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An Interview With Seun Kuti

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SFINKS FESTIVAL, Boechout, Belgium, July 31, 2005

There are no human rights in Africa but there are animal rights in Europe and America. Famine, malaria, AIDS, and other diseases are killing Africans daily. You don’t hear of anything at all from the developed world. It is like there is no continent called Africa. Yet when you hit a dog with a stone, in defending and protecting yourself from an attack, you will surely be jailed for that in Europe, because the dog has rights.

These are the words of Seun Kuti, who has stepped into his father’s shoes to continue his musical message against corruption, injustice and the many problems affecting his country of Nigeria and the continent of Africa. Seun expressed his concerns about the situation in Africa when answering questions during a press conference in Boechout-Antwerpen before he went on stage.

“Our colonial masters were in Africa to do what ever they wanted to do. They taught the Africans many things but when they left they didn’t teach Africans how to be governed by what my father called ‘Democrazy’. Miltary governments have destroyed Africa to the extent that no remedy can be applied to save the continent”, said Seun. He condemned the use of firearms and other weapons in solving political crises in Africa or any other part of the world.

Asked if there is any positive change in Nigeria and Africa generally today, despite the suffering, jailing and beating endured by his late father, musician Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Seun declared that “there hasn’t been any positive change in Africa. It may be incompetency or corruption. For example, a police official in Nigeria is now in jail for corruption. This man has houses in almost every state in Nigeria and has amassed himself a fortune. If this had happened in Europe, an investigation would have taken place immediately. In Africa, it went undiscovered until he had a problem with the president. That is Africa.”

Asked if he was easily accepted by the members of his father’s band as a leader, Seun said most of the members of the band knew his father when he [Seun] was a child, and therefore he is a son to them and so they have accepted his leadership. In fact, thousands of Afro-beat fans, who never had the opportunity to see the great Fela Anikulapo Kuti play before he died, turned out on July 31st 2005 in Boechout-Antwerp (Belgium) to watch Seun and the band.

Seun is the youngest son of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the creator of Afro-beat. He was just eight years old when he first stepped on stage with his father. Femi Kuti, his older half-brother is also a musician with his own band. But Seun is the one many believe has taken on the responsiblity of continuing the uncompleted work of his father. He is at the moment the leader of his father’s Egypt 80 band.

It’s nice to see Seun performing. You may be amazed by his appeance: Is it Fela himself or the son on stage? But please don’t get me wrong. That does not mean that Seun is impersonating his father, but rather the image and sprit of his father is strongly apparent in him. The resemblance is striking whether he is dancing, singing or playing the saxophone.

With Tony Allen on drums, the group gave the audience their money’s worth, including an original song called “Mosquito”, bearing the message that malaria is killing thousands of people daily in Africa. Something must be done about this issue as well as AIDS. Seun played only four tunes and left the stage. Angry fans showed their anger and frustration by throwing missiles and other objects on stage.

“Seun, we want you back”, said a woman almost in tears.

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About Joel Savage

  • Eric Olsen

    thanks Joel, fascinating and powerful!

  • feso trombone

    my name is fesobi olawaiye a former fela-anikulapo kuti trombone player,now base in Belgium for the past 25yr.
    I like to correct the comment at the end of your article about seun-kuti performance in sfinx festival 2005.Seun and the band did not want to play 4songs and left the stage,seun was only respecting the whishes of the organisers for their time cheldle.I know this becaused I was at the back stage and on stage with seun and the band,The missiles throwing from the fans were not aim on Seun or the band, but on the organisers and the poor tecnicians whom were just following oders.Feso trombone

  • Eric Olsen

    thanks so much for the information Feso and best wishes to you

  • feso trombone

    THANK U, ERIC

    FESO

  • joel savage

    Hello Fesobi, thanks for the information on this subject. I know that Seun played 4 songs on the wishes of the organisers but how would the people who came to watch him performing know it? The second point is, the thrown missiles were aimed at the organisers but not at Seun. That’s not what I mean in my writing. Thank you.
    From the writer.

  • feso trombone

    Hi joel,I never doubt the sincerity and honesty of your article and observation on seun and the band. Thanks feso trombone

  • http://jjjjjjjjjj austin

    Please we here in Ireland love to see Seun,not Femi,please bring this guy down Ireland. we are thoundsands here waiting to pay whatever to see him.

