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"Fela!" musical helps Femi Kuti spread his message

of the Oakland Press

Posted: Thursday, April 28, 2011

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Ever since the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti introduced Afrobeat to the world during the late ’60s, it’s endured as a relatively underground genre celebrated by world music aficionados but hardly attracting a mainstream following.

But the Tony Award-nominated musical “Fela!” has changed all that, says his oldest son, Femi Kuti, who’s become a star of the form in his own right.

“Yes, definitely, there’s a bigger following now for Afrobeat,” says the Nigerian-based Kuti, 48, who’s touring to promote his latest album, “Africa For Africa.”

“There were people who knew about my father or who know about me, but now they can marry this history with (the musical) and understand what was going on between the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and now and have a greater understanding of the history, definitely.”

Fela Kuti died in 1997 at the age of 58, but he did live long enough to see his music embraced as an influence. “When hip-hop came out, a lot of those producers were great fans of Afrobeat,” Fela says.

Meanwhile, he’s busy continuing his father’s legacy in his own way, although the vision remains consistent for a united African continent that transcends its colonial borders — and what that entails.

“You have to understand world development today,” Kuti explains, “and that means they need to really teach history in the schools. For the world to move forward together, everyone needs to understand and appreciate the history of how things came to be. I believe there is a generation that will come and appreciate life and be sincerely concerned about world development, about a planet that’s safe and having a good life — no matter whether they’re black, white, red or green.

“So that’s what I sing for. These are the issues that touch me personally more than singing love stories or about broken hearts. I sing about them so, musically, I can conform my music and my life. If some other person feels they want to sing a love story and have a huge following, that’s fine. I just feel that social ills and politics are more important to me.”

Femi Kuti & the Positive Force perform Friday, April 29 at St. Andrew’s Hall, 431 E. Congress St., Detroit. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20. Call 313-961-8137 or visit www.livenation.com.

Web Site: www.livenation.com

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