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Published: 2007/10/21
by Glenn H. Roth

Femi Kuti: The Definitive Collection From A Positive Force

Ten years have passed since the death of legendary Nigerian Afro-beat star Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, but his son Femi has carried on his father’s rich tradition of jazzy, funky, rhythmic, hypnotic music. The 37-year-old Femi and his 13-piece band Positive Force have had a busy summer as they toured all over North America. Femi’s record company recently released a compilation of his best works entitled The Definitive Collection.

Femi broke into the music scene at the age of 15, playing saxophone for his father’s band Egypt 80. Two years later, Femi formed Positive Force and the rest is history. Femi is currently in the process of wrapping up his first studio album since 2001 when he released Fight to Win.

GR- When you look at Definitive Collection as a whole, is there a track that is most significant to you?

FK- It has to be “’97,” the year my father, cousin and sister (Sola) died. It was very emotional and although 10 years have gone by it seems like yesterday and the emotion is still raw.

GR- Are there any other tracks on the disc that also stand out?

FK- Obviously “Beng Beng Beng.” No joking apart I do love this track but I have been quite misquoted as I feel that there is so much discussed about the practical side of safe sex. I wanted to put across that there is more to it than the mechanics of sex (all the AIDS education) and why can’t we talk about the enjoyment side. Other tracks are “Wonder Wonder “ and the track we did for the Red Hot and Riot album a tribute to Fela “Water No Get Enemy.”

GR- Your father was very outspoken, is there a memory of him that sticks with you on an everyday basis?

FK- My father was a great man. He was a man that stood by his principles and would stop at nothing. He was beaten and imprisoned often by the government but he still carried on fighting for what he felt was right. So what I have learned from him is, if you believe in something stick to what you believe in and don’t compromise!

GR- Has the burden of following in his footsteps lessened?

FK- There is no burden. In the west you see it as a burden. We see it as following in your father’s footsteps and being compared. In Africa, we see it as part of our heritage to follow on from what our father did and then to pass this onto our sons and daughters.

GR- Since you mentioned politics, are there any projects you are working on or messages you are trying to relay to the public?

FK- Just to try and do more for yourself than to always to rely on politicians.

GR- What is the song “Traitors of Africa” all about?

FK- This is an attack on how our country is run so corruptly I write what I feel the people need to know both inside Nigeria and outside. We performed this track in 1992 during the rule of General Ibrahim Bababgida who was in power at the time and is considered one of the most corrupt leaders our country has known.

GR- How has Positive Force matured musically since you first began?

FK- Positive Force has changed a lot since I started; I think there is only one original musician. We also have one of my father’s dancers performing with us which is great. I suppose we know how each other works and we have become tighter and tighter over the years. They have also gained the experience of being able to judge their audiences and to perform accordingly with me.

GR- How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it?

FK- Afrobeat itself is a fusion of jazz, funk and traditional African rhythms. The bigger the band, the better.

GR- You have a 12-piece band, how do you keep everyone happy? And what’s it like being the frontman for such a large band?

FK- We have a fantastic tour manager that knows us very well. The people in the band are like an extended family and like family you have some good days together and some bad ones. Altogether because we are so busy we all get along.

GR- Your U.S. summer tour had some great stops Central Park, opening up for String Cheese Incident, Lollapalooza how exciting was this summer trip for you?

FK- I love performing in America and have been doing so for years now since I filled in for my father when he was detained by the Nigerian Government. I don’t get much time to see America but when I have the chance I do enjoy seeing what each city has to offer.

GR- Back in 2004 you played at Bonnaroo, what memories do you have and what was that experience like?

FK- From what I remember, I thought it was a great vibrant festival. I do many festivals but I remember this one, as the audience was very receptive to my music and were dancing everywhere which is what Afrobeat is all about people enjoying themselves.

GR- Do you feel you are becoming more popular in the U.S. these days?

FK- The fan base is excellent in America but I also have a very big fan base in Nigeria.

GR- It must be intense when you perform in Nigeria, can you describe what that is like?

FK- People just get in a kind a trance when I play; they know my music well and really get into the groove of the music. Some of my sessions can last five hours so they can be quite a marathon.

GR- Currently, you are putting the wraps on your first studio album in six years, is there a theme that connects all the songs?

FK- It is pure Afro-beat? This album is going back to my routes. I listen to a lot of Fela’s music and a lot of jazz he used to listen to Dizzie Gillespie, John Coltrane and Miles Davis and feel that we should be going back to what he felt was the vision. I have really enjoyed working with producers and remixing my tracks on previous albums but this time it is just pure Afrobeat. My son, Made (pronounced Maddy) is also performing on it, so it is his debut.

GR- Did you feel re-energized being back in the studio recording new songs? How was this process different?

FK- I am constantly writing songs and practicing as well as performing these songs. I always am amazed that from a basic song, it can get transformed into a wild energetic song for a 15-20 piece band remember I play with larger bands in Nigeria than I do when I tour. It is such a magical process and never ceases to amaze me that they are all my songs.

GR- Why did you wait so long to get back in the studio?

FK- Circumstances really. I tour I lot I have a young family and the opportunity arose so I took the opportunity.

GR- Did you record the songs on your own? With session musicians? Or members of your band?

FK- A mixture, we have recorded in Paris and Lagos (Nigeria) and it varies from track to track. In Paris, they are usually session musicians.

GR- Where do you see the future of Afrobeat music is headed these days?

FK- I think it will grow and grow as it is a very infectious style of music that also has an important message to get across.

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