As one might expect of a musical giant who married 27 women, the late Nigerian pop radical Fela Kuti fathered some talented kids. Two of them are furthering the family business in Afrobeat, the Africanized vision of James Brown's funk that Fela invented (and which has influenced everyone from Beyoncé toTV on the Radio). Femi, Fela's eldest son, fell out with his dad in the late Eighties, leaving the fold to start his own band.
In the three years between the release of Femi Kuti's last album, Day by Day, and Africa for Africa, the legend of his late father, the Nigerian icon Fela Kuti, grew by leaps and bounds thanks to a successful Broadway musical that told his story in song. Femi, in his two decades as a performer, has continually honored his father's legacy while moving the Kuti model of Afro-beat firmly ahead into the future. That he's managed to do so without substantially altering the blueprint drawn by Fela is somewhat remarkable: Femi's music is undeniably more modern-sounding than Fela's -- his melodic and rhythmic influences are more global, taking in Latin, Caribbean, and several African-American genres, for example -- yet at the same time has never been radically different from it.
One glance at the song titles on Femi Kuti’s latest album, Africa for Africa, and the thrust of his concerns becomes clear. “Politics in Africa”, “Bad Government”, “Can’t Buy Me”, and “Africa for Africa” all express messages protesting corruption and small-mindedness while advocating self-empowerment, national and continental pride, and hard work. Or as Kuti himself puts it, “Given the opportunity, the African man will excell.” Listeners used to other, non-Anglophone proponents of Afro-pop—Salif Keita, Baaba Maal, Rokai Traore, Gigi—may find the accessibility of the lyrics off-putting or preachy.