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.
In-depth Biography The son of Afro-beat legend Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Femi Kuti spent years playing in his father's band before eventually rising to superstardom following his father's death in the late '90s. Since few artists can match his father's legacy of not only music but influence, Femi's relation as his son is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it's never been difficult for Femi to garner press or attention, and MCA went out of its way to push his career with ridiculous amounts of publicity. Yet on the other hand, no matter his individual accomplishments, Femi will forever be known as Fela's son. Practicing a similar style of Afro-beat as his father, Femi helped introduce the percussive blend of jazz and funk music to the international masses beginning in the mid-'90s, along with his father's same sense of political activism. After his father's death in 1997, Femi suddenly found himself the subject of immense attention. He responded by signing with MCA and embarking on his solo career beginning with Shoki Shoki. He won tremendous critical celebration around the world and began making efforts to break into the U.S. mainstream in successive years.
Born in London and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, Femi's musical career started when he began playing in his father's band, Egypt 80. In 1986, Femi started his own band, Positive Force, and began establishing himself as an artist independent of his father's massive legacy. In the mid-'90s, Motown offered him a record deal with its boutique label, Tabu. Femi's eponymous debut album resulted. Released in 1995, the album won praise throughout Europe and Africa for offering a more streamlined and accessible version of his father's music. Femi embarked on an extended promotional tour, crossing first Africa, then Europe in 1996 and 1997. His solo career was off to a successful start, despite the dissolution of Motown's Tabu label and Femi's record deal with it.
However, this problem became the least of Femi's concerns when his father sadly died of AIDS-related complications in 1997. Shortly afterwards, his sister, Sola, also suffered an untimely death, making 1997 a truly dark year for Femi. He would later write "'97," a song that candidly reflects on this particularly tragic time. Yet with tragedy comes opportunity in the world of music, and Femi ultimately signed a major-label record deal with Polygram in December 1997, only months after his father's death. MCA made the most out of the situation, repackaging, and re-releasing much of Fela's catalog and setting the stage for Femi's MCA debut album in the process. Following months of press and hype, MCA released Shoki Shoki in early 1999 to widespread acclaim from a number of esteemed publications like the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and Vibe, not to mention other smaller publications.
A year later, Femi returned with his second album, Fight to Win, and toured the States with Jane's Addiction in an effort to crossover to a more mainstream audience. Part of this crossover effort meant aligning himself closer to hip-hop and its gigantic audience. Fight to Win featured a number of respected rap artists like Mos Def and Common. As expected, critics celebrated the album, though western masses seemed rather indifferent to both the album and Femi's concert trek with Jane's Addiction. ~ Jason Birchmeier, All Music Guide