For nearly three decades, legendary Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti used his highly energetic music — essentially a fusion of African rhythms and American funk and jazz — as a weapon for political change in Africa. Fela's son Femi honed his musical chops in his father's band and then formed his own band, Positive Force, in the mid-'80s. The younger Kuti carries on his father's tradition with equally infectious grooves and socially conscious lyrics. Wrasse Records recently released The Definitive Collection, a two-disc set that includes tracks from his self-titled 1995 solo debut, 1999's Shoki Shoki, and 2001's Fight to Win. Femi's next record will reportedly feature his own son and represents a return to his Fela's raw take on Afrobeat. Femi talked with us about his father's legacy and the power of music.
Westword: What's the most important lesson you learned from your father?
Femi Kuti: To fight for what you believe in and never give up. He fought and was beaten frequently for principles he passionately believed, a sign of a very strong man. He instilled us to fight for our people — his mother taught him this to begin with — and then to pass this on, which I have done with my son Made.
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Do you feel your music is a weapon?
As my father said, "Music is the weapon." It is the only thing that gets through the corruption, especially in Nigeria. It is something that comes from the heart and has true meaning, and is a way of speaking to the people. People have little control over their lives, so something that enables you to pass on a message to make them think is ultimately a gift that you have to use wisely.
Have you seen evidence of social change because of your music?
Yes, all the time. People are always asking me about AIDS and corruption and how we can change things. It makes them ask and think differently. The only way we are going to see change in Africa is if we start helping ourselves rather than always thinking someone will do it for us.