About Seun Kuti
Seun Kuti is Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s last son. Seun’s father, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, was Nigeria’s most beloved popular musician and most acerbic social critic until his death in 1997.
Seun started learning to play saxophone and the piano when he was eight. Seun Kuti has been performing on stage since he was nine years old. He started his career as opening act with his father’s band, Egypt 80. And he still performs today with the same band. Apart from the new young bass player Kayode, Seun is the youngest person on stage. Most of the band members, performed with Fela, and some of whom are now in their fifties and sixties. Performing on stage with as many as twenty singers and musicians in regular sessions that sometimes go on all night was such an effective practical education that when Fela died in 1997, Seun, then just fifteen, was ready to take over. Since then, he has led Egypt 80 as lead vocalist and saxophonist, the focal point of a band that his father had forged into one of Africa’s most legendary ensembles.
In performance, there is no mistaking that Seun is Fela’s son but he is also very much his own man. His singing voice is deep like Fela’s, and his alto saxophone hits the lines and hooks his father composed with the same muscular style, although he brings his own flavor to the solos on saxophone and synthesizer. And like Fela, on stage Seun lives up to a reputation as a sex symbol, shimmying, winding his hips and often discarding his shirt, to the delight of ladies fans. Fela’s Afrobeat was a pungent blend of funk and jazz with an African sensibility, reminiscent of James Brown but grittier, nastier and vaguely unsettling, like fermenting fruit. With Seun, Egypt 80 is as explosive as they were under Fela, combining horns, keyboards, percussion, guitars and vocals in a sophisticated and overpowering blend that is always insistent.
In the 70s the band performed almost nightly at The Shrine, a club Fela established, but these days they rehearse once a week and play three or four times a month at various venues around Lagos, sometimes in huge stadiums alongside other artists. The band also tours regularly in Europe: they’ve already hit France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, UK, Belgium, but also South Africa, Ghana… Seun was literally born to do this.
For Seun, taking up where his father left off is about building on Fela’s legacy, not trying to escape it. He wrote a song on Malaria disease for a festival in Dakar where he jammed with Manu Dibango and Tony Allen for the BBC film “Africa Live: the RollBack Malaria Concert” sponsored by the UN foundation that has been broadcast around the whole world.
“If I’m in my father’s shadow then it doesn’t trouble me to be,” he says. “If that’s all I can get, it’s a very good place to be. He was a very great man.” He pauses. “But of course every artist wants to define himself.”
Seun and his father were close, and Fela’s death at the age of 58 hit the teenager hard. Fela had other children by other women, but took a special interest in Seun, who is one of only two sons to follow their father into a career in music. But having inherited the leadership of Fela’s band, Seun can be more selective about what else he chooses to take from the example of Fela’s life. In artistic terms he is also determined to chart his own course. Seun has just finished recording two original tracks, “Think Africa” and “Fire Dance” soon to be released digitally and on “12 vinyl worldwide.
Seun also wants to update his father’s political message. He heartily endorses Fela’s politics (“He wasn’t afraid,” Seun says proudly) and relishes the fact that many of the songs he performs pillory by name Nigeria’s current president, Olusegun Obasanjo (who was also head of state in the mid-1970s when Fela recorded some of his most biting broadsides, including a track blaming Obasanjo for his mother’s death in an infamous army raid on Fela’s Kalakuta compound). But right now Seun seems unlikely to form a political party, as his father did in the late 70s. And Seun hopes to offer his listeners a slightly different message from his father’s. “I want to make Afrobeat for my generation. Instead of ‘get up and fight,’ it’s going to be ‘get up and think,'” he says. Seun once said “I have to play my father’s songs until I’m ready.” It’s already clear that Seun’s name and music resonate with a new generation of Nigerians, many of whom are too young to remember his father’s heyday.
Seun Kuti, just like his father, represents a minority of thinkers. Those who choose to question the ruling bodies, those who strive for quality of life and those who are not afraid to shine a light on the corruption that sprawls behind closed government doors. He represents a generation who acts upon these thoughts and voice the truth. He does so without weapons, brutality and political agendas. He does so through music.
And that music is Afrobeat. A fusion of big band jazz, funk, and traditional African sounds. Fela left behind two things he treasured most. Afrobeat: the musical style he pioneered and his band, Egypt 80. Seun chose to continue the legacy of his father by taking on the band, in partnership with its longstanding bandleader, Baba Ani. With Seun also the lead singer, the band is a twenty-piece power house. Much of the magic of their live shows derives from the energetic exchange between musicians and dancers. Seun’s sister, Motunrayo Kuti, is one of the most vibrant dancers on stage. Seun is a great saxophonist, an activist and groovewriter. He promises – and delivers – a serious funk mix of new album material and Fela classics which won’t let you stand still.
The band is a power-house of explosive dance grooves, the hookiest basslines, big spectacle and politicized energy. It’s a full-on, funk-happy sound that’ll take you to the edge and back…
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