INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
The Age NOVEMBER 16, 2012 - by Michael Dwyer
AFROBEAT ROYALTY MAINTAINS THE RAGE
Seun Kuti's beat came from Africa but his fury has gone global.
The message precedes the music with Seun Kuti. Think Africa was the first statement from the son of the late Afrobeat king Fela Kuti in 2007. Don't Give That Shit To Me was the second track on his debut album with Egypt 80, the killer ensemble he inherited from his father.
"Every day Africa becomes less about African people and more about international business and government," he says.
"The scenario is this. The people are the children and the government are the parents who always have strangers come to eat well while they starve the children.
"And they have a lot of children," he says with a laugh. "So that's something to be furious about."
It's a fury that has begun to resonate far beyond African borders. The Occupy movements outrage over corporate privilege and economic inequality was part of "the same thing we see everywhere, just to various degrees", Kuti says.
"Banks steal people's money and then get more. This is the world we live in today and this is why I believe Afrobeat is growing. Afrobeat is probably the only genre out there right now that is completely committed to the cause of the people. It's like the voice of the common man, all over the world."
Kuti makes no bones about his own privileged upbringing. The Ransome-Kuti family is a dynasty of activists, educators, politicians, doctors and artists that runs many generations deep in Nigeria.
"We all grew up like royalty, I have to say - not in the lavish way of commercial royals, political royals eating your tax, but in the true way of being honourable, respectful, committed and automatically responsible for all the people under you," he says.
"These are the kind of things my father instilled in us. So that has always been what has driven my cause. I'm lucky to be Fela's son because if he gave me all this information as an ordinary person I would not be doing what I am today."
Fela was the first to reject the Ransome prefix as "a colonial name" and adopt the name Anikulapo: "He who has death in his pouch." His uncompromising life of music and activism was dogged by violent retribution from the Nigerian military before democracy dawned in 1993.
When he died of an AIDS-related illness in 1997, his older son Femi was already a touring musician. It was sixteen-year-old Seun who convinced his family that he should lead the band that had recorded some forty-nine albums with his father.
About half of the fifteen-piece incarnation of Egypt 80 that plays Melbourne on Sunday remains from the original band, ensuring that Fela's Afrobeat blueprint remains "essential", Seun says.
"Afrobeat can be studied and scored, but there's a certain feel to how you play it so having them around to mentor these new guys, it keeps the essence of the music together.
"Also it helps for emotional reasons. I've known these people all my life. When we play together there is a certain connection there. This band is almost like an extra limb for me on stage."
Eno's involvement in From Africa With Fury was instigated in Australia in 2009, when the English world-music champion, as curator of Sydney's Luminous Festival, asked Seun and Egypt 80 to perform at the Opera House.
The invitation was a surprise, Kuti says with a laugh. "When I [went], I said 'Whatever I do, I'm going to get Brian Eno's phone number before I leave Australia'. So I sucked up to him the whole week I was here. When it was time to do the next album, naturally I reached out to him.
"The music is constantly evolving. I believe that some things are traditional and have to remain, but that doesn't mean evolution cannot take place.
"Evolution is not change, it's [adaptation] to environment. You improve to suit a certain environment at a certain time. That's why we've evolved to become what we are, in music and in society."