Femi Kuti Followed Dad's Dangerous Road To Afro-beat Stardom In Nigeria
This Sunday, Nigerian Afro-beat artist Femi Kuti will be performing in Miami. Femi is known for using music to protest against the Nigerian government -- a legacy he inherited from his father, the legendary Afro-beat pioneer Fela Kuti.
Femi, who taught himself how to play the saxophone, trumpet and organ, calls his instruments weapons.
“If there was no music, there would be more violence,” said Kuti. “And if I wasn’t playing music, I know I could possibly be fighting a war or I would be very aggressive. I would not know how to express dissatisfaction when I see corruption at this magnitude.”
Growing up in the Nigerian capital, Lagos, Femi and his friends listened to a lot of American artists, like Michael Jackson and the Temptations. But it was his father’s music they could relate to.
Although widely popular, Fela Kuti’s songs criticizing the government did not sit well with the Nigerian leadership.
“I saw him beaten so many times,” remembered Femi. “This was too shocking for me because I was so young and I could not find where he was so courageous. When you hear the soldiers come, your heart just starts pounding, and you just start shaking like a leaf. My father would just stand.”
Fela Kuti died from complications related to AIDS in 1997. Although they sometimes had a contentious relationship, Femi continues his father’s legacy through music and protest.
Frustrated with all the poverty he sees in Nigeria despite the country’s oil wealth, Femi said his next album -- coming out in April -- is his most political yet.
“Because it’s more global,” Femi explained. “When I talk about no employment, when you feel the pain in Greece, Portugal, Spain, France, America. I think it’s my duty to make people understand-- not just saying Africa, Africa, Africa this time.”
Femi does not believe conditions in Nigeria and Africa will improve significantly during his lifetime. However, Femi won’t quit his career if his prediction is wrong. He said if things do get better during his lifetime, he’ll sing about the past so people don’t forget.
The Rhythm Foundation presents Femi Kuti and his band Positive Force at Grand Central in Miami on Sunday. The show starts at 8 p. m.
The Tony-winning Broadway musical Fela!, based on the life of Fela Kuti, is at the Adrienne Arsht Center March 19th through the 24th.