Nigerian Star Femi Kuti Talks Politics And Music He has been one of the most recognized and beloved Nigerian musicians of the past 20 years. The son of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, Femi Kuti has broken from his father's legacy and created his own unique identity.

Nigerian Star Femi Kuti Talks Politics And Music

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If you were lucky enough to get to Broadway last year, then you might have caught the acclaimed production, "Fela!", about the life and work of Nigerian musician and activist Fela Kuti. The production won three Tony awards last year and recently played in Lagos. The play described Fela's flamboyant lifestyle, which included multiple wives.

But what you may not know is that his son, Femi Kuti, while living a less outrageous life, is in many ways a bigger star with a following far beyond the borders of his country. Just as his father fascinated audiences with a blend of traditional African percussion, funk, jazz and hip hop, Femi Kuti has created innovative, memorable and invigorating music.

Femi Kuti and his band, The Positive Force, have been touring North America promoting the new album, "Africa for Africa."

(Soundbite of song, "Africa for Africa")

Mr. FEMI KUTI (Musician): (Singing) Africa for Africa. Africa for Africa. Africa for Africa. Africa for Africa. We must remember we are brothers and sisters. Africa for Africa. And our countries are colonial structures. Africa for Africa. Borderlines to keep us forever separated. Africa for Africa. As Africans we must love Africa. Africa for Africa. As Africans we must care for Africa. Africa for Africa.

MARTIN: And Femi Kuti has been kind enough to take a short break from the tour to join us now from member station WGBH in Boston. Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. KUTI: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: I wanted to ask, you began your career playing for your father's band. I wanted to ask what that was like.

Mr. KUTI: It was nice, interesting. I was scared. I think it's part of what has made me what I am today as well.

MARTIN: When you say scared, what do you mean?

Mr. KUTI: Well, I mean, my father was a big figurehead. So you didn't miss around in the band. He was very strict. And to live up to being his son, probably.

MARTIN: It's a tricky thing to follow in the same career as one's father. I think in many cultures, in some it's expected. In others it's just a lot of pressure, you know?

Mr. KUTI: It is expected in Africa, really, for you to follow your father. I thought deeply about it. Couldn't see myself doing anything else but music. I didn't know when this will come, but I always knew as a kid I wanted to play music.

MARTIN: You are credited with making Afrobeat more accessible to broader audiences. Do you agree with that assessment?

Mr. KUTI: It sounds arrogant, but it's true because by the time I had my hit album, "Bang, Bang, Bang," it won many awards in Africa, many awards in the world and a generation that didn't know my father got to know him through my music, and it broke many boundaries at that time. There were many remixes from that album, so it went into the dance floor. And you could say so, yes.

MARTIN: Talk to me about "Africa for Africa." What was your inspiration for this album?

Mr. KUTI: It's of a need, because when I look at Africa at this point in time, I find that people don't really care and love Africa, and we have to wait for the West to tell us what is going on in other parts of Africa. In a country like Nigeria - we take, for instance, the Rwanda case. If CNN or BBC or any of the news houses did not inform us that there was a genocide going on there - in Lagos, in Nigeria, we didn't know. We didn't care. It wasn't important to us. Issues like this should be very important to the African people.

Africans must care for Africa, and it's very important for us to tell the world our story. Now we have to understand what Africa has been through - 500 years of slavery, 150 years of colonial rule, 50 years of bad government. Africa, today we know, was built in 1885, when Europe decided to share Africa amongst itself. Now Africans need to understand this history. We need to understand all what went on in Africa and appreciate what went on in Africa.

MARTIN: But why do you think people don't? There's been some talk about this most recently because of the so-called Arab Spring, with the demonstrations and the challenges to autocratic rule.

Mr. KUTI: No. We have to understand...

MARTIN: But there are those who say, well, why is this not going on in Africa? Some people say it's because there's no Al-Jazeera. There's no kind of unifying media outlet on the continent. What is your take on that?

Mr. KUTI: Yeah, you can say that. Like I said, there's no powerful network in Africa that tells the African story for Africa, to talk about the corruption, free, and not be afraid to speak your mind as a journalist and oppose the government when it's doing wrong.

MARTIN: Do you think perhaps in part that is what artists such as yourself do?

