Nigerian musician Femi Kuti said that it was always expected that he would go into music. The eldest son of music legend Fela Kuti, Femi said that “it was just a question of how and when.”
“Fortunately my father…wanted me to grow up like a street kid,” said Femi, who didn’t grow up with his father until he was a teenager. “So everything I play right now is self-taught. [I found] my own way completely in the music world.”
Kuti will be making his way to Washington, D.C. on Friday, July 29, for an 8 p.m. at the 9:30 Club. The show is part of a tour that Kuti and his band, The Positive Force, are on through the United States, which includes stops in Virginia, New York and Pennsylvania. Kuti said that a new album is in progress and is currently untitled. He told the News-Press that it would be likely be a double album.
Kuti has been an active musician since the late 70s and has come a long way to survive in the music industry as a professional. Playing music wasn’t the only skill that was self-taught for Kuti. He said that he wasn’t taught how to read or write as sort of an experiment that his father was conducting and that when he finally became a successful musician in his own right, his father deemed his experiment a success.
In his younger years, Kuti said that he was angry at his father for this experiment, but now he has reconciled with it. “If I would have gone to school for music it probably would have been boring,” he said.
His unconventional upbringing and his father’s desire for Femi to grow up as a street kid may have influenced Femi to make music with a political message. Or it could be that political activism runs in the family. Or both. Fela was political activist as well as a musician and often used his music to address political issues and Femi’s grandmother, Fela’s mother Funmilayo Kuti, was a women’s rights activist.
The way that Femi, with songs like “Politics Na Big Business,” which was on his 2013 album No Place for My Dream, tends to present his political views is through an upbeat filter. He said that it was easy to figure out the topics that he was going to talk about because he was brought up in a political family, but had to find his own way of expressing them.
“Then I found that people liked my beats and melodies, but the topics were very hard,” Kuti said. “And I thought it was liking taking a pill with a sweet drink. So I saw the music as a sweet drink and the message as the pill….Then people are like ‘Wow! This music is really political. Wow! I didn’t realize it’ and they realize what’s going on and they become interested.”
Despite addressing political themes in his music consistently over the course of his career, Kuti said that he doesn’t care what the establishment, like the Nigerian government, for instance, thinks about his music. “Why should I care about what they think about my music?” Kuti asked. “If I am worried about what they [think], I am probably less worried about what I have to say about [the issues]. I am not saying it for them, I am saying it for the people.”