Interview: Femi Kuti
Wed, 10 Dec 2008 17:42:07
As afro-beat's most famous son, Femi Kuti has become the torchbearer for the music his father Fela first concocted in their native Nigeria. The propulsive amalgam of jazz, funk and afro-centric polyrhythms has moved crowds in every corner of the globe with Femi emerging from the long shadow of his lineage to establish a reputation as a musical force in his own right. Now after a long absence from recording, he's back with a new album, Day By Day, and a fresh approach on the music he's been playing his entire life. Speaking from France, the legendary band leader gave us insight into the making of the album, using music as an instrument of protest and finding inspiration in your personal experience.
I just got the album at our office. It's so much fun and full of life and rich with energy.
Thank you very much.
I noticed you took some time off from your last studio album. It's been seven years and it's been another four years since Live at the Shrine . Did you plan to take that much time off between recording?
We were trying to find this new sound on this new album. I don't mind. It gave me courage as well. In my music, the instruments I play. It was very difficult because I think age was not really on my side.
I think you did a very good job getting back into it.
It was a lot of migraines in the morning, but it's okay.
You obviously brought in these new sounds. You learned these new instruments. It seems on this record that you brought in a lot of sounds outside of traditional afro-beat as well. There are jazz influences and pop influences and even some urban sounds I'm hearing in there. What made you reach out and expand the palette of the music like that?
I did not reach out, I just reached down and back. I listened to a lot of music when I was five, listening to my father. I started to listen to a lot of and fall in love with jazz. Don't forget a lot of folks were influenced by afro-beats. It influenced so many people. So I was there, and I listened to Fela. I saw the change in the Beatles. I saw a lot of big influences in music, my knowledge and this new peaceful kind of sound. I was madly in love with Coltrane, and I was madly in love with Miles [Davis]. I listened to them so many times as a teenager.
I think that's an interesting thing you said, to reach down and back rather than out. Do you think that even though there's a deeper range of sounds, it will help draw in the audience who is used to more pop music sounds, if they can hear these afro-beat influences in that?
Everybody I talked to kind of experienced what I was going through. The music talks to you. It really talks to me. So I think what people hear is that experience. You can't really say it's an experience because it's a defining moment, because it's music. I think all this experience that I've had is what I experience about music. I’m just sitting back and practicing and practicing and practicing. Crying inside myself and sitting back and telling myself not to be upset anymore. Everything was so negative and I couldn't understand. I knew at the end of the day you guys could really arrive here. I could not stand. I knew how to walk. I just closed my mind to everything. I just practiced, practiced, practiced. A lot of crying inside and writing songs for myself.
So much of the music that is inspired by the African tradition, whether it be the afro-beat, or jazz, or the blues, is often inspired by that pain inside and expressing that through the music.
Yeah, it think that music is about expressing things. That's what people hear, and they can relate to that. You can see in the music that it's deeper than just "My baby left me!" It was a revolution the way these artists made music really.
Another part of the pain that I heard on the album was the pain for the continent of Africa as a whole with songs like "You Better Ask Yourself." Songs that have a social message to them, and are sort of demonstration songs like your father used to do. What inspired you to make those songs like that and to get those messages out there.
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