Femi Kuti: ‘Africa needs to love Africa’
The Nigerian musician – son of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti – on what inspires and frustrates him about his country today.
Among the children of great artists, very few can match their parent’s legacy or influence.
Femi Kuti is no exception. But the Nigerian musician is successful in his own right, while continuing to honour the legacy of his father, Fela.
“I just needed to find my voice in the chaos of [being] in my father’s life,” Femi says about his initial foray into the world of music. “I knew I could never be like him, I did not really want to be like him. I wanted to be myself – I wanted to be Femi the son of Fela, not Femi copying Fela.”
Fela Kuti, arguably one of the most influential African musicians of the 20th century, was a larger than life figure, who for millions of Nigerians was a hero for his fearless opposition to military rule and his controversial lifestyle.
He invented Afrobeat, merging Ghanaian highlife with jazz, funk and his native Yoruba music.
The bottom line is Africa needs to love Africa. Africa does not need the West or anybody to teach us to care about our culture, our tradition ... We need to tell the world's story to our ourselves. Africa needs to take its battle to itself, for itself.
Fela’s Music Mecca was The Shrine, a dingy club on the outskirts of Lagos, that was also one of Africa’s most famous nightclubs. The original Shrine was closed after Fela’s death in 1997. But Femi and his brothers and sisters rebuilt a new club, keen to carry on the family’s tradition for music and protest.
Femi says the spirit of his father still lives on in the new Shrine, as well as that of other heores like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.
“I want people to [come here and] read about African history; people who have fought for the emancipation of Africa, I want this place to be what the church is like to the Christians, or the mosque is like to the Muslims – this is the African thing. We need to pay homage to people who sacrificed their lives, their time, fighting for Africa,” he says.
Regarding the legacy of Afrobeat, he says: “The essence now becomes fighting for the underprivileged,” later adding that the challenges of corruption, greed and good governance still plague his country and much of the continent.
“The bottom line is Africa needs to love Africa. Africa does not need the West or anybody to teach us to care about our culture, our tradition,” Femi says.
“When you watch the news, it’s Europe or America telling us ‘oh look at the poor children in the Congo’, ‘oh, war in Somalia’. But we need to tell this story. We need to be the ones concerned about this story … We need to tell the world’s story to our ourselves. Africa needs to take its battle to itself, for itself.”
This week on Talk to Al Jazeera, Folly Bah Tibault caught up with Femi Kuti at the New Afrika Shrine in Lagos.