Mr. KUTI: Yes, I believe so. My father already. We have to understand why my father is very well-respected in Nigeria. He - for a decade he challenged the dictators in Africa, the military. And the military was a very wicked military. They beat him many times. They jailed him. Burnt his house. And single-handedly he stood, he never compromised, and he spoke for the people. And if my father did not do that, people like me would not probably know - I would probably be naive about the African predicament.

MARTIN: Just to the point that you were making - you know, that in an absence of truth tellers, the artist has to step in. And this is one of the songs from your new album. I just want to play it. It's called "Nobody Beg You."

(Soundbite of song, "Nobody Beg You")

Mr. KUTI: (Singing) Nobody beg you to be president. Nobody beg you to be president. Nobody beg you to be governor. Nobody beg you to be governor. Nobody beg you to be senator. Nobody beg you to be senator. Nobody beg you to be counselor. Nobody beg you to be counselor. For president. A public family, no. Governor. No public family, no. For senator. No public family, no. Counselor. No public family, no. Nobody begged them to be president. Nobody begged them to be president. Nobody begged them to be governor. Nobody begged them to be governor.

MARTIN: That's pretty clear.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: But if you don't mind my asking, who are you talking to?

Mr. KUTI: Our leaders in Africa, basically. And I'm trying to understand this democratic period we are facing in the world, that before one becomes president or governor or whatever, what we're ever talking about, they campaign. They go to the streets and house to house, please vote me. They beg. And then they win the election, we start begging them. They start oppressing us. We have to now start saying Mr. President. For what? For a man that beg me to be my president? So I can't understand the change of attitude when whoever assumes that public office - and now we have to understand that, is there's nothing special about his job. He's not a surgeon who saves lives. He's not a lawyer who stands for justice or fighting for the underprivileged. So what, why does he command so much respect?

Now, when we look at the president, he's so hypocritical. He's greedy. When they resume office, they gave us all the excuses why they cannot live up to their promises.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with Nigerian musician, activist, superstar Femi Kuti. We're talking about his latest album, "Africa for Africa." We caught up with him on his North American tour. We caught up with him in Boston.

There are number of stories that we have been covering that many people are familiar with in this country. In the Ivory Coast right now a political crisis, because the incumbent has been deemed to have lost the election and won't leave. In Zimbabwe, Mr. Mugabe won't leave.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You know, you just had an election in Nigeria, so I don't know if you want to comment on the outcome there. But there is this phenomenon of people, even when there are elections held, who just say, no, I'm staying. Why is that?

Mr. KUTI: We have to understand that even all those people have great support amongst their followers. So even if they lose an election, they have a lot of (unintelligible) and we have to understand, is democracy the right form of government for the African people? I don't think that is the right form of government for the African people.

MARTIN: Really? Well, what would be?

Mr. KUTI: Because we have to understand sorry?

MARTIN: What would be? I mean a council of elders to pick someone who you feel has the best, the people's interests at heart? I mean really, if not democracy, then what?

Mr. KUTI: What I think is, education has to change, and attitude has to change. So we have to make the president irrelevant.


Mr. KUTI: What is important is medicine, law, music that make people happy. These are - professionals have to come out and stand their ground. Unions have to stand their ground. So one man or group of people cannot hold the rest of the country to ransom.

MARTIN: And I wanted to ask you about another song on the album. Can we just play it? The title - well, it's the first song, "Dam bobo." Let's just play a little bit.

(Soundbite of "Dam bobo")

Mr. KUTI: (Singing) Yesterday, Dem tell us sey. Sey today, na we go gain. So we struggle, suffer dey, for this new democratic change. But the truth of the matter be sey, dem disguise another way to continue their crooked ways. Oh, yes. Dem bobo. Dem bobo. Dem bobo your mama. Dem bobo. Dem bobo your papa. Dem bobo. Dem bobo your mama. Dem bobo. Dem bobo your papa. Dem bobo. Dem bobo your grandmamma. Dem bobo. Dem bobo your grandpapa. Dem bobo...

MARTIN: That's also pretty clear.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: OK. Pretty clear. What does it mean - does it translate, by the way? Dem bobo, what does that mean? Those jerks?

Mr. KUTI: No.

MARTIN: Something like this. No?

