Afrobeat music star, Femi Kuti , was on Aljazeera’s ‘The Stream’ almost two weeks ago as part of his tour to promote his 10th album, ‘One World One People’. He spoke with host, Femi Oke, and co-host, Malika Bilal. The main thrust of his appearance which included a performance or two was the shift in his world view. He had to “redirect” his “thinking” because he now sees more “beauty in the world”, basically, because of his children for whom he has to strive for solutions instead of being pessimistic. He’s now making more effort to be positive
Ordinarily, it should not be considered strange or breaking news that the leader of a band named Positive Force Band wants to embrace a more positive message in his music. Except that Femi Kuti is no ordinary musician. Being the son of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the Abami Eda himself, has come with more than its fair share of expectations. Wittingly or unwittingly, many end up seeing Femi from his father’s music, especially when his music was more negative, controversial and anti-establishment. In that instance, pitting and comparing him against Fela seemed only natural. Did he sound as believable as Fela who seemed to have had a more direct experience of what he sang about? Was Femi willing to go as far and extreme as his father went?
For what it’s worth, being positive is a good thing. I liked Femi’s songs that were not negative or political, like Mind Your Own Business, Wonder Wonder, even the erstwhile banned Bang Bang Bang. I must confess that I stopped paying too much attention with songs like Sorry Sorry and co. I don’t particularly like songs that sound negative and rather contrived, seemingly for the heck of it. It’s the same reason I don’t like songs like Eedris Abdulkareem’s Jagajaga. In my Pentecostal mind, there’s too much negative confession inherent in ‘Nigeria jagajaga, everything scatter, scatter…’ which can only lead to a self-fulfilling prophesy. What’s more, are people supposed to actually dance to the fact that the country is jagajaga? Or jiggle excitedly because they are ‘Sorry Sorry for Nigeria’? I know it’s not so straightforward. At some point while dancing to Tekno’s Rara, it does occur to me to wonder: Am I happy about: “NEPA no bring light…generator wan tear my ear “? or “I no get charge, my phone don die, no fuel for generator…”?
Back to Femi Kuti and his positive vibes, while this is a welcome development, lyrics must still have depth and spunk. Because the challenge is not becoming trite. Speaking of which, there aren’t that many tracks with ‘positive’-sounding titles on this latest album. With tracks like ‘Evil People, Dem Militarize Democracy, Corruption Na Stealing, Na Their way Be Dat’, Femi obviously needs to strive harder to be positive. Something I’ve never been able to understand are the female dancers that accompany these anti-establishment songs.
And while we are at it, can we see more glimpses of the old Femi? The ‘old’ was trendier, seemed more conscious of his looks. The new Femi, perhaps trying not to confuse his kids, who needs a haircut/dye looks more like the dad next door. Which is not to say dads cannot be fashionably trendy. I know a few, even older men, who take the time to turn out well. And they are not even in the entertainment business.
At some point in the interview, Femi accused past governments of paying the media not to write about him or words to that effect. This is his explanation as to why his music is not more popular in Nigeria. This cannot be totally true. Even though our government has been known to do the inexplicable, I can’t imagine why they’ll deliberately black out Femi. Not when Fela can be heard everywhere.
My introduction to Femi Kuti was as a very young reporter almost 30 years ago. I was sent to cover his concert at the Eko Le Meridien (Eko Hotel). I was surprised at the turn out of foreigners-oyinbos. Femi was about to embark on a tour of the West African coast or something. At that time, I doubt that he was popular even in Lagos. So, what’s the real issue? Is it that Nigerians don’t appreciate good music? Which Nigerians we talking about?
If Femi Kuti wants mass appeal, he may have to copy the Lagbaja model, or adopt a part of it. Back in the day, in the early to mid-90s, Lagbaja catered to a select few. His asking fee was princely. As were the album cassettes he exclusively marketed. He had massive snob appeal. So, the lucky rich few who could afford him felt like they belonged to a special class. Then came Konko Below. And Lagbaja’s music began to feature at kids’ birthday parties, etc. Fortunately, we now have social media where artistes can have direct interaction with their fans. But alas, there’s also a lot of clutter and noise. The question is: Why should we pick one musician over another? Who does Femi want to reach anyway?
In the end, Femi Kuti must decide what he wants to be: An activist, man of the people or friend of the ruling class.
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