Seun Kuti Keeps The Afrobeat Movement Alive Fela Kuti fathered the musical movement Afrobeat and its crown prince, 25-year-old Seun Kuti. The Nigerian singer is leading his father's band, Egypt 80. On his self-titled debut album, he's added some American influences but kept his songs sharply pointed and political.

Seun Kuti Keeps The Afrobeat Movement Alive

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

When a young musician from Nigeria came by our studios recently, we started with a pronunciation lesson.

Mr. SEUN KUTI (Singer): Seun.

BLOCK: Seun.

Mr. KUTI: Well, you see, you have - you're like singing it, da-nah(ph), Seun.

BLOCK: Seun.

Mr. KUTI: Yes, good enough for me.

BLOCK: I'm gonna go for better than good enough by the end of this interview. Seun is spelled S-E-U-N; his last name, Kuti.

(Soundbite of song "Many Things")

BLOCK: Seun Kuti is 25. His father, Fela Kuti, created the sound of Afrobeat with lots of horns and jazz influences. Fela Kuti died of AIDS in 1997. Now, Seun Kuti is leading his father's band - Egypt 80. When he came by our studios, Seun Kuti was grooving to the American R&B singer, Trey Songz, on his iPod. He wore a Trey Songz t-shirt and cap, and shorts belted way below his hipbones. So his American influences, but his songs are all about Africa - sharply pointed, political songs.

(Soundbite of song "Many Things")

BLOCK: In this song, Kuti uses the voice of former Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, bragging about how he made Nigeria better. Seun Kuti sees things differently.

Mr. KUTI: After his 80 years of office, the things are worse than it's ever been. People in my country are poorer than they've ever been. The economy is worse than it has ever been. The only people that things are getting better for are the rich people. You know, the society is now in a strictly rich-getting- richer-poor-getting-ultra-poor situation. For every high-rise they build, they create 1,000 hungry families.

BLOCK: And these are some of the things you're singing about in the song -people with no water to drink, nowhere to live?

Mr. KUTI: Well, it's a (unintelligible) voice, the same things we've been singing in Afrobeat for 40 years is still happening throughout in Africa.

(Soundbite of "Many Things")

Mr. KUTI: (Singing in foreign language). No food to eat. No light to see. No water to drink. Hey, nowhere to stay. I don't have many things. I don't see many things. I don't have many things. I don't see many things.

BLOCK: You mentioned Afrobeat is the music that your father created and named many, many years ago. I read something where you described Afrobeat as the sound that raised you.

Mr. KUTI: It's true. Afrobeat, you know, I grew up listening to it every day from my mother's womb. My dad took us to all the shows, went on tour with him. He took us on every gig. It was like a part of our life. It was a culture, Afrobeat, you know? Because Afrobeat is more than just music, Afrobeat is a whole movement. It's a philosophical movement, it's a political movement, it's a social movement, but most of all - because that's how it's known all over by the world - it's a musical movement.

BLOCK: And how would you describe that sound?

Mr. KUTI: It's the truth. One word: Afrobeat is the truth. That's how you describe it.

(Soundbite of song "African Problems")

BLOCK: Tell me about the song "African Problems."

Mr. KUTI: Well, it's just a song I did because in a (unintelligible), fighting is going on in Africa. You know, at a low(ph), good people are dying in these fight, you know, fighting to solve Africa's problems. So the song is just saying, you know, go fight all you want, but we're not fighting for the right causes. If we don't have the right ideology behind what we're fighting for, African problems will always be there, you know? And in that same song, you know, I salute all my brothers that fight really for this future.

(Soundbite of song "African Problems")

Mr. KUTI: (Singing in foreign language). I'm a substitute you play for new mentality. (Unintelligible) prosperity. There isn't enough (unintelligible) positively. That is the price we're gonna pay for mediocrity. Just the way I want peace and liberty, just wants to live in independent poverty. You know independence is a government policy. What is that development? That was misery. Make you happy…

BLOCK: You have a line in here: they're selling us into second slavery.

Mr. KUTI: Oh, of course, that's what we're going through in Africa today. The new kind of slavery, you know, the slavery that's still accepted by the world. Slavery is a very straightforward theory: You work for nothing. If you work somewhere on a particular piece of land and you don't make any money, any kind of future of that land, you know, slavery.

In my country, for example, about one in 50 million, one in 30 million people -or something like that - still live on one dollar a day. So these many 10, 20 million that have jobs in these banks that these people put up with money that is stolen. These oil companies that lease or loan out their money, they are privileged.

So to them, Nigeria is getting better while behind them on the streets, some people just get shot and killed and robbed off their five dollars, kids everywhere begging, washing your car on the street as you drive, you know? But Nigeria is getting better, that's because they're getting their salary. They're forgetting that we're leaving 130 million behind in abject poverty.

(Soundbite of song "African Problems")

Mr. KUTI: (Singing) …for mediocrity. Just the way I want peace and liberty, just wants to live in independent poverty. You know independence is a government policy. What is that development? That was misery.

BLOCK: Your father was beaten. He was imprisoned for singing about the same sorts of issues 23 years ago. You don't seem to be running that same risk. Do you think - is that a sign that things in Nigeria have changed, that you have more freedom to say the things that you're saying right now?

Mr. KUTI: Yeah. But you never heard my father moan about it though. So, obviously, they've learned from that, that brutality is not the way to go. It doesn't - you ain't gonna shut a man up by locking him up or beating him up if he really believes in what he's saying. Afrobeat is not being attacked physically by beating up the artist anymore. In my country, me and my brother, basically, are maybe the only Afrobeat bands out there, you know?

BLOCK: In all of Nigeria?

Mr. KUTI: Yeah. Why? Because the government will not support it. It's hard for DJs to play Afrobeat on the radio. And young men in Nigeria that is not making up to $10 a week, how is he going to ever think of starting Afrobeat, start a band, when the government will not support them? Nobody will support them because they're doing what they do because it's against the government, you know? So, it's that kind of thing that we beat - that we are against.

But that's the same reason why I'm happy that my father did not influence Nigerians alone and my father's message is not local. What he stood for was global, and what we discuss is global issues, and our music is accepted globally. So they could decide to remain in the dark for the rest of their lives, for all I care. You know, they can't stop the movement.

(Soundbite of song "Fire Dance")

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Kuti, thank you so much for coming in.

Mr. KUTI: Yeah, thank you for having me as well.

BLOCK: I'm going to try your name again - Seun.

Mr. KUTI: Seun.

BLOCK: Seun Kuti.

Mr. KUTI: Wow.

BLOCK: To hear more songs from Seun Kuti and Egypt 80, check out the music section of

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