As far as Seun Kuti is concerned, art should inspire society. And it should be political.
"The fact that music is no longer as political as it used to be, say in '60s and '70s, is one of the problems we have with youth education and development today," Kuti says. "Because most youths don't even care about anything. Everyone just cares about swagger and being fly. This is what the majority of art teaches."
Yesterday, Crossfade and the Afrobeat heir tackled a number of weighty topics, including power, politics, and American intervention in Libya. But today, the conversation shifts to music, namely Kuti's new album From Africa With Fury: Rise and his father Fela's legacy.
Crossfade: In a lot of ways, you're following in your father's footsteps. But how does your musical identity relate to Fela Kuti's legacy?
Seun Kuti: Personally, I feel lucky that I was born into this family and given the opportunity to know what I know today. My father's legacy is his music. And I'm not just saying this because I'm Fela's son.
Everyone talks about creating your own identity. And I'm like, "There's nothing like your own identity. Everyone comes into this world with an identity." You are already born and you have to accept who you are. And I have accepted who I am.
I know that if I wasn't Fela's son, people would say, "Oh, man, this guy is a great Afrobeat musician! Do you hear his music?" But because I'm Fela's son, even if I was a doctor, people would still compare me to my dad, "Look, his medicine is not as revolutionary as his father's."
I make my music because I belive in what my music stands for. And even if I'm not given the credit today, I know in the future people will understand, "Oh, yeah, he made good music." Fela's son or not. [Laughs]
Is your new album, From Africa With Fury: Rise, a personal step forward?
This is a personal step forward in terms of the way I make my music, the confidence I have in what I say, and how much effort I put into researching each of my songs.
Also, in the development of Afrobeat, we have to keep the topics fresh in order to keep the music going forever. Even if it is Afrobeat music, it should move people like they're hearing it for the first time.
This is what hip-hop has lost, I believe. Over the years, hip-hop has gone from a totally authentic brand of music to becoming nothing more than an extension of pop or house. It no longer has its own special identity. And if Afrobeat goes that route, continually dumbing down the music, we'll lose our identity and that'll be bad for the music.
I'm sure Fela himself would not be happy if his music was used that way. This is why I do Afrobeat music the way I do Afrobeat music. It has to be a timeless genre.
The new album was produced by Brian Eno. How did he provide a fresh angle on your approach to Afrobeat?
If you listen to the edit, the mix, and the production of this CD and compare it to my last, anything new is all Brian. You know, working with people like him lets you know how long and far you still have to go.
No matter how good you think you are, it helps to meet people who are great artists and great musicians. They'll help you discover more about your own music and your own self. This is what Brian is. And I thank him every day for coming and helping out with the album.
We had a good time in the studio. I can proudly say that I composed the music. But Brian produced the CD.
What is the current state of Afrobeat in Africa? Is it popular music? Or does rap, pop, and house dominate people's consciousness?
As popular as Fela is in my country, they only play his songs maybe four or five times a month on the radio. So Afrobeat is popular, but not in the commercial sense. And in a way, I'm happy about it, because the music keeps its freshness and it's not mixed with the bubblegum sound that's out there.
You know, the government in Africa doesn't want Afrobeat to be popular. They want people to listen to all that bubblegum music that doesn't tell them anything about what's happening today. And in Africa, the government owns everything.
So the government doesn't want people to listen to Afrobeat because it's incendiary music and it might make people think?
Of course. But it's not just Afrobeat. That's the case anywhere in the world.
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Soul music, funk, and R&B in the '60s and '70s in the States was all incendiary music. Even when they sang love songs, they sang love songs from the revolution's point of view. It was a love song to a girl. But it came from a very real point of view, not all this fantasy about "I'll buy you this. I'll buy you that. I'll take you here. I'll take you there."
No! Even the love songs were political. Every artist was political.
Seun Kuti. Friday, July 29. Manuel Artime Theater, 900 SW First St., Miami. The concert begins at 8 p.m. and tickets costs $35 plus fees via fla.vor.us. Call 305-672-5202 or visit rhythmfoundation.com.