Friday, February 16, 2007

Interview with Femi Kuti

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo Kuti. But, in the run-up to the annual "Fela-bration" in Lagos, his eldest son and chief musical heir is in no mood to reminisce. "There's so much in my father's life," says Femi Kuti. "Just his musical works you could listen to all year long. But I don't want to be derailed. I have it at the back of my mind, and I just use it as a strength to keep me grounded."

In the 1970s, Fela Kuti pioneered the exhilarating meld of horn-driven jazz, funk and west African highlife that took James Brown's soul beat "back to Africa". For more than 20 years he played to thousands in his famous Lagos club, the Shrine. But his politically inflected lyrics brought clashes with successive military regimes in Nigeria, including frequent beatings and jail. In one raid in 1977 on Fela's walled compound - his self-declared "republic of Kalakuta" - his mother died of her injuries after being thrown from a window by soldiers.

Femi Kuti rebuilt the New Afrika Shrine in 2000, after it was closed down the previous year following harassment from the landlord, and he plays three free concerts there a week. He also founded, in 1998, the student-based Movement Against Second Slavery (Mass) to push for social change. Although he has been less confrontational with the government than his father, his appearance to many as Fela's reincarnation has drawn attacks in the Nigerian press for "standing by my father's legacy".
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