Those who have followed his career and have experienced his musicknow this for a fact: Femi Kuti never felt just satisfied with being the King'sheir. He freed himself from his father's legacy in '85 by putting together hisown band, The Positive Force, and thereby working to find his own voice. Hebecame, during the '90s, a renowned artist in his own right with a distinctive,colorful and balanced style.
His records tell the story: After a short spell at Motown, he tookon the Afrobeat sound with his first international album in 1998 («ShokiShoki»), before rubbing shoulders with the modern urban style of his Americanpeers such as Mos Def and Common on the album «Fight To Win». Returning to Lagoshe worked on rebuilding the new Shrine and released an unbelievable liveproject recorded in the heat of the moment in his own venue («Live at theShrine», MK2 / 2004). Finally his first studio record only came about in 2008, having foundinspiration in Paris.This unanimously celebrated release («Day By Day») was his most successful one.
What was there left for him to accomplish from now on? To completethe cycle, Femi felt he needed to go back to his roots, to the origins of thisburning feeling inside him which had fired all his work, and going back to thestudio where he had produced his first recordings with his father and his soloalbum «Shoki Shoki». Decca Studio, soon to become Afrodisia Records in the '70s, was theexperimenting ground for most Nigerian masterpieces of the time, includingthose of Fela. «It was a very important historical place for Afrobeat and theplace have those mystical vibrations that Femi felt», recalls Sodi, hislongtime travelling buddy, and Parisian producer, who made the trip to Lagos to be a part of it.«We knew the studio was in a bad state, with old mixing desks, ancientequipment, we all knew the gear would not be up to the test, but we wanted totake up the challenge. Because everyting is different in Lagos. The city is such a monster; it has an effecton the way musicians play. The trick is to capture the Lagos stress without yielding under ityourself». And Femi gives us further insight : « Between the power cuts and thedysfunctional AC, we were sweating like pigs. I was playing with Sodi, pretendingto complain: We could be in a comfortable place right now, what are we doinghere? It was madness, but that's what we wanted it to be».
This record may be less carefully produced than the former one.However this was not unintentional, but rather a conscious artistic choice,i.e. not to polish the finishing touches and keep this afrobeat rough in itspurest form..... « Aggressive is the word that Femi uses the most when talkingabout the album. This familiar Punk energy you hear is no surprise thereforeeven spiced up the African way! Here, the words echo the music perfectly. « BadGovernment ». Never has Femi been so vindictive. Or his words so concise. «Nobody Beg »: « But never has my people's condition been so serious» hejustifies. As did his idols from the 60s, Coltrane, Parker, Gillespie, hismilitant spirit sometimes carries a jazzy jab that doesn't however lose any ofits intensity. « Politics in Africa ».
More than just a simple musician, the 48-year old composer hasbecome a true African Ambassador, in its most honorable sense. Indeed the albumrecording had to be arranged around his busy schedule. For example, Femi was inJohannesburg to sing for Africathe opening ceremony for the Football World Cup. There he sang one of his hits« Beng Beng Beng », and took the opportunity to meet a few of theanti-Apartheid heroes. Shortly after, he was heading off to New York to see the famous and verysuccessful Broadway musical about Fela, where he also got to appear on stage,invited by the actors at the end of the show. «It's truly extraordinary, theyreally understood my father's struggle and his mindset This show has got totravel the world, and come down to the Shrine», he says naturally.
Will we see Femi carrying out this project throughout the world?Maybe. In the meantime, his Shrine still carries the torch week in week out, somuch so it has become one of the only last dynamic temples for live Africanmusic. Erykah Badu, Damon Albarn, Hugh Masekala have recently made appearances,as have the Lagos Police, who regularly raid the place, picking up andfrightening off the local crowd, as they try to close down this highly regardedresistance venue.