Fela Kuti’s Son Brings Father’s Afrobeat Legacy to Helsinki Hudson

Femi Kuti

Femi Kuti

(HUDSON, N.Y.) – Four-time Grammy Award-nominee Femi Kuti, son of the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti, whose name was nearly synonymous with “Afrobeat,” will carry on his father’s legacy, combining swirling African rhythms and gritty textures with horn-laced funk in songs laced with social and political messages performed by his band, Positive Force, at Club Helsinki Hudson on Saturday, June 6, at 9pm.

Femi just celebrated the opening of the Kalakuta Museum, which honors his father and his music in Lagos. According to Femi, Afrobeat is about “making people dance while helping them swallow the bitter pill of reality.” Given the crisis currently hitting Africa and the world beyond, that pill is as hard as ever to swallow, and Afrobeat is as necessary and universal as it has ever been. Femi has taken upon himself to carry forward the music and its message with his standard-bearing band, the Positive Force.

“I can now focus entirely on my music, something that was impossible for a long time for personal and professional reasons,” admits Femi. “After my mother’s passing in 2002, my path became chaotic. My wife filed for divorce. The Nigerian press, manipulated by the government, launched a very heinous smear campaign against me. The police vandalized my club, The Shrine. I was forced to disband my political organization, M.A.S.S. (Movement Against Second Slavery), because some of its employees were convicted of embezzlement. My musicians became unmanageable. Some left during a European tour, and those who stayed became more and more arrogant and disgruntled.”

In 2007, trying to break free from this downward spiral, the singer-saxophonist confined himself for eight months to his house in the Ikeja neighborhood of Lagos to study piano and trumpet. “Rumors spread all over. People said I was insane. One tabloid claimed I had been seen wandering and smoking pot stark naked in the streets.”

Femi emerged stronger than ever in 2008 with “Day By Day,” an album that pushed Afrobeat forward, taking in elements of jazz masters’ such as Miles Davis’ and John Coltrane’s works without compromising the essential power of Femi’s native music. Two years later he released “Africa For Africa,” a pan-African musical manifesto recorded at Decca studios in Lagos, where Fela had worked for years. More aggressive in its sound, it was also more radical, politically speaking, than his earlier records.

“Dealing with politics in a song is like riding a wild horse. Now I can tame it more easily. I have always tried to get European and North American audiences more interested in the problems faced by Africans. And vice versa. The main challenge was to cross the cultural barrier that has made it impossible for us to understand each other. I believe that current events have helped me in their way. Because of this global crisis, a general awareness of the issues is emerging, making my lyrics more relevant and my music more powerful.”

Fela Kuti said that Afrobeat was “the weapon of the future”—designed to resist, not to fight. He would certainly be proud of his son putting his philosophy into use with songs like “Action Time” and “Carry On Pushin On.” “I think that today, everywhere in the world, people get so hopeless that music is the only way to find the strength to carry on and overcome obstacles. This is also what this album is about.”

20 years ago, Femi wrote a song about his father being hunted down like an animal by the henchmen of the military regime, who made the king of Afrobeat public enemy number one. That song, “No One Man Show,” honors the memory of Fela, who fought for justice and freedom. Femi has struggled in the same way, faced the same doubts, and suffered from the same solitude. “Everybody agrees with the cause I fight for, the same as my father’s. But when it is time to take action, I’m all alone. Every night I say to myself that if something bad happened, I would be on my own to deal with it. I followed my father’s path. I cannot go left or right. And I cannot go back. I must go forward.”

“There is no place for my dreams in the real world. That is what the people who want me to give up keep saying. They do not know that without my dreams, my life would be meaningless.”

For reservations in The Restaurant or in the club call 518.828.4800.

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