“Gentlemen, beautiful ladies, are we ready?”
“This is Afrobeat Airlines. This is your chief pilot, Femi Anikulapo Kuti.”
“I don’t envisage there will be any turbulence this evening on this long haul flight”
“Fasten your seatbelts and let’s get ready to groove!”
On Saturday, 22 September, Nigerian Afrobeat scion, Femi Anikulapo Kuti thrilled guests gathered at the poolside of Sheraton Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos at the listening of his 10th Studio Album, One People, One World.
Tagged “A Night with Femi”, the event put together by recording label Chocolate City Music, was an intimate night of pure Afrobeat music, serenading jazz sounds, and energetic live performances.
Opening for Femi Kuti were fast-rising acts which included 26-year-old trumpeter and composer Etuk Ubong, who once played for Femi Kuti’s Positive Force Band from 2012 to 2014, former ‘The Voice Nigeria’ winner Nonso Bassey, and final opening act Ruby Gyang who performed her 2014 tune ‘Good Man’, all introduced by On-Air Personality, Folu Storms who was the host for the night.
The oldest son of the late Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti released his optimistic 10th studio album in February after dropping two strong singles, “One People, One World” and “Na Their Way Be That”, earlier in the year. On One People, One World, Femi Kuti still waxes deeply political as he continues to carry the Afrobeat tradition into the 21st century, melding jazz and funk while paying loving tribute to Fela Kuti, his pioneering father. He calls out Nigeria’s ineffectual government and economic decline on most of the album’s tracks, however this time, there is a strong sense of hope and optimism noticeably absent in his last nine albums.
In a bid to acclimatise with the past, Femi Kuti joined his colourfully dressed, untiring dancers and members of his band to set the tone for the evening, beginning his set with classics such as ‘Africa For Africa’, ‘Politics na Big Business’, ‘Wonder Wonder’ ‘Sorry Sorry’ and a more upbeat fix of the almost decade old ‘Bang Bang Bang’, which, coupled with advise on ‘edging’ during sex, elicited a loud response from the crowd.
And then it was time to head into the future. With songs like ‘How Many’ which infuses Igbo rhythm into Afrobeat, Femi Kuti lyrics appealing to a social conscience alongside funky grooves. ‘One People One World’ a standout track from the album saw a reincarnation at the event as the singer commanded the stage with cat-like agility, and ‘Evil people’ took the audience on alternating high and lows, Femi Kuti, despite occasional digressions, remained in perfect sync with his band members, a feat only one at this stage of his career could achieve.
The eldest Kuti revealed in a brief chat session with the host that he was still going strong on his decision to stay clear of musical influences. “I haven’t gone out of my way to listen to music since 2000, he said to a diverse audience who had only minutes ago been waving clappers which lit up and added to the musical experience with every ovation. “I’m forced to listen to music when I go to the supermarket, cinema, party or TV, but I never go out of my way these days.”
The Afrobeat legend had once read a book by Miles Davis who, on a quest to be original, stopped listening to music. “I can identify my music more from my personality and my thinking without a lot of influences. My inspiration for music these days comes from life, meeting people, travelling, and most especially being a father.” he added.
On staying positive in the midst of so much turmoil and apathy in the younger generation, the Afrobeat legend reinforced optimism in the face of rising challenges. “We have to remain optimistic,” he says. “I believe there has to be balance […] an equilibrium in life. With so much negativity in this world, there has to be positive-ness. We just have to never forget that there is true love, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and struggle. And maybe this is the way life should be. If we just sit back, then why be alive?”
In August, the music star was on Al Jazeera’s ‘The Stream’ as part of his tour to promote his album where he spoke with host, Femi Oke, and co-host, Malika Bilal on having to“redirect” his “thinking” because he now sees more “beauty in the world”.
Femi’s emphasis and admiration of his children wasn’t lost on the audience. It is for them, it seems, that the artist is now making more effort to be positive in spite of many reasons not to be. His son Made Anikulapo-Kuti, who recently became an official member of his band, performed alongside his father as the bassist. The singer had recalled his former band member who had disappeared minutes before the commencement of the show during their US tour in July, jokingly saying of his son, “I know this one will not abscond”.
“It’s a new generation and as we are getting older we see new energy and everybody in the band is forced to change their orientation to be more positive and youthful, he added.
Femi Kuti hopes his album will inspire many creative thinkers. “The title of the album is One people One world. We have to understand that we are all one people and when we go back into history, we all come from one source. We also have to understand that we are on one planet and whether we like it or not we have to make it work.”
Femi Kuti’s more meditative track ‘Corruption Na Stealing’ reflects the angst about a future stolen by those in power. Them suppose to know/Shebi na them go school, a refrain highlighting that Africa’s leaders should know better than to dim the light of its future generations. In classic style, he also speaks against how religion and the word of God are used to do their “bad bad things” in Dem Don Come Again.
“I hope this album will give people the confidence not to lose hope, especially the younger generation,” he continues. “At 56, I know I have crossed the border, but I love getting older. The day I die, I want to die with a smile. I don’t shy away from death, I’ve seen it so many times in my life. I think the more people run away from these things the more we misrule our lives and make many mistakes. Death is inevitable. And the more you embrace it, the more we appreciate Mother Earth, friends, family and your close ones.”
A Night with Femi Kuti was an opportunity to see the legend out of The Shrine, and without losing a beat, or a step, Femi captivated the audience during every song.
“I know many of you are afraid to come. Don’t be. Shrine means something sacred, special, holy. The shrine is where we pay homage to great people like Martin Luther King, Mandela, Bob Marley, Mohamed Ali, Mrs. Funmilayo Anikulapo Kuti, Fela Anikulapo Kuti.
“Many of us talk about my father today because he was saying this in the ‘70s. It’s 2018 and we’re still talking about the same corrupt system. And really, it seems like there’s no hope, so what we’ve got is the shrine and this music,” Femi Kuti said as the listening slowly, a bit reluctantly, came to an end with a worthy remake of his father’s 1975 classic, ‘Water No Get Enemy’.
The last track on the album “The Way Our Lives Go” perfectly encapsulates Femi’s hopeful thoughts about a country still in the battle for greatness. “One day the people would rise, and say to the suffering goodbye.”