  • Gerry

    Well said austin. I saw him in the Barbican with Tony Allen and Baba Ani – simply stunning. We gotta get this man and his incredible band to Ireland. Will pay anything!

  • http://www.pwsimerimew.com Gaff

    “Please we here in Ireland love to see Seun,not Femi”

    Yeah, but Femi Kuti’s awesome as well.

  • Anikura

    Seun is great, much greater than Femi.

  • http://www.japhyryder.com Patrick

    I’m sorry, but the comparison between Seun and Femi, granted they are both in “succesion” to Fela, is not really valid.

    Femi has been leading a band MUCH longer than Seun has been playing the saxophone. He studied the artform that Fela created/perfected within the confines on Fela’s band for a decade, and then decided to try it out on his own. Seun jumped right to the helm with little to no training, it seems as if he is simply impersonating his father. Both men deserve the credit of “stepping into their father’s shoes.” They both fight for the rights of their native people, both continue to carry the afrobeat torch so to speak. But this is where Femi takes precedence.

    Fela’s afrobeat eveolved over 3 decades. It is always primarily the same, but with different aspects of all kinds of music coming up from the gurgling foundation provided by the rythym section. Femi is continueing to evolve with Afrobeat. His mixture of Hip Hop, rock amd afrobeat produce a modern take on an evolving genre. Seun, however, rides the wave that was created by Fela. He sings Fela’s songs, dances Fela’s dances, and leads Fela’s band. Seun, with no disrepect intended, is merely acting as steward to a displaced king over a kingdom with many more powerful rulers.

    Looking at the world wide impact of Fela’s work, Femi is closest to accomplishing a similiar stamp on the world market. His records are available worldwide. His message is reaching people from all angles of life, and these messages have meaning for them all as well. Seun, like I said before, is merely imitating a great leader. No records are available of his own message that people can connect with. Seun moves with his fathers message that is already well known. He has done little of his own.

    The day that Seun Anikulapo Kuti and the Egypt 80 band release a record of original material will be the first day, in my mind, that he will overcome his imitations and be an artist worthy of carrying his own name. Out of disrepect to the great Fela, we cannot refer to his son in that manner, but Seun Anikulapo Kuti is merely the programmed replacement of a truly magnificent social/musical entity.

    With that said, there is much more Afrobeat out their than just Fela, Femi, and Seun. The Antibalas are pushing a very heated pocket across the globe, as well as Lagbaja, Akoya Afrobeat Ensemble, Dele Sosimi and the inventor Tony Allen. Mr Allen has single handedly taken afrobeat to all streches of its pocket. Do yourself a favor and pick up his album “psycho on the bus”

  • Anikura

    Point taken Patrick and I respect your views and how you have analysed the whole thing but believe me, YOU ARE WRONG and I believe that only time will tell. Point of correction, Seun does have his original numbers he performs (I know of four tracks) one of them is called The Mosquitto Song, which is a very strong Afrobeat composition. He has also played me one of his songs that he is working on. All I can say is that time will tell. Seun and Femi are now on speaking terms. I was at a show at The Africa Srine (owned by Femi) on the 14th of october called Felabration. It was a nice show.

  • Joy Modpe Amao

    Greetings All.
    What a lively converstion. I am a highlife and afrobeat daughter as my father was the late great Loughty Amao of Osibisa, Third World and Zzebra. I wonder if anyone knows how to get in touch with Femi? I cannot find accurate contact info for him or for Seun. Please advise as I have an African restaurant/nite club spot opening in West Oakland’s (Northern California)new black cultural district (we have art galleries, food co-ops, recording studios…) and would like to have these beautiful manifestations of our Nigerian father’s energy present as guests of honor at the grand opening. Club is Modupe’s Afro Soul & Vegetarian Cuisine/Cultural Center (and yes, we have fu-fu).
    Also looking for Remi Kabaka if anyone knows where he is.
    May all manifestations be allowed to reveal their own greatness as participants in the global healing of Mama Africa.
    Peace & Blessings,
    Joy Modupe Amao

  • http://www.japhyryder.com patrick

    Anikura, Thank you for replying to this conversation. It is good to hear that the brothers are on better terms. However, I can’t help but see the capitalized YOU ARE WRONG as an inaccuracy. If in fact that it is merely responding to an opinion, which we are all allowed to have, if not to share.

