Best known as the son of legendary Nigerian Afrobeat innovator Fela Kuti, Femi Kuti has managed to establish his own music legacy over the last two decades. In November, his fourth studio album, Day By Day (Wrasse), was released to wide acclaim. The younger Kuti's music, like his father's, is intrinsically connected to African politics. He and his 17-piece band, Positive Force, deliver dynamic rhythms and important messages at their waterside gig Saturday (July 4) at Harbourfront Centre.
What do you hope to express through your music?
I try to explain how people feel about the world. People work very hard, and all they want is peace. I'm expressing what the average person wants.
For you, what's the connection between music and politics?
They are one and the same. I don't know how a singer can avoid singing about problems that affect him. My father didn't sing about politics because he wanted to make a name for himself. He sang about things he saw that worried and affected him, and he wanted to effect change. It's the same reason I sing.
What political changes do you hope your music will help bring about?
The unification of Africa. African leaders first spoke about this in 1963, long before the European Union, but they have done nothing to move in that direction. They are all corrupt. They are not concerned with the plight of the continent or their people. They are only concerned about how to steal money and keep themselves rich.
Your music is sometimes very critical of the Nigerian government. How do they respond?
You have to be brave to confront the authorities with your music. As they control the press and radio, you quickly run into government problems. Once they reported that I'd gone mad and that they'd seen me walking someplace naked, holding a big joint in my hand. It's all fabrication. They say whatever they wish.
Would you ever consider becoming a politician?
I don't think so. I would hate to be taken away from what I'm doing now. Touring gets harder as I get older, but I still really love it.
You began performing in your father's band as a young boy. Now your 12-year-old son, Madé, often performs with you. Will he be in Toronto?
Unfortunately, no. Madé has toured with us playing alto sax and percussion. I first noticed his musical talent when, at age three, he started playing rhythms and then picked up the trumpet. But right now he has exams. I want him to finish his schooling before jumping into music.
Femi Kuti reflects on the sudden death of Michael Jackson, and recalls the night he was awarded a coveted All Africa Music Award by the King of Pop himself.