Mr. KUTI: No. It means they fooled us.

MARTIN: They fooled us.

Mr. KUTI: To be fooled. Yes. Yes.

MARTIN: Oh. I got it. I got it. Can I ask you though, given what you, you were telling us earlier some of the things your father went through when he spoke out, and which you certainly experienced too, because you were part of the family. Did, seeing that, you know, you can see where you might want to go the other direction and have nothing to do with politics at all and make, you know, pop music and just talk about butterflies or something, you know, love or whatever.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: And I just, I wondered if you did ever hesitate to sing about politics in your music or to have a political bent to your music because of what you saw.

Mr. KUTI: No, I didn't hesitate. I was scared, just afraid, but no, I didn't hesitate. I just thought, wow, I could get killed. And I said wow. And I thought that, well, Lumumba died, Malcolm X died. Martin Luther King died. And then I saw my father beaten many times and he never compromised. And I thought that probably this is what makes a man a man. How could I compromise the truth?

MARTIN: Well, one thing I did want to ask, though, you followed your father's outspokenness in political matters, but on a personal level, very different. And as I understand it, unlike him, you don't drink, you don't smoke, you've been married once.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You laugh on that one, but I'm just going to...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: one woman.

Mr. KUTI: No, I'm laughing at all what you're saying. I'm laughing. You make me laugh.

MARTIN: Do you want to tell me about that? How did that decision come? Was that a conscious choice that you wanted to not live in the same way? And I do think it's, and I apologize for bringing this up, but it is true that your father died in 1997 of AIDS-related complications.

Mr. KUTI: It's not a disgrace. I wasn't ashamed he died of AIDS, so I think he lived a fulfilled life. He had 27 wives. He lived a fulfilled life. He accomplished...

MARTIN: He had how many wives? Seven?

Mr. KUTI: Twenty-seven.

MARTIN: Twenty-seven, yes. I wasn't sure that was true but since you say it...

Mr. KUTI: Yes.

MARTIN: So you decided not to go for the 27.

Mr. KUTI: No. I don't believe in marriage. I just believe that if people love themselves, why do they have to get married? I never believed in that institution. I don't believe in many things. I believe if two people love themselves, they should stay together and be happy. So I try to be open with my relationship and I take my family, who I call my kids, I put them before anything, before myself. I think they are the future.

I don't smoke because I think that will, it'll give the authorities a reason to say it is because I'm smoking I'm talking rubbish, so I need to be clearheaded every time I'm talking and addressing political issues that is important to millions of people. So it's not, I'm not against my father for his decision. He took that decision, and I mean that was his time. So I can't criticize what he did.

MARTIN: Also very clear.

Mr. KUTI: We all accepted his 27 wives. Everybody accepted his 27 wives, except my mother, of course.

MARTIN: Well, well...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KUTI: But she did. I mean she knew...

MARTIN: Did anybody consult the 27?

Mr. KUTI: You know, they no. The difference was she knew he was like that when she met him. He never lied to her. When they got married he said, look, I'm going to have other women. She loved him and so she never tried to change my father. And probably that was why he excelled in doing everything he wanted. He did everything he wanted to do in this life, I think.

MARTIN: Well, you are also bracingly honest. Thank you so much for that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: What song do you want to go out on?

Mr. KUTI: (Unintelligible) I give you the choice. I listen to it every night.

MARTIN: OK. How about "Can't Buy Me"? How's that?

Mr. KUTI: Nice.

MARTIN: Nice? OK. Femi Kuti is a world renown Nigerian singer and musical artist. His latest album is "Africa for Africa." And he's currently touring the U.S. with his band The Positive Force and we caught up with him at member station WGBH in Boston.

Femi Kuti, thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. KUTI: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: To check out the upcoming cities and dates of Femi's tour, please go to the Program page of and select TELL ME MORE.

And here we go with "Can't Buy Me."

(Soundbite of song, "Can't Buy Me")

Mr. KUTI: (Singing) Who is that man talking to? He think say he dey talk to fool. He walk in way to come near me. He just want come disturb my peace. He like to buy me anything. He wants to buy my loyalty. But can't buy me. Can't buy me. Nobody can. Can't buy me. Na so I dey look am. Can't buy me. As in dey talk me. Can't buy me...

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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