By Alliz Nicholas
Brace yourselves for a tight afrobeat jam from the eleven-piece Nigerian band Femi Kuti & The Positive Force. The eldest son of Africa’s greatest afrobeat legend, Fela Kuti, Femi has built his own reputation as one of the best stage acts and African musicians still active in the world music scene.
The band’s current US tour features music from Femi’s 2011 release Africa for Africa, as well as earlier crowd favorites. The album calls for a move forward with the consciousness of our cultural histories. Containing lyrics like “nobody begged you to be president,” Femi’s words certainly ring out to picket lines beyond the African continent.
In a brief chat with Femi, I got a chance to ask him about his music.
Berklee Groove: The energy at the heart of your live performances involves both dance and music. How do you consistently capture that energy in the studio?
Femi Kuti: Africa for Africa was recorded in very bad conditions; the studio in Lagos experienced electricity cuts. We had 10 days of recording with few live takes, some overdubs and minimal sound enhancing techniques. [BG: But against all odds, you still managed to finish it?] Yes. I was surprised!
BG: I hear you have a new album in the pipeline. Could you tell us more about it?
FK: No Place for My Dream will be released in April. I think it’s my best work so far. It scares me!
BG: Was it recorded in just a few takes like Africa for Africa?
FK: We worked closely with my producer, who’s more like a brother, always willing to go the extra mile. It was recorded bit by bit with more production enhancements. We always learn from the last album, and ask ourselves how we enhance the creativity this time.
BG: What new messages do you feel the lyrics carry?
FK: Messages about global issues: unemployment, the Arab spring, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
BG: Since the release of Africa for Africa, you’ve performed in a wide range of locations throughout the world. How have the audiences differed?
FK: Most people introduce me to their friends and family, and now I have so many friends throughout the world that I don’t even realize there’s a difference in the environment!
BG: So the stage is like your home?
FK: Yes. But in between tours, I perform twice a week at home in Lagos. You have to keep on going.
BG: From your experience in the music industry, what’s your advice to young people and musicians at the brink of their careers?
FK: Pick up a musical instrument. Develop your skill. If you’ve got nothing to offer in the future you’ll be pushed aside. Think, what will you do when you’re 50? Learn to read and write music so you can communicate with all musicians, jazz, classical, anything.
BG: There’s so much musical talent in Africa. What would you say to African musicians who want to build an international career?
FK: Be focused and be prepared to go through hell. And if you do arrive at a comfortable spot, you need to be able to pick up the pieces when they fall. It’s possible. I did it.
Don’t miss Femi Kuti and The Positive Force at The Paradise Rock Club on Wednesday, January 23rd at 8pm! Buy tickets here.