"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Sydney Morning Herald JULY 30, 2011 - by Kylie Northover
THE FUNK AND THE FURY
For any second-generation musician, living up to a parent's legacy can be tricky, but for Seun Kuti, son of late afrobeat legend Fela, it's a legacy bigger than just music.
Fela Kuti, who died in 1997, was a musical and political revolutionary. A multi-instrumentalist and singer, Kuti invented afrobeat - a blend of traditional West African Yoruba music, jazz, funk and chanting, with political and social messages - seriously uptempo, percussive-driven, funky protest music.
He was revered in Nigeria not only as a rock star but as a human rights and political activist.
Kuti's overt calls for revolution made him a hero of the Nigerian people - his life is still marked in Lagos by the annual Felabration at the club he set up, The Shrine - and an enemy of the government. Throughout his career he was beaten, imprisoned and his compound, Kalakuta Republic housing his family, band members, a free clinic and a recording studio, was burnt to the ground by the military government.
More than a million people lined the streets of Lagos for his funeral.
Seun, his youngest son, played in his father's band - first Africa 70 then Egypt 80 - from the time he was nine years old, taking over as bandleader when Fela died.
His latest album as Egypt 80 bandleader, From Africa With Fury: Rise, is hypnotic afrobeat at is best and purest.
While elements of afrobeat have been appropriated by contemporary bands, Kuti writes and plays pure, politically motivated music, with legendary British muso Brian Eno producing.
"The idea of getting Brian Eno coming in to produce the album wasn't to change the sounds - just to make it sound better. More evolution than change," Kuti says. "I'm very satisfied with the album and proud of it."
It's poignant though, that Kuti's album addresses some of the same injustices his father was writing about forty years ago - Nigeria is still run by the People's Democratic Party, a legacy of military leader Olusegun Obasanjo, who clashed with Fela in the 1970s.
"It's frustrating, but that's the situation we find ourselves in in Africa. Africa has to get vocal for its people - we need more artists like my father, more people involved in the politics of their country," he says. "I think it's important for artists in Africa to represent us; to speak for the people, to inspire people to understand the situation and be a voice for the majority."
On the album, he takes aim at corporate giants such as Monsanto and Halliburton as much as his government.
Does the recent "Arab spring" offer him some hope for Africa?
"I wrote this album eighteen months before the Arab revolution but I hope that the young people in Africa are going to be more interested in politics, now that more Africans are educated than ever before.
"To be able to fight any system, you have to understand the system, and when people get educated they understand what the system is supposed to do and they have the weapon to stand up against it... I think there's hope with young people learning what's happening and coming together to demand what they believe is right for them."
But sweeping change, he says, will take time - generations, even beyond any revolution.
"I think, in my lifetime, only the beginnings will happen. No change or revolution of big importance takes place in one lifetime. This is what Africans are not being taught - Africans have to be patient to get the kind of change that we want. We won't become prosperous overnight, it will take time."
Like his father, Kuti, twenty-eight, plans to eventually move into politics. Fela Kuti formed the Movement of the People, and put himself forward for president in Nigeria's 1983 elections, although his candidature was refused.
He fought through his songs instead, writing corrupt politicians and establishment figures into his lyrics. "At some point I will go into politics," Kuti says decisively.
"But I still want to be a musical carrier - if I can accomplish both. I want to be a political influence here, to actually speak for my people."
He plans to set up a party and reckons he'll "probably have more luck" than his late father, who was openly attacked by the military government.
"Now African governments have to behave because our Western overlords have insisted that they have to have democratic practices - they can't be as outlandish as the military regimes were. They need the Western support to prop up their governments, in terms of military support, financial aid, the big companies making them rich.
"But they're really not representing the African people, they're businessmen and they need the Western governments for their business."
For now, Kuti is content to use afrobeat as his weapon for change.
"Right now, music is the only way," he says. "My career in music is in the developing stage and is just rising up. I need to build that up to a level where it can sustain itself before I involve myself with something else. I'm the kind of person who doesn't do something for the publicity."
And as for what might be perceived as a shadow cast by his famous father, Kuti says:
"His legacy is part of me, something I believe in, but even if I wasn't Fela's son, I would still believe in what he stood for as an individual."
From Africa With Fury: Rise, by Seun Kuti and Egypt 80, is out now.