Reflections Of Femi Kuti
As The Guardian team walks into The New Afrika Shrine located at the capital of Lagos, time stops as this space generates its own life and feels like it can survive on its own without the interference of the outside world. According to Kuti, The New Afrika Shrine packs 1000-1500 people every Thursday and 800 people on Sunday, it is also one of the greatest tourist attractions in Lagos.
Regardless of his family emergency during the time of this interview, Femi Kuti speaks to Guardian Life about his 10th studio album which will be released today titled One People, One World. The album will be distributed by Chocolate City Music in Nigeria. He factors age, experience and his children as influencers of this album as he adds, “The way I address my albums if I look back it is how my mind is set at that point in time of composing and releasing the album. So this is where my mind is right now, it is more optimistic.”
Speaking on the evolution of his sound, he credits age and experience again. Adding, “I hate to be stagnant and monotonous. The day I can’t find new melodies, then I think I’m ready to leave this life.” Going deeper, he says, “You see, the way a composer should be is, you are a medium that higher forces use. If I can’t hear these melodies or sound, that means that gift is either dying or it is the end of my life as a composer.”
His message remains to stop corruption and injustice. Kuti says, “I strongly believe that if Africa gets its act right, Africa will be the envy of the world. For the past years, my interviews and mindset have been to mobilise young people to think in this direction.”
A track which he is working on which best reflects this is called, Pa Pa Pa which says “ When government wastes your time, they waste your life.” He goes on to say “My father was 9,10 or 11 when he was talking like this. I’d be 56, so you see, all my life is gone. And really, you could say, somebody like me, I am traumatised because I have lived with bad roads, healthcare and electricity. So, I have not really had a life, I have just struggled to find a life and young people I believe are feeling what I probably was feeling.” Economically, Kuti shares, “ It was 2 dollars to 2 naira at the beginning of the time when my father was talking. Now, it’s 360 naira to 1 dollar. So, the youth they don’t even realise they are 360 times worse off than when Fela my father was talking about what was going on in Nigeria, and this is how we have to look at our life.”
Regardless Kuti believes in the light at the end of the tunnel which is why his music will continue to give the youths “energy and a reason why they must keep on pursuing the struggle.” Great influencers of Kuti include Marcus Garvey, Lamcom X, Fela Kuti, Kwame Nkrumah influenced him thinking in this direction. To this, he hopes he inspires people to “keep on fighting for a better Africa.”
Speaking of his sound, Kuti has worked with the same producer, Sodi Marciszewer. He says, “I am someone that doesn’t like changing my style in that respect. I don’t know if it is good or bad.” Speaking on his work with Marciszewer, he says, “He used to work with my father, we didn’t even like each other at first and then we became very good friends. When I started having problems we became like brothers. Like when I lost my mother and sister for instance and I had to record, I got to the studio and I couldn’t do anything, he understood me and he still brought out the best in me. I’m not saying that nobody else can do that but I am very comfortable with him.” Using his album Shoki Shoki as a benchmark because it had great funding and support from Barclay which was under Universal Music at the time, he is looking forward to enhancing his creativity with technology like he did with that album.
When asked on if the essence of Afrobeat has changed since its inception in light of the new line of musicians who have adopted the genre, he says, “I won’t answer that question because you probably wouldn’t like what I have to say.” However, he says, “ I will advice young people to pick up a musical instrument. Because when they get to my age, they will probably be very surprised if they are irrelevant.” Using his father as an example, he says, “The reason Fela is great is not just because of his compositions, he studied music. Music is as important as studying medicine, music was never about fame, fortune and all those things. Music is like medicine and if the composer doesn’t realise that, he already has failed.” Moving on to what essence of Afrobeat according to recent development, he lives that to the general public.
Kuti states that he loved most of the new acts we have said, “ You see I am old enough to be most of their fathers. So, I have given the advice that I can give.” Using his son as an example, he says, “ If my son did what any of them were doing, I probably will not stop him, I will give him this same advice. Kuti is raising all his children with the knowledge of playing a musical instrument.
Speaking on his son, Made, who will be graduating this year from Trinity Laban, the same school his father attended, he says, “ He has to do it right for two reasons, because of the mindset of Nigerians. I don’t want him to go through what I went through. Because when I was growing up, my father was trained, I wasn’t trained. Coming out [people had] every reason not to support me, you still find [that] kind of people. I don’t want any of my children to experience what I did.”
Going deeper he says, “My father was trained so he had the ability to twist the sound to his wish. It’s like magic, he could do anything. When I’m doing anything, I struggle to do it [but I succeed.]” His son is currently receiving the formal training Fela had as well as the street training Kuti had. To which he says, “His music cannot be like Fela, his music cannot be like mine and it will probably take many generations to understand where he is coming from.”
Likening his training to that of a guinea pig experiment, he says, “My father just put me out there and said ‘find your way’ and I really hated him for doing that.” Reflecting on that time of his life, he says, “My life was very tough. I still try to understand why my father did that…but I cannot risk that with my children because I could have ended up anywhere.”
He praises the music of current musicians but faults the concept, “ It’s not about showing off wealth, it has to be a university, your life must be a university.” The lack of formal musical training and riding on the wave of good beats according to Femi will make the next generation “more daring” and this will result in the death of the institution of music. He says, “This why we have to protect the mindset of young people today.
On African values and globalisation, he says, “The African spirit cannot be killed, even in the way we speak English is African. The way we speak, we put our spirit into their language. It is impossible I think, they have tried several times to kill that, they have failed. Why I’m saying it’s not lost is that change is inevitable, there will be a generation that will not take this anymore.” Using individuals like Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah and Funmilayo Kuti, he encourages the fight for the African spirit and values.
The track on his album which will be released today that best describes his headspace is,
“It’s Best To Live On The Good Side”, he also says it’s his favourite track on the album. The album One People One World has 14 tracks, in Europe and America there will have access to 12 tracks in the hardcopy and the other two can be gotten online. In Nigeria, all 14 tracks will be in the hardcopy, to which he says, “You see, I protect our people, that is leadership”(laughs).