Olufela Olufemi Anikulapo (Femi) Kuti is his father's son. When you speak to Femi Kuti, his quiet reverence for the late Afrobeat pioneer Fela Anikulapo Kuti pours forth. Yet the 48-year-old is his own man. Since 1995 he has been releasing albums - 2001's hip-hop-inspired
Fight to Win
, and 2008's jazz-infused
Day by Day
, to name two - that start from a hypnotic funk base and embrace an increasing diversity of music. On
Day by Day
, Femi Kuti sings about a global peace and calls on Western countries to take responsibility for what they've stolen from his African homeland. Asked if his words are being heeded, and what impact his songs have had throughout the world, he seems positive that America in particular has been listening. "Your troubles with oil in the Gulf Coast, to say nothing of your financial woes - these are things that Africa has long known," he says.
The composer/multi-instrumentalist is not gloating. He's drawing universal parallels. Like his father, Femi Kuti creates palatably politicized messages of survival and truth that never shirk the responsibility of being frank. The songs aren't always about life-and-death issues, either. "It is often hard for people to comprehend," he says, "not just the message but the music." A song such as "Do You Know" helps the listener comprehend both, as Femi talks up the necessary history of jazz song.
"There are so many great composers and improvisers that young people don't know because the educational system in Africa doesn't give them direction," Femi Kuti says. "How do you expect young people to know Coltrane and Charlie Parker if you don't teach them? How can they appreciate their own art and their own lives if they don't learn?"
America is getting to learn more about his music and that of his late father from the Tony Award-winning Broadway hit Fela! Of the show, he says: "No, I haven't seen it though I think it's a brilliant idea. It's great that Americans have come to appreciate him thusly. But it needs to be shown at the Shrine," the club his father owned, now run by Femi. "It needs to be shown in Lagos."
Along with working to bring Fela! to the Shrine, Kuti is also readying release of a new album, Africa for Africa. Its title track is currently in release as a single. "It's about Africa caring for Africa, looking after its own," he says. "We can't and shouldn't wait for America or any other country to care for us. We need to tend to our own country - good roads, good medicine, good schools. We need to care."