignore this fact in Europe and raise Tony Allen in the sky. I have nothing against him, he's a great drummer, a friend, even a father figure. But I remember it clearly, as my father told him at rehearsals, what to play. Not just once or twice - always. Fela has studied music for four years in London, he could read music, compose and play almost all instruments. On all his records is composed, Arranged and produced by Fela Kuti - and so it was.

When you have established your own band in the eighties - it was difficult to contact shadow of Fela?I saw no shadow, but many people have made me stress. Everyone has compared me to him. You'll never be as good as your father, the people said. Negative, negative, negative. I'm glad I got through this storm. His influence on me and my music, I never denied, but I had to find my own way. I wanted to make clear to everyone that I'm also gifted. But I am not in a competition with him or even try to outflank him.

Fela has given you any advice?

When I showed him my first songs, he said: "The songs are beautiful, the melodies I like, but you can not dance to it. If you want to have success in Africa, your music has to be danceable. "That I have taken to heart.

Fela describes Nigeria as a country under the yoke of corrupt politicians who are stuck with large companies and the old colonial powers under a blanket. Is that still valid?

Nothing has changed. The Nigerian government has failed. If we had honest politicians who love their country and get serious with the fight against corruption, Nigeria would today among the most advanced countries in Africa. But Nigeria is unfortunately part of the problem and not part of the solution. We may at such assessment but also African history not forgotten - the slave trade, colonial rule, the bad governments that followed. You can not expect to have such problems overnight behind. I hope that someday Africa will to freedom, the way of Nelson Mandela and my father followed. But I'm afraid I will not live to see that.This pessimistic view of the world I find on your new album No Place For My Dream again, though, the music is groovy again.

I want my listeners realize what is happening today in the world. As long as I live, there has never been so much suffering in the world. I try going to talk not only about African issues. Look to Haiti: This was once big in the media - who is talking about it now? But it's the people there better? Look further to Portugal, Cyprus, Greece, America - everywhere there are unemployed people who can not feed their families. Look to terrorism in Mali, Nigeria, London. I think the world is heading towards a state of anarchy. There has never been as scared as now - but thanks to the music, we can still feel a bit of fun and joy anyway.


  1. Great Post... I was more a fan of Fela Kuti's political views than his music. I really liked the slogan you have at the beginning of your blog by Miles Davis... I re-fell in love with Jazz again while listening to Kind of Blue for the first time... the soundtracks of life are beautiful when done right

  2. I'm actually headed to Nigeria in December to see family for the first time. Everyone says the same thing about Nigeria: so much potential wasted by too much greed. It's like the new slogan for developing countries, especially in Africa. Historically however, the world has been through worst times... but I have to agree with you that these times are pretty screwed up.