Femi Kuti will return to the Boulder Theater tonight on Wednesday, July 6. We spoke to Kuti about the upcoming show and the peace that music has provided throughout his four-decade-long career. The last album his band released was No Place for My Dream in 2013, and Femi says that a new album and "new sounds" have been recorded and are on the way.
Born in London and raised in Nigeria, Femi Kuti is the son of Fela Kuti, the Nigerian musician and activist famous for popularizing the Afrobeat sound. After studying trumpet in London, the elder Kuti returned to Nigeria and blended his jazz experience with the region's more traditional music. From the 1970s through his death in 1997, Fela Kuti's successful music career dovetailed with his political activism. Femi Kuti took up the saxophone and joined his father's band, then started his own group Political Force in the late '80s. Since then, the younger Kuti has released multiple albums, collaborated with artists such as Common and Mos Def, and been nominated for Grammys in world music. His approach to Afrobeat continues strains of his father's work in its sustained message against corruption in African politics.
This isn't Femi's first time playing in Boulder, which has a supportive world-music audience. Femi describes his style of Afrobeat as “full of energy: It’s exciting, very political, very conscious. It shows the beauty of Africa. I believe at every concert, people will be inspired.”
Globalization has affected music being made in Africa, and Femi observes that hip-hop has influenced modern Afrobeat. He finds the evolving sound both positive and negative. “Obviously [there is] influence from America," he says. "I like the beats. Some [young musicians] are not playing musical instruments [and] I find it scary. They are going into music for fame. When they become older in their 40s, 50s they have nothing to offer.”
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Femi has further concerns about the movement of popular music into the electronic and digital realms. “It’s very important to play a musical instrument when times are bad," he says. "I find it very alarming [that people don't play instruments]. I see a tough time for young people in the future.”
Rather than be defined by the term "world music," Femi says, "Music is music." When asked whether his experience traveling the world has encouraged him to create music he feels is truly representative of Africa, Femi says, "I've incorporated Afrobeat from my father...I am aware of where I want to go. [I know] my vision. I'm hardly influenced [by other music]."
The Kuti family has long used music as a weapon for politics and peace. When asked how listeners of his music can take action, Femi says, "The critical thing is to be aware. Awaken. That's more important than anything else. [People need to know] how [corruption] came about. Most important is to get the conscious awakened...globally."
Femi Kuti & The Positive Force perform Wednesday, July 6, at the Boulder Theater. Local band ATOMGA open the show beginning at 8 p.m.