    I still stand firm that Femi vs Seun as a comparison is an invalid pairing. As far as worldwide success is concerned, you are right and only time will tell who out does who. But looking at the history we already have, Femi has a lasting impact on both Afrobeat, Hip Hop and Reggae. Seun is only playing Afrobeat, at least only making his afrobeat available to the public. I would love to see Seun do something more original, to stand out among the tribes of Afrobeat groups that have been popping up out of all the corners. I’ve heard a few of his original songs, Mosquito song (i’m sorry again this is opinion) is pretty weak. It is prety much a composite of multiple Fela tunes. But, I am glad he has personally played you other new material I would very much like to hear it.

    Have you heard the Akoya Afrobeat Ensemble or Kokolo? Both are out of brooklyn. Aside from the vocals, they are pretty funky stuff. Not quite torch carrying, I’d like to leave that with Femi and Amayo (of the antibalas) but very nice stuff indeed.

    Again Anikura, thanks for responding. We should continue this exchange. [Personal contact info deleted]

  • Anikura

    Patrick my guy. It took you long to reply to this conversation but anyway look out for my reply sometime tommorow as I’m rushing in between stuff right now. Which part of the world are u anyway? I’m in London.

  • Patrick

    I am in Vermont. I look forward to your response. I will be traveling for the next 10 days or so, so it may take a few days to respond again.
    Cheers

  • Anikura

    Patrick my man, first of all, complements of the season. That capitalisation of mine was not directed as anything other than a simple view I hold about those two sons of Baba. Femi has done more than Seun and nobody can take that from him(he has some nice shit that I check every now and then) but don’t forget that Seun is young and is still growing. But like I said, time will tell. If that’s the way you feel about Mosquitto song, that’s your opinion and everybody is entitled to have one but I can see what you mean when you say it is a composite of multiple Fela tunes but don’t forget that Egypt 80 still comprises of every body that was playing under Fela so their sound would not change that much and I believe that if anyone is trying to play Afrobeat proper you need to use Baba songs as a bible but it could be difficult separating ones sound from that of Baba. In the beggining stages this could be one big problem but things even out with time. Tony Allen and some others are all victims of this but they are not sounding so bad now. I will continue with this later, I need to go but I will be back.

  • Anikura

    Yes I’m back. No I have not heared of Akoya but I have heared of Kokolo (their fuss and fight album) and ofcourse Antibalas. I have their ‘talkatif’ album which I must say was some impressive stuff but I don’t like Duke Amayo as an Afrobeat vocalist but he is a cool guy and as for Antibalas, they are a bunch very cool guys. I’ve recently heared some stuff from them though but I’m not sure if it is new material but it sounded like noise to me. Way too busy horn lines. However I liked ‘Government Magic’ Check out this website to see what I mean.
    I have to go now but I’ll be back.

  • Anikura

    Yes I’m back. Actually I take back what I said about Antibalas and how they were making noise. After a few more listenings, I am beggining to hear some nice grooves between all what they were playing but each song was too busy. Too busy to be even considered as Afrobeat music. It is a shame you are not here in London. I would have played you some nice tracks by Seun. Meeeeeeeeeeeeen they are some bad shit. Infact, Egypt 80 is the best band in the world. Check out these websites: youtube. and: ourmedia.org. If you scroll down to the bottom of the page, click on Seun Kuti for another clip of Seun. Which part of the world are you originally from? As for me I’m Nigerian.

  • http://www.japhyryder.com Patrick

    Hello again, time flies it seems as I’ve neglected our conversation for quite some time now. My apologies.

    In regards to you initial comment about the Antibalas, specifically Duke Amayo, I like it. I find that he adds a very American if not urban atmosphere to the Afrobeat vibe. I will admit that on frequent occasion I would prefer him not to be playing the percussion, but I dig his style. I do agree though that a section of the Antibalas repertoire can’t really be considered Afrobeat. More Afro-Cuban with intense horn arrangements. the album you mentioned Talkatif is not my first choice for them, check out “Who is this american” it is an intense album.

