Femi Kuti has been leading his own band and making his own music for three decades, but it has been a long journey traveling out from under the shadow of his famous father, Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, who died in 1997.
In some ways, it’s a journey that he is still on.
“In Africa, it’s a big taboo to go against somebody like my father, who is so popular,” Femi Kuti says by phone from his home in Lagos, Nigeria.
Kuti, Fela Kuti’s eldest son, grew up playing in his father’s band but in 1986 decided to strike out on his own. His first album wasn’t released until 1995. Five more studio efforts have followed, including his latest, 2013’s “No Place for My Dream.”
“It took years for his fan base to understand what I was doing,” Kuti says. “They were completely against anything and everything I did.”
As for his father’s opinion, that was even worse.
“He was very angry,” Kuti says. “He never expected me to break off at the time I did. So this was a very difficult time for me. But it gave me the motivation and energy to do it. I never thought it would be easy. But I had to find a way. I didn’t want to move in my father’s footsteps. I wanted to be my own man.”
Kuti’s music is still very true to his father’s brand of Afrobeat, which combined African folk songs and chants with the popular, driving, high-life style, plus American jazz and funk. But he has brought it up to date with more contemporary sounds from Latin America, the Caribbean and the U.S. (including collaborations with D’Angelo, Macy Gray and Common). He also often plays at a furious pace.
“What I really loved about my father’s music was his initial hits: the ’70s. That was what never left me as a child,” Kuti says. “But I noticed that, as he grew older, his music became very powerful but in a very different dimension. For me, I had all this energy I wanted to burn, so I wanted to play very fast, to have all this powerful punching in my music.”
“No Place for My Dream” is Femi Kuti’s most political album to date, with the title song, “Politics Na Big Business,” “No Work, No Job, No Money” and “Nothing to Show for It,” speaking truth to power on track after track.
His father’s confrontations with the government were even more direct, and his clarion call for human rights in the face of brutal African dictatorships led to beatings and numerous incarcerations. It was a lesson not lost on Kuti, who is still determined to speak out, but in a more tactical and calculated manner.
“If the government want to kill you, they kill you,” Kuti says. “And they have tried that several times. I saw what my father went through, and I understood that I am going to have to play this more like a game of chess. Every move is vital, and every move must be very practical — to make my own music and to make sure my father’s legacy remains.”
What Femi Kuti & Positive Force • When 8 p.m. Saturday • Where The Ready Room, 4195 Manchester Avenue • How much $25 • More info ticketfly.com