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A CONVERSATION WITH SEUN KUTI, PART 1

 

 

PART 1

SEUN KUTI: MUSIC, POLITICS, AND FELA’S LEGACY

Toyin Falola

Many questions arise on the death of an influential and famous person, and diverse matters come to play. People ask, “Who will succeed the Great?” “Will their names live on?” “Should we not immortalize them?” “What will happen to all they have laboured for and all they have built?” When famed Nigerian musician, philosopher, and activist, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, died on August 2, 1997, people worldwide knew that they had been dealt a huge blow. Abami Eda, the enigmatic music maker, was gone! We have captured the essence of Fela’s life in a book to be released shortly, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti: Afrobeat, Rebellion, and Philosophy.

 

 

 

So, the questions began–What will happen to the Kalakuta Republic? Will the Afrika Shrine survive? What would become of Afrobeat? Was that the end of activism-based music in Nigeria? How will the Kuti name, which people had come to find as a synonym to activism, live on? Fela did bear many children, but the question was: which of his children would fully step into his shoes? Will we have a Fela incarnate?

Undoubtedly, Fela was a man of the people. He made beautiful music, controlled an attention-grabbing band, sold albums, won people’s hearts, had his philosophical views that not only helped shape people’s perceptions of the Fela name but also reinforced belief in his enigmatic personality. Fela was an outspoken political activist. He criticized governments and motivated Nigerians for demanding accountability of their leaders, so much so that his mother was injured by soldiers who threw her down from the window of a story-building. Though Fela won respect and recognition of the West through his music, he heavily criticized the West for its pretences and hypocrisy. He never ceased to show at all instances that he was an African man to the core–and a proud one at that.

Fela Anikulapo-Kuti was a musician who captivated his listeners with his songs, instruments, and lifestyle. He was a pop icon, a musician whom many sought to emulate and tailor their lifestyles after. There are tales of people who named their houses Kalakuta Republic–after Fela’s famous republic. This shows a level of connection deeper than that of the musician and his listeners. And so, it is understandable that at his death, it felt as though a void had been created in everyone’s heart. People could not reconcile their existence with a no-Fela future. However, Fela’s children had ensured that we could never leave the people to a no-Fela future.

Omoyeni Kuti, Fela’s first child, is a professional dancer. She started “Felabration” in her father’s name to honour and immortalize the great Fela. Just like his sister, Olufela Femi Anikulapo-Kuti, the second child and first son of Fela, took charge of the Afrika Shrine after his father’s death in 1997. He renovated the shrine and rechristened it the New Afrika Shrine. He also took to music in the footsteps of his father. Kunle, Fela’s fourth child, is the manager of the Kalakuta Museum, which was once the Kalakuta Republic, Fela’s country, and home. He doubles as a music producer and singer. Shalewa and Motunrayo are two of Fela’s children who live and breathe music too – although they are not musicians, Shalewa is a graduate of a music school and is a disc jockey. Motunrayo is a dancer and the owner of a record label. There is no denying that these are genuinely from Fela’s loins, for as their father breathed and lived music, so do they also live and breathe music. More so, many of them keep the memory of their father alive. They all stepped into the shoes of Fela in their different ways.

 

However, there is another, of whom I have been silent thus far. He is Oluseun Anikulapo-Kuti, the third son of Fela. Indeed, one’s position in the family hierarchy has no bearing on what one becomes or how important one is in preserving the family name. Known by his stage name, Seun Kuti, this Fela’s incarnate is his father’s doppelganger, except for the hairless head as Fela had a headful of hair, though with the apparent receding hairline, which one would not miss in Seun, despite his clean-shaven style. Born on January 11, 1983, to Fela Anikulapo Kuti and one of his dancers-turned-wives, Fehintola Kayode, Seun Kuti is the reemergence and reincarnation of Fela, in all shades of Felaness. Seun Kuti grew up to love music, and there was indeed an enabling environment for him to adapt, learn the ropes, get to grips with musical instruments, and get familiar with the basics of musicology. He started engaging the band and playing musical instruments as early as when he was five years old.

Seun is called the “Prince of Afrobeat,” taking after his father, the legendary musician and king of Afrobeat. Seun’s alignment did not start recently. He showed an early interest in music, especially the type of music his father sings, and he started to perform alongside Fela and the Egypt 80 band when he was just nine years old. It would not be out of place to call that a prodigious act. The resemblance between Seun and Fela does not stop at the sideburns or the facial resemblance. It goes on to the similarities in the style and genre of music, political awareness and the energy for political activism, similar philosophical and sociological views, the radical and non-conforming nature, and many more.