    I am born and raised American. Originally from Rochester NY, I moved to Vermont for college where I’ve found myself both musically and romantically attached. I can honestly say I wish I were in London, or almost any where else in Europe, as the appreciation of the styles of music I both play and listen to are respected more. The American pop music market, is suffering a great deal. Thankfully the live music scene is busy with the sounds of true musicianship and cultural influence.

    Before I forget, check out http://www.akoyamusic.com and http://www.aphrodesia.org Akoya is led by Kaleta (ex Egypt, Positive Force, King Sunny Ade). I have yet to witness them live, but the albums are great. Aphrodesia is a group based out of San Fransisco led by 2 women. The vocals don’t do much for me, but the band is killer. I have also just discovered Toumani Diabate and Cheikh Lo, neither are afrobeat, but incredible players. Thank you NoneSuch records.

  • http://www.japhyryder.com Patrick

    I went and checked out those video clips of Seun. The Mosquito Song footage from the Roll Back Malaria Concert (in my opinion) is only saved by Tony Allen. I love watching him play drums. I will go back ever so slightly on my original statements against Seun, the Egypt 80 are still tearing it up. I guess its just his vocals that irk me the most. It seems that at times he is not singing in the right key. Especially with the footage for suffering and smiling on his myspace page. Killer song, killer band, but the vocal performance turned me off. I would like to see him perform live. I am sure that it is a whole different story than merely watching video on the internet.

    Back to the Antibalas, I just got a copy of their newest album “Security.” It was produced by a very electric experimental producer that is known for his work with Tortoise and Stereolab. This being stated, the new Antibalas is a new take on a familiar equation. It is mixed with a much more rock and roll sound, but keeping the lavish horn arrangements and bad ass drumming. I like it, I feel that it will grow on me and replace “who is this America” as my #1 Antibalas record. However I also play in an instrumental rock band, so any waver in this direction is cool with me.

    There are a few more groups I’d like your opinion about, Lagbaja, Afrobeat Down and The Chicago Afrobeat Project.

    cheers

  • David P

    Just saw Seun live tonight in Philadelphia. Seeing Femi here at the same place in less than two weeks. Patrick, Anikura, I will let you know where I weigh in on your debate soon!

  • Dauda

    u guys do not realize that we are part of an elite class of people who even know there is such a thing as afrobeat ..i deal with the average “hip hopper” and R&B listners on a daily basis and i live here in atlanta..Believe me 99% of the people have never heard of Fela and u dont find a lot of nigerians blasting a fela cd in their fancy cars ..I am an exception.. and in my little ways have tried to introduce many to fela.
    and afrobeat in general but it all begins with fela …to make my point clear Femi just performed 2 weeks ago ..i was more suprised by the number of white people almost out doing the blacks…only concious type people were there and hand full of nigerians considering the population in atlanta is qiute plentiful (but they were there at least)
    basically seau is filling that gap plus he has egypt 80 with him we need to hear felas songs live by the closest we can come to his roots and im sure his sound in concert is richer than femi’s…femi only performed one fela song and those who knew sang along and afterwards were saying he was good but he should have sang a couple more fela songs…
    the point is we need seau to peform fela for those who are just WakingUp to thisMusical affair and we need femi to explore his style also but we are always going to need someone to perform with that True Spirit he Naturally has ..rather than just the few funk bandsthat try but no dey fit speak broken corect correct and feel am well well ..shay u get?

  • Abdulrahman

    I think it is okay to make a healthy comparison between Femi and Seun. It will only be bad if such comparison turns subjective and destructive. On the whole Fela was blessed to have two tallented sons who are continuing his musical legecies.Afrobeat lovers are equally fortunate in that regard.Both of them are potentially great(Femi is , already), and it is good that they are now united. Seun needs Femi.

  • hajji

    i agree Seun is greater than femi

  • http://www.jasonkush.com Jason

    Feso – I’m trying to come in contact with you regarding François Louis who played tenor saxophone with you in the early 1980’s. Could you please contact me if you recieve this message? Contact me through my site click the “contact” tab

    He said that he recorded with you in Düsseldorf – I’m want to own this – can you help me?

    Thanks.