The story and life of Seun Kuti is yet another proof that age does not determine one’s success and influence in life. Seun is Fela’s youngest son, yet, he is the one who reminds us of the Afrobeat legend the most. At the death of Fela in 1997, the responsibility of managing the Egypt 80 band rested on the shoulders of Seun Kuti and some others. What an excellent task it must have been to have a 14-year-old lead a band that had gained international recognition during the lifetime of Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Seun must have been faced with aggravated expectations from the fans and loyalists of his legendary father. Beyond that, there would have been critics and naysayers who would have thought it impossible to have a 14-year-old lead a band as grandiose as Fela’s. But Seun Kuti rose and looked naysayers in the face; he took up the challenge and has since led his father’s band, now his band.

Seun has dedicated his life to upholding the multi-faceted Fela legacy and extending the tentacles of these legacies. He and the Egypt 80 band have released four studio albums. These albums include Think Africa (Na Oil), an Extended Play that was produced in 2007, and which features songs such as Think Africa (radio edit), Think Africa (bonus beats), Think Africa 12 inch (long version), Na Oil (radio edit), Na Oil (bonus beats), and Na Oil (12 inch). In 2008, Seun Kuti and the Egypt 80 band released an album titled Many Things. This album has seven songs: Think Africa, Don’t Give That Shit to Me, Many Things, Fire Dance, Mosquito Song, Na Oil, and African Problems.

In 2011, Seun and the band worked on another album titled, From Africa With Fury: Rise. Seun’s third album boasts of songs such as African Soldier, You Can Run, Mr. Big Thief, Rise, Slave Masters, For Them Eye, The Good Leaf, and Giant of Africa. A Long Way to the Beginning was released in 2014. The album comprises amazing and powerful songs such as IMF, African Airways, Higher Consciousness, Ohun Aiye, Kalakuta Boy, African Smoke, and Black Woman. Black Woman, Seun’s next studio, Extended Play, was released in 2016. This is a special EP, as all the songs are remixes of two songs from the preceding album, Black Woman and Kalakuta Boy. The songs on this EP include Black Woman (Krazy Baldhead Remix), Black Woman (Rich Medina Afro Remix), Black Woman (Helado Negro Remix), Kalakuta Boy (Rich Medina Jacques House Remix), and Kalakuta Boy (The Reflex Dub Remix).

Black Times, released in 2018, is one of Seun Kuti’s strongest political albums. It has thought-evoking songs such as Last Revolutionary, Black Times, Corporate Public Control Department, Kuku Kee Me, Bad Man Lighter, African Dreams, Struggle Sounds, and Theory of Goat and Yam. The latest Extended Play from Seun and the Egypt 80 band is Night Dreamer Direct-To-Disk Sessions. Released in 2019, this EP comprises Struggle Sounds, Black Times, Bad Man Lighter, and Theory of Goat and Yam.

This listing of Seun’s songs and albums shows his dexterity and consistency. These are qualities he has in common with his dad. Music has brought Seun recognition and nominations. He is the second of Fela’s sons to have had a Grammy nomination. He was also invited to perform at the Marsatac Festival in France in 2008 and perform live for the first time during the 2014 Industry Nite. Seun’s songs, fame, and recognitions do not have all their roots in his father’s popularity and wide acceptance alone. Of course, there is no denying that the Fela name has had a significant influence on him and people’s perception of him, but what we should instead focus on is how he has upheld the band, sustained the legacies, won recognitions for himself, and also kept the memory of his father alive.

Seun has also made his mark as an active voice of the people and a politically conscious activist. He has been in the Nigerian scene, voicing out when he should, primarily via his pages on social media platforms. Beyond social media, Seun has participated in some of the masses-conducted protests in Nigeria. All these tell us of a Seun who does as Fela would have done if he were alive today. Without an iota of doubt, Seun Kuti is living up to the Kuti name and sustaining the family’s legacy. His grandmother, famed activist, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, will be proud of him, and so would his father, Fela.

On December 5, 2021, Seun Kuti will be a special guest on the Toyin Falola Interview series. Do join us by registering via the details below.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

5:00 PM Nigeria

4:00 PM GMT

10:00 AM Austin CST

 

Register and Watch:

https://www.tfinterviews.com/post/seun-kuti

 

Join via Zoom:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81694745825

 

Watch on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/tfinterviews/live

 

Watch on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2lvX7A2iVndiCq0NfFcb0w/live

 

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